Glen Breton Canadian Single Malt - Battle of the Glen

Glen Breton Battle of the Glen (43% alc./vol.)

October 12, 2011

Share

A complex interplay of fresh fruit, spring flowers, nutty grain, and hot white pepper all kept in place by the pith of white grapefruit. Floral & Fragrant. ★★★★☆

Everyone loves it when the little guy wins, for example, when some corporate giant sets its lions on some little nobody who then whacks them right between the eyes with a slingshot. You can understand the joy in whiskydom when tiny Glenora distillery, in Glenville, Nova Scotia, flipped the powerful Scotch Whisky Association the bird and the best that august organization could do in response was to sputter.

It didn’t help that the SWA, as it is most commonly called, had already made a public ass of itself when it decided to change the Scottish definition of blended whisky in a move many pundits thought was deliberately designed to confuse consumers. And the organization’s credibility wore even thinner when it asserted that the word ‘Glen’ actually means ‘Made In Scotland.’ Somehow they hadn’t realized that the people behind Glenora have deep Scottish roots going back generations and they had set up their distillery in Glenville, a Gaelic-speaking community. Oops.

Still, SWA lawyers had so convinced themselves of their fantasy definition that they actually took Glenora to court, convinced, it also seems, that eventually deep corporate pockets would trump reason. But somehow little Glenora hung on and fought back. Fought, that is, all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada where for a third and final time the law told the SWA to go take a hike. Cabot Trail anyone?

Finally, after spending a decade in legal suits, the down-to-earth folks at Glenora could turn their attention back to making whisky. But whisky thrives on neglect. Leave it alone and it just keeps getting better. All the while the management at Glenora was preoccupied dealing with the Scottish language police, things quietly just kept on happening in the barrels stored at the top of the little rise beside the distillery. Those white oak barrels, unaware of the litigious kerfuffle down the hill, continued to impart their flavours to the spirit they contained. And when the court finally gave the SWA its walking papers and the Glenora team could get back to thinking about making whisky, they discovered they had a whole batch of 15-year-old whisky just waiting to be bottled.

Glen Breton is single malt whisky. It is North America’s first and still Canada’s only single malt. It’s made in copper pot stills imported from Scotland, using Scottish processes. At one time even the barley came from Scotland. And the folks who do the work? Their families are all from Scotland as well. So if, as it has been asserted recently, ‘terrior’ in Scotland no longer has any meaning, and the processes for making Scotch have been so codified, have become so restrictive and so formulaic, that “Scotch” can now be made anywhere, then the Glenora folks make darn fine Scotch. But don’t let those Glenora folks hear you say that. It’s Canadian single malt – can’t you see the maple leaf and read Product of Canada on the label?

Yes, those five extra years in barrels were exactly what this whisky needed to bring out its rich fruitiness and fragrant flowers. The core Glen Breton line is usually bottled as a 10 year old, but with five extra years the whisky has really hit its stride. It’s richer and creamier than the 10 year old, and the soapy perfume notes that overwhelmed some earlier releases have morphed into spring flowers. It kind of reminds you of Lowland Scotch single malt – Rosebank maybe. But if you visit Glenora distillery they’ll show you different. They are very proud of their Glen Breton and display it prominently on their bar. So proud, in fact, that they invite you to compare it with a whole selection of, are you ready? … Scotch single malts. There’s Auchentoshan, Bowmore, and Balvenie on the bar, Aberlour, Ardbeg, and also Arran. Then there’s Tobermory, Bruichladdich, Springbank, and Cragganmore too. But there’s nary a bottle with the word ‘Glen’ on it. They wouldn’t want to confuse anyone.

“What goes around comes around,” the folksy Nova Scotians are fond of saying, explaining Celtic karma. It was a tough fight that this little distillery had to fight with the big boys from Scotland. It nearly killed them, but it didn’t. And now they’ve got a whole lot of goodwill from whisky aficionados who know the Glenora story, one heck of a good story to tell, and, on top of that, their Glen Breton single malt to hold its own with any Scotch on the bar.

Nose: A freshly-opened jar of applesauce greets the first whiff, before dry grass, fresh-cut alfalfa, and suggestions of rose petals and spring flowers waft in on a light summer’s breeze. A rich fruit cocktail of ripe red grapes, apricots, sweet cooked peaches, soft cooking apples and yellow plums simply fills your nostrils. But there is a lot more here as well. This may be the most robust and well-developed nose ever in a Glen Breton bottling. The complexity increases with dry grain, linen, and a certain nuttiness, but then there’s hard candy too, and a brief reminder of those black licorice cigars of years gone by. Slight herbal tones, a vague sweet mintiness, green tree bark and a sweet hint of dry lacquer round it out.

Palate: Sweet with fresh spring flowers, ripe fruit and a cleansing citric pith. Subtle hints of floral perfume, reminiscent of a younger Rosebank single malt, mingle with the vaguest hints of milk chocolate. Just as dry grass feeds the peppery flames, a tempering creaminess damps them. White pepper done right can be a thing of beauty. There is a candy quality to the sweetness with barley sugar and Werther’s caramels. The signature notes of Glen Breton are present, but muted with the familiar tropical fruits just poking through a fresh bite of crisp Mackintosh apple, and the tell-tale hints of floral perfume toned down significantly by white grapefruit pith, and by time. It’s a big palate and in 15 years it has developed more complexity than we are used to in the 10 year old Glen Breton. Lingering spicy pepper keeps the palate alive with lots of heat, and towards the middle, in just a flash there are hints of Christmas cake.

Finish: Medium-long. Maintains a balance of fading pepper, peaches, and red fruit underscored by mild grapefruit pith.

Empty Glass: Caramel and fresh water in ample measure are joined by hints of light molasses, baked apples, Crispy Crunch™, nutty dry grain, and wisps of oakiness.

$150 at British Columbia Liquors and Nova Scotia Liquor Commission, $132 at Kensington Wine Market in Calgary.

Highly Recommended. ★★★★☆

Glen Breton - single malt made in Canada


Comments

33 Responses to “Glen Breton Battle of the Glen (43% alc./vol.)”

  1. Drew:

    Thanks for this Davin. I’ll have to try and track down a bottle.

  2. Tim N:

    I find it most unfortunate that I cannot afford to buy my own country’s single malt.

    Why is it so expensive to produce?

    Will this change once the distillery is better established?

    • Davin:

      Who knows? The sell all they make so I guess in some ways the market sets the price. However, this really is a genuine craft operation and they use people to do a lot of things other distilleries use machines for. For example they have four people on the bottling line and they only fill 4 bottles at a time. It is all done by hand, just like everything else there. That must really keep the costs high though.

  3. Mike:

    This sounds like my kind of stuff, though the price is unrealistic. I found the standard 10 year old a little underwhelming, especially for $90. I would like to have tried Glen Breton Ice, though.

  4. Paul:

    As long as they sell all they make, all is well – good for them.

    As for craft operations, Springbank also does alot of things manually, including bottling. Their 15 year old is available in Ontario for about the same price as you quote for the Glen Breton ($140). Yet Springbank is burdened by import duties/tariffs, transportation, and distributor mark-up – costs presumable not imposed on GB.

    Unless the Glen Breton is a much better, I can’t see why Canadians should pay more for a domestic product than an equivalent import.

    As happened with my comment on the Caribou Crossing, you probably won’t post this comment. However, someone has to question the wisdom of pricing policies of Canadian “premium” whisky as compared with IMPORTED scotch!!! (Forty Creek Double Barrel Select and Confederation Oak, being other examples).

    Paul

    • Davin:

      Hi Paul,
      I am sorry, I don’t remember your comment on Caribou Crossing. I get a lot of spam so maybe I discarded it by accident.
      Springbank is a much much larger operation than Glenora. As well, taxes at the production level are very high in Canada while much less so in Scotland.
      We really have no basis of comparison for their production costs or marketing costs or the fact that Glenora is a relatively new business and has had ten very expensive years in court. There really is no way to tell if one has any advantage over the other. Clearly neither one has priced itself out of the market.
      I think it is a mistake to make assumptions or oversimplify things when it comes to whisky. I see this all the time on the forums.
      Considering the flak Forty Creek got over the supply of Confederation Oak running out so quickly in the U.S. you could argue it was priced too low or that they should have shipped all of it there.
      There are so many variables.
      Then there was Alberta Premium 25 year old which was priced so low it was ridiculous. Nobody wrote to ask how they could afford to do it.
      Davin

      • Paul:

        Thank you for posting my comment.

        I understand your points about lack of knowledge of cost structure at the various distileries – domestic and foreign.

        That being said, Canadian craft producers face a huge UPHILL battle. Like every other product, if the domestic producer is unable to offer a similar product at a lower price don’t make it at all. But don’t expect the consumer to purchase the domestic product at a higher price – UNLESS the quality is MUCH higher than the import.

        Of course the domestic product MAY be of higher quality – the problem is that very few people believe it. If that’s the case the challenge is one of branding/marketing. The trick is to build up the perception in Canada and elsewhere that in fact Canadian whisky is of high quality. Maybe they should start to differentiate themselves by bottling at higher strength (43% or 46%), reducing/eliminating the e150a, non-chilfiltering, improve the the info on the labels, etc. Then get out there and promote the product. Maybe form the Canadian equivalent of the SMS to lobby the governments to loosen up the liquor laws to allow for easier access to tastings, etc. Promote distillery tours to build up the romanticism of manual production processes …

        Until that happens, I will not risk $90 on a domestic 10yo whisky when I can purchase a well known import for much less – including the highly overpriced Macallan 12yo.

        p.s. maybe the craft producers should get together and hire you for the job – you have done wonderful work in promoting Canadian whiskies on this website!!!!!

        • Paul:

          Sorry, the Macallan reference implies that it sells for much less than $90.

          What I meant to say is that there are lower priced alternatives. Furthermore, even the highly overpriced Macallan sells for the same $90.

        • Davin:

          Hi Paul,

          Thank you for your kind words.

          You are right and I agree that price should be commensurate with quality. I am thinking though, that if distilleries like Forty Creek and Glen Breton are selling all they can make then there are a lot of people who think it is priced right. I know if I was selling my house I would charge as much as the market allows. I wouldn’t charge less just to be a nice guy.

          I agree also that we need more and different promotion for Canadian whisky, but again taxes are so high that they don’t have the same kind of profit margins as Scotch or bourbon so they have less money to plow back into the brands.

          Davin

          • Paul:

            I think that has to change. The way things are now, innovation is being stifled in this huge country. If we consider just our landmass alone, we should be home to a hugely diverse whisky scene. In fact we should also be home to a diverse apple brandy scene too- and we’re not. Gov’t really needs to help, not hinder, creativity and quality in this country.

        • Drew:

          They’re selling out their product. Selling it for less than people will pay for it might sounds like a great idea, but it’s terrible business. As a Canadian, I’d rather my country’s whisky producers be known for being smart, than producing cheap, accessible spirits.

          I’m sure that your local Lincoln dealer just gave you a smile and a handshake when you told him that you’d only buy one of his SUV’s when they priced it comparably to the Volkswagen.

          I’d also argue that Canadian whisky already has a fantastic reputation for quality especially in the U.S. If you’re sitting on the sidelines waiting for quality stuff to drop in price, you’re missing out.

  5. JohnM:

    There was a Glen Distillery in Cork, Ireland, established in 1802, before Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie… in fact, I think, before all the current “Glen” crop, apart from Glenturret and Glengarioch…

  6. Great review! Thanks for sharing the pride of Nova Scotia with your readers. Doug

  7. [...] fan of the regular 10-year-old version of Glen Breton, the single malt whisky from Nova Scotia, but this review of the limited edition 15-year-old shows that a few extra years in the barrel can turn an average whisky into a really great one. (Too [...]

  8. [...] and it's way less expensive. The best one is Wiser's Legacy, Here's a review of Glen Breton. http://www.canadianwhisky.org/review…3-alc-vol.html __________________ [...]

  9. Yello to Mello:

    Hi Davin, I was always curious how you would write about selected Glenora whiskies. Do you happen to know if they have a 20yo to be released in the near future?

  10. logie ogie:

    I dont pretend to know a lot about single malt whiskys but on those too humid evenings after a too hot day,here in Bermuda, Myself and a mate or two sit and I say,”Here, my friends, a taste of home, Glen Breton.Lots of scotch drinkers down here.There has been noting but admiration for this very kind drink.

    • Davin:

      Aye Logie, a fine dram on a hot Bermuda day or a cold Cape Breton winter evening.

  11. Dick Brann:

    Last month I had the good fortune to visi the Glenora distillery and taste their excellent single malt. The whisky is very good, but it is NOT worth $150 !

    • Davin:

      I dunno. You must have seen how everything – everything – is done by hand. It is a real artisan product. they could lower costs by putting in more automation, but that would mean a lot of jobs lost in a rural area. I think as long as they are selling all they can make, more power to them. Either way, it’s quite an enchanting place, isn’t it?

    • Drew:

      It’s worth it to me. You probably just forgot to carry the one when you were calculating the value of it being a Canadian business, that produces small batches, by hand, and takes a very small heart from the still to age in the barrels.

      But then again, if those things don’t mean much to you, I can see how you might find it expensive.

  12. Rod:

    I am cheering for Glenora but at the moment the GB10 Rare does not represent a good value to me. I have a bottle in my collection. It is very attractively packaged. I will seek out to taste the 15yo to try before I buy. I don’t mind collecting some premium whiskies but would prefer that I have them available in my collection for a treat at some time in the future and not collected for patriotism.

    • Davin:

      For my money, the 15 year old is much more enjoyable than the 10. I know the price of Glen Breton does not compare with Glenfiddich, but I appreciate a hand-crafted product that has personality and authenticity and so I always have a bottle or two of Glen Breton open (and no, not the same bottles, month after month.) I think as long as they continue to sell all they can make they should hold firm on the price or it will sell out and then people will start complaining about supply.

  13. Pudge72:

    Any word on when the BotG15 is coming to Ontario? It’s on my wishlist, though low priority due to the likely pricing at the LCBO.

  14. Pudge72:

    Either GB and/or the LCBO is finally waking up on the pricing of the GB 10…it has gradually wound down to $77 in the past month or so.

    I would anticipate the final resting place for the price to come in at the $65 – $75 range at some point in 2013, if I was a betting person.

    Is there any update about the GB 15 ‘BOTG’ coming to Ontario? It would probably generate sales at the $95 – $110 range, imho…above that, it could get tricky.

  15. Pudge72:

    …interesting. I checked the NSLC website after posting the previous comment. They too have lowered the price on the GB 10, to $80. A 14 yo release (at 43% it would seem) is priced at $120 and the BOTG remains at $150.

    Will there be a review of the 14 yo coming out at some point? I am curious.

  16. Gerardus L. Rutten:

    Please give me more info of the white whisky (Silver)that I had delivered some time back, any other info of your product, thanks.

    • Davin:

      It is unaged whisky – no barrel effect.

  17. 2shrodes1cup.com:

    I found a minuscule bit of solid and a little wisp of haze when I spin the bottle. It’s unopened, but is it ruined?

  18. Davin:

    Not at all. This haze is typical of whisky that has not been chill filtered. Such whiskies are highly prized by connoisseurs who see the slight haze as a mark of high quality and full flavour. It consists of very tiny amounts of flavourful fatty acids that can fall out of solution over time if the whisky gets cold. You got a prize winner. Enjoy it!

  19. 2shrodes1cup.com:

    I took the bottle back to the store, paranoid by the cork solids in the bottle. At first the lady looked at the bottle, then flipped it upside down and started shaking it like a celebratory bottle of champagne. If it wasn’t ruined before, it was right then and there.
    I swapped my bottle that moment.
    Buyer beware Niagara Falls.

  20. 2shrodes1cup.com:

    I will however, spin every bottle I buy to see if I can kick up some haze. Thanks davin!

  21. David Young:

    Thanks for this. Last year my wife and i (from toronto) did an east coast road trip. We called it our booze and chowder tour lol. Anyway we had the opportunity to visit the Glen Breton Distillery, where i purchased a bottle of the Battle of the Glen for 135$. most i have ever spent on a bottle of spirit- i think the story of it intrigued me the most, and i figured it to be more of a neat conversation piece than just another bottle of whisky. I dare not open it :) . Its like a memento of our trip.
    I am no single malt aficionado- but i’ve become increasingly curious about single malts, and reading this review satisfied my curiosity about my purchase. Reading up on it, i think it will remain tucked away. It sounds like some years down the road i may be in for a real treat.
    Thanks again :)


Leave a Reply