Whisky Review #62: Glen Keith 1970 40 Years Old (Silver Seal bottling)

Glen Keith is one of those distilleries which is shrouded in obscurity, probably due to the fact that its primary function would be to supply Chivas Brothers (and by extension, Pernod Ricard) with bulk whisky for the company’s various blends.

But Glen Keith’s obscurity is further underlined by the fact that it was actually mothballed for a period of 14 years which extended well into the 2000s, but more on that shortly. These combination of factors have made single malt bottlings from the distillery somewhat rare (although one would still be able to find the 10 Years Old official bottling from time to time).

The distillery was founded in 1957 by Chivas Brothers (and their then parent company, Seagrams) in order to secure a stable supply of bulk whisky for the company’s Chivas Regal, Passport and Ballantine’s blended whiskies, among others. Construction was completed the following year and the distillery came onstream sometime after that.

Glen Keith Distillery, Keith
Glen Keith Distillery (Picture credit: mapio.net)

The distillery was also the first to install a gas-powered still in Scotland in 1970 and had five operational stills at that time. The first official bottling, a 10 Years Old expression, was released in 1994 as a part of the Seagram’s Heritage Collection.

In 1999, after 41 years of uninterrupted production, the distillery was mothballed by Seagrams and remained closed until 2013. In that time, the ownership of Seagrams and Chivas Brothers was transferred to French spirits conglomerate Pernod Ricard, which meant that the distilleries under the control of both companies was passed on to the new owners.

Pernod Ricard understood that the ever-increasing demand for whisky meant that new sources of production had to be found and decided that the time was right for them to make the necessary preparations. They proceeded with the demolition of the old Imperial distillery and built a new mega distillery on the same site under the name of Dalmunach.

At the same time, the company proceeded with the reconstruction and refurbishment of Glen Keith in order to restore the distillery to proper working order and the distillery came back onstream in April 2013 with an ungraded production capacity of 6 million litres of pure alcohol.

In terms of equipment, the distillery sports an 8-tonne full-lauter Briggs mash tun, 6 stainless steel washbacks (these are located in the new portion of the distillery), 9 wooden washbacks made of Oregon pine and 6 pairs of refurbished stills fitted with external heat exchangers, vertical condensers and subcoolers (these are located in the old portion of the distillery).

The stills have extremely long and relatively straight lyne arms and the desired character of the new-make spirit is fruity in nature. The distillery runs on a 7-day week schedule and has the capacity to do 40 mashes per week, which adds up to 6 million litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis.

Interesting fact: For a short period of time in the 1970s, two rather peculiar experimental single malts known as Craigduff and Glenisla were produced at Glen Keith (even though some sources say it was produced at Strathisla). These whiskies were never officially released, but there have been some rather old expressions bottled by Signatory in recent years. Both whiskies are peated and the smoky character comes both from peated malt as well as peated water which was brought in from Stornoway, distilled to concentrate it and added to the wash.

craigduff-40-year-old-1973-cask-2516-cask-strength-collection-signatory-whisky
Craigduff 1973 40 Years Old (Picture credit: masterofmalt.com)
glenisla-34-1977-cask-strength-signatory-malt-whisky
Glenisla 1977 34 Years Old (Picture credit: masterofmalt.com)

This week’s review focuses on a bottling of Glen Keith which was distilled in 1970 and matured for 40 long years before being bottled at 46.1% abv in 2011 by Silver Seal for their Sestante Collection range of bottlings.

So, let’s jump right in!

Glen keith 40 Years Old
Glen Keith 1970 40 Years Old

Glen Keith 1970 40 Years Old (46.1% abv)

Colour: Gold

Nose: Initial entry presents a rather herbal and oaky note which is reminiscent of oregano and fresh mint. There are some wine-like hints along with a whiff of tobacco pouch and wood spices such as nutmeg and allspice. (21/25)

Palate: Initial entry presents more of the herbal note, but with a more apparent fruit note that was otherwise absent from the nose. Nutmeg, cigar smoke, papaya and some stewed apples make an appearance after some time, adding to the complexity of this dram.

The nutmeg gets stronger with time and the allspice joins in the fray after a while, with the other notes receding into the background slowly. (21/25)

Finish: Medium to long on the finish, with the spices in full control along with the oregano, oak and some of the stewed apples from the palate. Coats the palate well and the mouthfeel is rather drying towards the end. (22/25)

Balance: Perhaps skewed more to the herbal and spicy side of things, but an otherwise intriguing and vibrant dram which is in sharp contrast with its age. Quite an enjoyable and unusual dram! (20/25)

Rating: 84/100

Considering that this was the first Glen Keith that I had tried, I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t have a baseline against which I could compare this dram. However, this is a rather unusual and complex dram which provides a myriad of nosing and tasting facets and that alone makes it worth trying in my opinion.

It would also be rather interesting to point out that this expression would have been distilled in the same year as the gas-powered stills were installed, so it would be interesting to compare this dram alongside those which were distilled prior to 1970 in order to see if there was a marked difference in the flavour profile.

The Glen Keith 1970 40 Years Old can be found at The Auld Alliance and can be purchased by the half dram for $28++, which is an absolute bargain considering the age and provenance.

Until the next review, have a great week ahead.

Slainte!

Brendan

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