50th Anniversary Trilogy III: A Look Ahead
Last month, the celebratory series for Master Distiller Billy Walker’s 50th Anniversary was concluded with a landmark release: The GlenAllachie 4-year-old Peated Single Malt. Although marking more firsts for GlenAllachie, this finale is also a sign of what is to come in the future…
When Billy and our team got the keys to The GlenAllachie Distillery in 2017, we immediately implemented several changes to production to firmly place the emphasis on achieving quality over quantity – an ethos which continues to run throughout the heart of our practices. Always the innovator, Billy’s next move was to experiment with distilling peated spirit at GlenAllachie.
“Our driving force is not economies of scale or a desire for absolute consistency, it is the pursuit of the best quality possible.”
Although our distillery has the capacity to produce 4 million litres of alcohol per year (LOA), we have reduced output by around 80%. This move has allowed us to increase our fermentation period to a lengthy 160 hours, triple the industry average, enough time to not only allow the sugars to convert to alcohol, but create lots of flavour compounds to deliver a distinctly fruity and ester-rich spirit. This drop in production also allows for great supervision during the maturation journey – essential time thanks to our extensive re-racking programme.
The Future Edition is the first distillate that Billy has overseen from start to finish, and so also the first release to have been impacted by these changes in production. The barley was dried using St. Fergus peat to a level of 80 PPM, offering drinkers the opportunity to try the sweeter side of peat. PPM (parts per million) refers to the measure of phenols present in the malted barley after kilning. Malted barley peated to a higher PPM can contribute to a smokier tasting whisky, but not always. As the malt’s PPM measures the raw material, it is not a governing factor to how peated the whisky in your glass will be.
Along with the multitude of elements in terms of spirit production, the area from which the peat comes from plays a key role in shaping the final product. The provenance of the peat is a big factor which determines the aromas and flavours that emerge from a peated malt. Whilst coastal peat creates more medicinal and maritime notes of seat salt, mainland peat, such as St. Fergus, offers a woodier palate of smoked heather alongside caramelised sugar (see Q2 from Billy below for more insight into this concept of terroir).
It’s no secret that the younger a peated spirit is, the smokier and punchier it will be. However, the combination of sweeter peat, fruitier wash and carefully selected casks crafted the perfect preview of our future peated endeavours. The creamy, vanilla notes from the Bourbon and Rye casks work to perfectly complement the smoky spirit, whilst the Virgin Oak casks offer up hints of citrus and spice. An ode to Billy’s focus upon producing high-quality, flavourful spirit and his exceptional wood management skills, this release truly illustrates the fact that older doesn’t always equal better in the whisky sphere.
“I eagerly await the reaction amongst whisky fans to this first glimpse at both our own distillate, and our peated work. The response will unquestionably influence where we take things next.”
Not only offering fans a sneak peek to our upcoming peated work, The Future Edition is also a nod to the direction in which the unpeated GlenAllachie single malt will follow in the years to come, when the GlenAllachie spirit bottled will be distilled under our ownership. Although this release marks the conclusion of our celebratory series don’t think of it as the end, this is only the beginning.
Keep reading below for some more insight into our latest peated venture from Master Distiller, Billy Walker himself…
Q. Are you a peated whisky fan?
Billy: As a blender, I enjoy working with all styles of malt whisky. Achieving your targeted level of peated influence is the blender’s challenge. Malted barley at 70-80 PPM, the phenols will give a spirit cut of about 30-35 phenols. Mainland peat delivers a sweeter style of peat influence, with a notable absence of brine and iodine notes. The choice of maturation casks for this peated middle cut, delivers some amazing additional and varied flavour components. The difference between Islay/coastal peat and mainland peat, essentially, is a consequence of the source of the peat and terroir. Islay peat is formed from grass, vegetation and heather and herb degradation, whilst mainland peat is formed from tree degradation.
Q. What was the most surprising thing you learnt when working with your own peated distillate?
Billy: We were familiar with the kiln style of the supplier, and were in a position to select the level of peating. Of course, we had to do significant adapting at the distillation stage to fix the optimum cut. We also had good knowledge of the best wood types to use for the maturation, to achieve the flavour profile we were targeting, but retaining the peat influence. We have been pleased with the level of peat retention during the first four years of maturation.
Q. What should we expect to see in the future in terms of other peated releases?
Billy: We have run a significant peated campaign, annually, since 2018. We have used a variety of oak wood casks, including Sherry and virgin oak, for the maturation journey so you can expect some amazing releases.
Watch this space… we certainly have a lot more up our sleeves.
8th November 2022
21st September 2022