By the Whisky Couple

For alphabetical malt whisky drinkers, the quest gets serious upon arrival at the letter “G.” The aperitif will be Glen Albyn and one can rest with Glen Turret as digestive. In between you will encounter famous valleys — the likes of Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas and Glenmorangie. These are not the ones I will focus on this time; they usually draw enough attention. No, we will wander the lesser glens of whisky country that gave their names to malts as well as blends.

Let’s start with the most famous, or notorious if you prefer, valley in Scotland — Glen Coe, where we left you in the February issue of the Merc. Come rain or shine, hail or storm, snow or ice, that place will leave a special mark in your brain forever. Whenever I cross this valley — and I’ve been fortunate to have to done this under practically every thinkable weather circumstance — I see fighting Highlanders in my mind’s eye. This works best when the weather is really bad. Here, in 1692, the Campbells slaughtered the MacDonalds, after having partied with them for a fortnight. It turned out to be a political assassination, but would give the Campbells a bad name that echoes today. The valley itself is named after the eponymous river that runs through it, but was nicknamed “Glen of Weeping” after that 17th century clanocide.

Glen Urquhart is a name that will ring a bell with many. Halfway down Loch Ness on the western shore, just south of the village of Drumnadrochit, the ruins of what once were the mighty headquarters of Clan Urquhart jut out into the loch. This blend has been composed by Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) from Elgin — not surprisingly so, since this well-known independent bottler is owned by the Urquhart family. The castle ruins are a splendid place to take photos from the loch, to the east, the north and south. I once baptised a Dutch lifestyle journalist on his maiden trip to Scotland in Loch Ness at this exact place, helped by two eager assistants no less than Jon Beach of Fiddlers Inn fame and Scottish painter Ian Gray.

Glen Gordon is another pure malt named after a clan. At the time “pure malt” was favoured as a term for a blend of different malt whiskies, also known as vatted or blended malt. The head of the clan is the Earl of Huntly, whose traditional seat is home to an independent bottler by the name of Duncan Taylor. The image is that of Huntly Castle, another ruin worth visiting.

Glen Stuart, again carrying a clan name, is a pure malt once developed for the French market. If the Stuarts of Bute are meant in this particular case, we can speak of a true historical reason for the naming of the whisky. This branch of the Stuarts is rooted in the seneschals of Dol in Normandy, France and first manifested itself in England during the Norman invasion. Centuries later, a return journey was made in liquid form to the country of origin.

A complicated story is behind the brand Glen Gyle. In Campbeltown on the tip of the Kintyre peninsula, one can find a distillery with the same name; however, this whisky is not made there. The brandname Glen Gyle is owned by Loch Lomond Distillers, north of Glasgow, while Glengyle Distillery belongs to adjacent Springbank. The latter rebuilt Glengyle starting in 2000; it had been closed and all stocks sold in 1925. The stills at Glengyle now produce a single malt called Kilkerran.

Glen Clova — again for the French market, but a blend instead — has a fine label that reminds me of a watercolour painting summoning images of a Scottish autumn. The glen itself is loved by hikers and part of the Five Glens of Angus or just the Angus Glens, bordering the Cairngorms National Park. Helpful websites show walking routes that will take you through the glen in approximately five to six hours. The views are spectacular as everywhere in the Highlands. Don’t forget to fill your hip flask before departure!

Glen Calder is a sweet and smooth blend that may enjoy an intimate relationship with Glenlivet — the valley that is. It’s another blend from G&M stock and still available. G&M did buy a lot of casks holding The Glenlivet malt whisky in the past, so it is very likely that Glen Calder contains a serious splash of the famous “single malt that started it all.”

Whether The Glenlivet was the first to use the word “glen” in the name of a whisky, I do not know. Its label does not show any glen, but regarding the fame of this single malt I do believe it is an appropriate name with which to end this column. We will encounter Glen’s natural antagonist — Ben — in the next issue of the salmon sheets.

Slante mhath,

The Whisky Couple

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