Whisky Review #83: Glenugie 1977 33 Years Old

And so here we are, the end of the 2nd year of operations for this blog. I still find it rather amazing that almost 2 years have passed since I started this blog, and while the official 2nd anniversary is still a month away, I thought that it would be fitting to end the year on a high with an expression that I have been saving for a special occasion such as this.

Considering the amount of active distilleries there are in Scotland at the present moment, it is rather interesting that the majority of them are workhorse distilleries whose main purpose would be to provide bulk whisky for the various blends on the market.

However, when you consider that blended Scotch whisky composes a staggering 95% of the market, it doesn’t seem as surprising as one would have initially thought. While most of these distilleries do not have official bottlings, it is due to the hard work of the various independent bottlers that we have the chance to take a peek into the inner workings of these lesser known distilleries and also have the chance to taste some of their produce.

While independent bottlers provide us with the chance to try whiskies from active workhorse distilleries (and active distilleries who produce whiskies primarily for single malts), they also provide us with the rather unique opportunity to sample whiskies from workhorse distilleries which were closed in years gone by for one reason or another. And it is this last category which we’re going to focus on for this review.

The distillery in question would be Glenugie, which was located near the town of Peterhead and on the banks of the river Ugie in the Eastern part of the Highland region of Scotland. It was founded in 1831 by Donald McLeod & Co. and was initially known as Invernettie distillery before the name was changed to Glenugie.

Interesting fact: Glenugie was the only Eastern Highland distillery located to the North of Aberdeen and it was also the easternmost distillery in Scotland from the time of its establishment up till its closing. After its closing, the title of easternmost distillery was held by Glenkinchie until 2016, when Lone Wolf distillery was opened within the BrewDog brewery complex.

It operated as a whisky distillery for the first 6 years of its existence before it was converted by the owners into a brewery. From 1837 to 1875, it operated as a brewery before it was once again converted into a distillery by new owners Scottish Highland Distillers & Co. Ltd, although production was rather intermittent during the inital period.

The distillery remained under the ownership of Scottish Highland Distillers until 1884, when it was purchased by Simon Forbes. Forbes oversaw some of the most successful times in Glenugie’s history and operated the distillery until 1915.

The distillery then underwent a change in ownership and was silent from 1925 to 1937, when it was reopened by new owners Seagar Evans & Co. Ltd, which operated the distillery until 1975.

Interesting fact: Under the ownership of Seagar Evans, the distillery underwent a period of major renovation. During this renovation, the existing oil-fired burner was replaced by a coal-fired system, which allowed production to be expanded significantly. The number of stills were also doubled to 4 and this allowed the distillery to produce approximately 1 million litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis. The floor maltings were also decommissioned in 1963 and the distillery began purchasing its malt centrally.

The distillery then came under the ownership of brewing giant Whitbread in 1975 and production continued under their purview until 1983, when The Great Rationalisation of the 1980s led to the closure of a number of distilleries across Scotland, including Glenugie. Today, the only active distilleries in the Eastern Highlands region are Fettercairn and Glencadam.

The distillery equipment was dismantled with the help of the famed Forsyth Coppersmiths of Rothes and while most of the equipment was sold for scrap, the mash tun and spirit safe were removed and sold to Fettercairn distillery. The spirit safe now functions as the No. 1 Spirit Safe at the distillery.

Most of the distillery buildings have since been demolished and the site is now owned and operated by Score Group plc, which also uses the name Glenugie Engineering Works.

Interesting fact: Ownership of the Glenugie brand came under The Chivas Group’s control some years after the distillery’s closing and the brand is now administered by the company. Chivas also released the first (and only) official bottling of Glenugie in 2010 and it was a 32 Years Old expression which was drawn from a single sherry cask and bottled under a new range called Deoch an Doras.

This week’s review focuses on an expression of Glenugie which was distilled in 1977 and matured for the first 25 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead before being finished in an ex-Oloroso sherry cask for the final 100 months and bottled at 33 years of age by independent bottler Signatory Vintage for their Cask Strength Collection.

So, let’s dive right into the review!

gugsig1977v3
Glenugie 1977 33 Years Old (Bottled by Signatory Vintage – Cask Strength Collection)

Glenugie 1977 33 Years Old (Bottled by Signatory Vintage, 57.2% abv)

Colour: Burnished copper

Nose: Initial entry presents a rather richly sherried nose along with citrus fruit such as oranges and a touch of acetone. There is a slight sulphurous note to this dram, although it isn’t unpleasant and actually adds to the complexity of the nose. Spices such as nutmeg and clove as well as a herbal note which is reminiscent of oregano emerge after some time to add to the complexity.

Hints of worn leather and tobacco pouch make an appearance later on and there is also a savoury note in there which is somewhat reminiscent of ham hock. The sherry, while rich, isn’t overly sweet and fruity. (24/25)

Palate: Initial entry presents more of the richly sherried notes which aren’t overly sweet or fruity, followed by a whack of acetone and more of the herbal oregano notes. The sulphur makes an appearance, although it is muted and not unpleasant in any sense.

With time, the wood spices of nutmeg and clove emerge and are complemented by some orange zest, blackcurrants and some cracked black pepper. The oakiness becomes more pronounced over time and there is just a touch of brine and some of the savoury ham hock notes. A distant whiff of smoke followed by tobacco emerge late on. (24/25)

Finish: Long and lingering on the finish, with the sherry, wood spices and oak being the most dominant aspects while the oregano lingers on in the background and provides some bitter herbal notes to the mix. (23/25)

Balance: An immensely well-balanced dram which showcases a multitude of complexities and facets which reveal themselves slowly and over time. Even at cask strength, this dram doesn’t require any water and mellows out beautifully through aeration.

This is a dram that definitely requires time in order for one to explore its depths and the mouthfeel is wonderfully oily with just a bit of dryness due to the wood spices and oak influence. (24/25)

Rating: 95/100

I had the privilege of nosing and tasting this whisky at The Auld Alliance in early February this year and it was available for the absolute bargain of $28++ for a half dram. It was the best of four stellar drams that night, some of which have yet to be reviewed.

I would highly recommend that readers make a trip down to The Auld Alliance to sample this beauty before it is gone forever, as it would be one of the last chances to savour a great dram from a sadly departed distillery and at an exceptional price.

Until the next review, have a wonderful festive celebration.

Slainte and Happy New Year!

Brendan

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