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


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