Johnnie Walker’s Ghost and Rare collection started strong with a blend built around Brora, followed by a second blend that placed malt from cult-favorite Port Ellen front and center. Sadly, the series comes to an end with this expression – Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Glenury Royal.
I have to admit, I hadn’t heard of Glenury Royal until news of this release hit my inbox. The distillery operated from 1825 to 1985, when it was shut down. In addition to Glenury Royal, this blend contains malt whisky from Pittyvaich and grain whisky from Cambus, but long gone. Rare malt and grain whiskies from Glen Elgin, Inchgower, Glenlossie, Cameronbridge, and Glenkinchie are also utilized here.
The nose features a distinct apricot note as well as hints of creamy vanilla, roasted almonds, and slight herbal and earthy undertones. Bottled at 43.8% ABV, Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Glenury Royal starts with creamy butterscotch drizzled with white and dark chocolate. Crisp orchard fruits bring some brightness while candied almonds add to the whisky’s complexity. A touch of smoke leads to a medium-length finish with lingering hints of dried fruit, nuts, and mocha.
Wow. Based on the nose, I was expecting a very fruit forward whisky. Instead, I was treated to a rich, decadent whisky… one I’d easily reach for after a big dinner. All the flavors pair well together, creating a nice balance. The Ghost and Rare series itself is almost like a three-course meal. Brora serves as the appetizer, with the hearty Port Ellen acting as the main dish. Glenury Royal provides a beautiful ending. 9/10
We’re now five years into the Orphan Barrel brand’s existence. Wow, time certainly seems to fly by. The brand’s purpose was to showcase older or “forgotten” barrels. We’ve seen lots of bourbon and even a little Canadian whisky released under the brand’s umbrella. A few releases have been great, others not so much, and most lying somewhere in-between. Since the 2014 introduction of the brand, I’ve held my breath for a single malt release, as owner Diageo’s malt distillery profile is quite bountiful.
Now I can breathe easy.
Forager’s Keep, the latest Orphan Barrel entry, is a 26-year-old single malt whisky from the Pittyvaich distillery. You might not recognize the distillery, as it’s output was sent for blending in Bell’s. The single malt bottlings that did exist were very few and far between.
Also, Pittyvaich doesn’t exist anymore. It closed down in 1993 after only 18 years in operation and was demolished in 2002. The reasoning basically came down to the distillery being “surplus to requirements,” according to the excellent Whiskypedia section at Scotchwhisky.com.
Forager’s Keep is bottled at 48% ABV and priced at $399 a bottle. Not bad considering the age and rarity of the whisky. In fact, this whisky aged longer than the distillery was in existence.
The types of barrels used here have not been disclosed. Based on the color (which looks natural to my eyes) and the taste, I’d guess this whisky is made up of mostly ex-bourbon and refill casks. Maybe, maybe a sprinkling of European oak casks.
The nose is centered around refined orchard fruit aroma upfront. Then, hints of vanilla and light spice (cinnamon and cloves) appear, as do dried herbs and a touch of balsamic vinegar. Just a touch. The whisky comes across as a medium-to-heavy bodied and somewhat viscous on the palate, with hints of butterscotch, pecan, and vanilla ice cream topped with stewed spiced apples and garnished with citrus peel. The fruit intensifies as oak spice develops mid-palate alongside a very small earthy note. Light oak spice and apple sauce on the long, warm finish.
I’d mark Forager’s Keep among my favorite of the Orphan Barrel releases. Of course, it stands out as it’s a single malt Scotch and not a bourbon, so it might be a bit unfair to compare. Either way, this is a nicely matured older whisky that showcases the fruit-centric beauty of the late Speyside distillery. This is one bottle I’ll be looking to own. 9.5/10
Sometimes I’m in the right place at the right time.
Or I’m just lucky.
I recently attended a Glenfiddich tasting at the Bourbon House in New Orleans. Glenfiddich ambassadors Dave Paradice and Struan Grant Ralph led the tasting of four Glenfiddich expressions that heavily feature ex-bourbon barrel-maturation. Just before the tasting started, I met up with the two brand ambassadors to say hi.
Jorge Lauriano, the William Grant & Sons Division Manager for Louisiana, came over to greet me. Then he lowered his voice and asked what my plans were for the rest of the night. It’s that moment he told me he, Paradice, and Ralph were going to host a very private tasting with two local single malt fanatics after the Bourbon House tasting.
“I just dropped off 27 different bottles of whisky (at a local restaurant). Do you want to join us?” Lauriano asked, knowing I couldn’t turn down his invitation.
My answer was a resounding yes. I knew at that moment it was going to be an epic whisky night.
But first, the Glenfiddich tasting at the Bourbon House. Four expressions: Glenfiddich 12-year-old, 14-year-old, 19-year-old Age of Discovery bourbon cask, and a preview of an upcoming 23-year-old expression. The last two were especially delicious. Paradice was on-point with his presentation, with Ralph occasionally fielding questions from the small but sometimes rowdy crowd.
If this wonderful tasting was the supporting act, what followed was the headliner.
We made our way to the restaurant where the six of us began lining up bottles of whisky, mostly Glenfiddich, on a long table. Twenty seven bottles in total. So many that we couldn’t line up the bottles neatly down the longside of the table. With some appetizers served, we began. We did a round robin, of sorts, allowing every person to choose the next pour. As we nosed and tasted, the two brand ambassadors casually presented background on every pour.
Nose, taste, dump, repeat. That was the motto of the night.
I didn’t take tasting notes, but did somehow manage to jot down what we tasted. Here’s what we tasted, with some thoughts on select pours:
Reserve Cask (travel exclusive)
Cask of Dreams 2011 – love the ex-bourbon cask influence here
Malt Master – one of the group favorites
Fire & Cane – Smoky with rum-sweetness. Yes please!
Vintage Cask – slightly peated and utilizes American oak casks
William Grant & Sons Ghosted 26-year-old – very light; paired well with our salad
Age of Discovery 19-year-old bourbon casks
40-year-old – decadent, resinous, dark, with a finish that lasts for days
Winter Storm – a dessert dram if there ever was one
The Original 1963
Vintage Cask – Select Barrel
30-year-old – Rich, lively, and without the heavy rancio notes found in the 40yr
Vintage Cask 36-year-old (1978) – one of the top pours of the night
Project XX – nicely balances the different cask types used
One thing that struck me was the balance of flavors through all the expressions we sampled. Nothing was ever one-sided. Those sherry notes were never overpowering. That Glenfiddich signature vanilla and orchard fruit character always remained at the core.
We didn’t make it through all 27 bottles. Twenty seemed to be our limit. No matter – this Herculean tasting was one of those ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ events, and one I’ll remember for a very long time.
Thanks to everyone for allowing me to take part in a such special tasting and for sharing your whisky knowledge. Especially Jorge. He’s an extremely generous guy who loves nothing more than sharing a great drink (and a dirty joke or two) with people. Thanks for an unforgettable whisky night. Slainte!