The Glen Elgin distillery was built between 1898 and 1900 by a partnership of William Simpson
& James Carle. That seems like a long time, but it was after the 'Pattison Crash'. Production at
Glen Elgin began on May 1, 1900. Architect Charles Doig predicted that no other distillery
would be built in Speyside for at least 50 years and he was right; Tormore wasn't built until 1958.
May 1, 1900 was not one of the most blessed of days, apparently.
The distillery was sold to Glen Elgin-Glenlivet Distillery Co Ltd. in 1901, opened in 1902
but then failed again just five months later. Glen Elgin remained inactive for five years
until it was acquired by John J. Balanche (a whisky merchant from Glasgow) in 1907.
From there on, things moved more smoothly for Glen Elgin.
Apart from a few changes in ownership little 'constructive' happened until 1964 when Glen
Elgin was rebuilt and the number of stills was extended from two to six. UDV's (i.e.
Diageo's) 'sister' distillery Glendullan in the Dufftown region of Speyside underwent a
similar massive refurbishment less than a decade later.
When Glen Elgin distillery was expanded, it was
licensed to White Horse Distillers Ltd. in Glasgow.
I'll get back to White Horse in a moment, but I have to pay some more attention
to the stills first. The current distillery configuration at Glen Elgin is quite unusual;
they have four wash stills and three spirit stills (all relaively small in size as well).
That makes Glen Elgin an exception to the rule; in almost all other cases (well,
in Scotland at least) 'pairs' of stills seem to be more customary. I'm not entirely
sure when they added the seventh still though - after the rebuilding of 1964
they still had six stills. The change probably occurred while Glen Elgin was
licensed to White Horse Distillers - now a part of Diageo.
White Horse is a legendary name in the Scotch whisky industry - and as you
can see from the picture above that they still displayed the 'White Horse'
name prominently on the label of their standard bottling during the 1990's.
The White Horse name is less dominant on the labels of new official bottles.
Nevertheless, the logo still adorns the Glen Elgin distillery buildings. The name of the 'White Horse' brand
originated in the Canongate district of Edinburgh. That was where the White Horse Cellar Inn could be found;
a historical landmark that got its name from the white horse that used to belong to Mary, Queen of Scots.
The Glen Elgin distillery is located in the ‘Lossie’ area of the
Speyside region in central Scotland. Its closest neighbours are
Benriach, Coleburn and Longmorn.
When Glen Elgin started production as the first distillery to
become active in the 20th century they used the same water
source as the nearby Coleburn distillery. The source dried up,
so they were forced to find another place to find their water.
The Glen Elgin distillery does not have a visitor centre - but there are plenty of suitable alternatives nearby.
1) The Glen Elgin malt whisky distillery was built in 1898 and 1900 by
a partnership of James Carle and William Simpson - who was a former
manager at the relatively nearby Glenfarclas distillery. One of the
main reasons for the choice of the location was a local water source.
Unfortunately, that source turned out to be unreliable. This presented
the owners with a problem; waterworks were not available at the time
in the more remote parts of Scotland, but a whisky distillery needs a
constant supply of water for its operations.
2) Another problem for the Glen Elgin distillery was the fact that a
planned branch of the rail road was never actually constructed. By
the end of the Victorian era railways had become very important for
the transportation of both raw materials and whisky. In fact, access
to the rail road system had grown so important that the Balblair
distillery was demolished in 1872, only to be rebuilt brick by brick half
a mile down the road where it could benefit from the nearby railway.
3) The founders had invested 13,000 pounds in the construction of the Glen Elgin distillery, but when they
had to sell it a few months later they managed to retrieve only 4,000 pounds of their original investment.
4) The Glen Elgin malt whisky is still an important component of the 'White Horse' blended whiskies, which
are sold in more than 200 different countries. Mind you, the same is true of the Johnnie Walker blends.
5) The pot stills which are currently in use at the Glen Elgin distillery were installed in 1992.
When the planned branch of the railway didn't materialise, the founders of Glen Elgin had a problem; machinery
and lamps had to run on paraffin until the middle of the 20th century. Glen Elgin distillery had one employee
who's sole job was keeping all the lights lit - remarkably inefficient of course...
2001 - Glen Elgin (briefly) becomes part of the 'Flora & Fauna' range
with a 12yo expression.
2005 - Glen Elgin is added to the 'Classic Malts' range of Diageo.
This range used to contain only six different single malts - Cragganmore,
Dalwinnie, Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Oban & Talisker - when it was introduced
in the late 1980's, but in 2005 a bunch of other single malts suddenly
became classic, including Caol Ila, Cardhu and Clynelish.
2009 - A Glen Elgin 1998 is released in the ‘Manager’s Choice’ series.
2014 - A new boiler is installed at the distillery.
2002 - The twelve years old Glen Elgin malt whisky in the 'Flora & Fauna'
range is replaced by a 12yo 'Hidden Malt' expression.
2012 - Three new washbacks were added to the existing number of six,
effectively increasing the production capacity of Glen Elgin by 50%.
2018 - A Glen Elgin 1997 released in the Connoisseur’s Choice range
receives an (relatively inflated) score of 92 points from Dave Broom.
Glen Elgin 16yo (58.5%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Balanced but not terribly expressive at first. 'Green'; a whiff of something farmy. Fruity - prune jam?
Powers up in a few minutes; some organics emerge in the background. Grows bigger and bolder over time.
Taste: Soft start, powering up in the centre. Sweetish, malty and hot, not a lot of definition. Gritty finish.
Score: 82 points - I don't know if it's the extra years or the extra proof, but I like it better than the 12yo.
Glen Elgin 12yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Polished and well-rounded. On the edge of nutty. A faint whiff of citrus. After a minute some spices.
The organic citrus becomes chemical. It's not terribly expressive though; you really have to work at it...
Taste: Malty and medium sweet. Great mouth feel. Not quite expressive enough for me to reach the 80's.
A sweetish undercurrent. Fairly solid mouth feel. A good malt whisky without any obvious flaws.
Score: 75 points - a classic example of an 'average' malt whisky. Is citrus a Glen Elgin marker?
Glen Elgin 32yo 1976/2008 'Green Elgin' (40.8%, The Whisky Exchange, C#3544)
Nose: Classic profile like a malt whisky bottled in the 1970's. Wood and furniture polish. Coffee.
Grows more and more complex after some breathing. Bakery aroma's. Loads of lemon.
Taste: Very subtle peat; like the nose reminding me of a whisky that was bottled decades ago.
Beautiful balance with a great balance between fruit, wood and smoke. Liquorice. Touch of peat?
Perfect balance between wood and fruit in the finish. We have a winner with this Glen Elgin!
Score: 91 points - by far the best whisky from Glen Elgin that I ever tried.
Glen Elgin 1978/2005 (47.5%, Adelphi, Cask #4512)
Nose: Very sweet. Faint oil. Organics. Nose-numbing. I'm having a bad nose day; I can't pick up a lot.
Taste: Sweet and very hot. Medicinal? Mighty pleasant, actually. Not a lot of depth or character, though.
Score: 84 points - not a lot of character in the nose but it works great on the palate. Very drinkable.
Revision: During my second try I didn't really found anything to add to my initial comments. 79 points it is.
Glen Elgin 12yo 1991/2004 (46%, Whisky Galore / Duncan Taylor, Sherry)
Nose: Sweet and a little grainy. A bit 'bourbony', but with a fairly solid malty undercurrent.
Faintest hint of glue - no obvious sherry influence. Starts to lean towards the fruitier side later.
It never becomes terribly complex, but it clearly benefits from time. Give this one at least 15 minutes.
Taste: Round and sweet start, growing bitter and a tad chemical in the centre. Good but a bit bland.
An odd little feature that earned it an extra point: a distinct camphor / eucalyptus taste on my lips.
Score: 76 points - a great whisky as a blend-beater, but a tad too generic for my personal tastes.
Glen Elgin 12yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003)
Nose: Not a lot of character - malty and quite fruity. Opens up a little after 10 minutes.
Taste: Smooth but very restrained. If you like your malt whiskies neutral, this is your thing.
Score: 65 points - it's certainly not a bad whisky, but I like my malts to show some personality.
Glen Elgin 12yo (43%, Flora & Fauna, Bottled +/- 2000)
Nose: Malty and sweetish. Some paint thinner in the start. Quite pleasant, but MOTR.
Taste: Pleasant sweetness, but little depth or development. Oily and soapy episodes.
Score: 73 points - A fairly decent single malt, but it just doesn't show enough personality for me.
I imagine this would work a little better in the heat of summer. Right now, I need more heat.
Glen Elgin 22yo 1978/2000 (53,3%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #4589, Velvet Box, 298 Bottles)
Nose: Quite similar in style. to the 12yo 1991 from Whisky Galore, but a tad more sour and fresh.
This one also has the sweetness and the glue, but some more depth. The glue / aceton grows stronger.
Very faint christmas spices in the background. Quite a bit of character compared to the 12yo from DT.
Taste: Oy.... Here the camphor / eaucalyptus is much more obvious. Molasses sweet in the centre.
Based on the nose I could go for the 80's, but the palate is just a little too hot and harsh for me.
Score: 79 points - I can't bring myself to put this sample from Thomas in the 'recommendable' 80's.
Glen Elgin NAS (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1997, 75cl)
Nose: A pleasant sweetness. Soft honey with a hint of citrus.
Some interesting ingredients, but all in all too subdued for my taste.
Taste: More sweetness - Toffee. Smooth burn. Some 'orange' character in the taste; honey in the finish.
Very nice, but nothing more; this offers the minimum amount of enjoyment a 'good' single malt should offer.
Score: 70 points - would have scored higher with a bigger nose...
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Glen Elgin malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Glen Elgin I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Glen Elgin.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.
The White Horse Cellar Inn was located near the
beginning of the stagecoach route between
Edinburgh and London. This journey used to take
eight days - provided conditions were favourable.
Next to the White Horse Cellar Inn was the
ancestral home of Peter Mackie, who would
later inherit the Lagavulin distillery on Islay.
Until a few years ago the name 'White Horse'
was also displayed on the boxes and labels of
the 16 years old Lagavulin expression.
Anyway, the topic at hand is Glen Elgin.
Diageo issued a semi-official 'Fauna & Flora'
bottling in 2001; in-between the 'White Horse'
release of the 1990's and the more recent
bottle with the brown box. This is fairly unusual
because these F&F bottles were usually reserved
for the distilleries that didn't release proper official
bottles, like Caol Ila or Royal Brackla.