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Whisky Reviews

GlenAllachie Billy Walker 50th Anniversary Future Edition, 4 Years Old Peated, 60.2% ABV

 

What’s the deal with Glenallachie’s Billy Walker 50th Anniversary series, and why does one bottle fetch such a handsome price (in the thousands of dollars) at whisky auctions? To understand the icon that is Billy Walker, we need to look back at his 50-plus-year career, during which he reviewed over 5 forgotten Scotch distilleries and made them famous names.

Breathing life into dying distilleries

 

Billy Walker is Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame inductee and the owner and Master Distiller of GlenAllachie Distillery (Source: The Glenallachie)

 

Born in the whisky-producing town of Dumbarton, Scotland, Billy grew up to have a passion for whisky-making. Soon after he did a degree in Chemistry, he joined several whisky companies and was intimately involved in whisky production. Of note was the now defunct Burn Stewart Distillers where he helped work on reviving two distilleries that had somewhat faded into the backdrop: Deanston and Tobermory.

Moving the clock forward a bit, it was now the 2000s and BenRiach, GlenDronach, and Glenglassaugh were 3 distilleries that had become somewhat forgotten. One was mothballed, the other closed and yet another was facing poor sales. For many, these distilleries have become echoes of the past. Yet for Billy, he saw potential and work cut out for him.

First, he reintroduced BenRiach’s peated expressions, a somewhat unusual move for a Speyside distillery. Under Walker's guidance, the distillery expanded its range, offering both peated and unpeated whiskies, and explored a variety of cask finishes.

Next, he took control of GlenDronach. With Billy in charge, he doubled-down on the distillery’s sherry cask profile, giving it the incredible sherried character that GlenDronach now has a passionate following of enthusiasts and collectors.

Finally, the Highland distillery Glenglassaugh (glen-gla-sah) had been closed for two decades when it was acquired by Billy, after which he turned its fate around, introducing premium aged-statement expressions and unique cask finishes that was well-received.

Here's the kicker: Brown-Forman saw the value in what Billy had achieved and decided to acquire all three distilleries. And we're not talking pocket change – each of these distilleries was scooped up for hundreds of millions of dollars. If that isn't a testament to Billy's ability to spin copper into gold in the whisky world, I don't know what is.

GlenAllachie

 

But Billy wasn’t done. In 2017, he turned his gaze to GlenAllachie, which was the Chivas blend’s workhorse and did not produce much single malt. He purchased GlenAllachie and refined its quality, using higher quality wood (he set an annual budget of £2 million just to acquire good oak asks) and constantly evaluating the aging spirit, sometimes introducing cask finishes that add layers of complexity.

This revamped approach, combined with an emphasis on quality, pushed GlenAllachie to new heights and awareness in the single malt market.

 

 

Glenallachie Billy Walker Series: Past, Present and Future

Released in 2022, GlenAllachie’s Billy Walker series celebrates their Master Distiller’s impressive career and significant contributions to the Scotch whisky scene. There are 3 expressions in this series, each released to celebrate a key milestone in Billy Walker’s career and involvement with GlenAllachie.

 

The first of the trio, PAST EDITION, is a 100% Sherry matured 16-year-old expression that highlights Billy Walker’s past, and the fact that he became acclaimed through releasing many heavily sherried whisky expressions.

The second, PRESENT EDITION, is a 16-year-old had been finished in rare Japanese Mizunara oak casks. This is intended to represent Billy’s present, where he has been experimenting with various innovative cask styles.

Thanks to Asiaeuro Wine & Spirits, I got a chance to have a taste of the third and final bottling in this series – the 4-year-old called FUTURE EDITION.

While it’s the youngest of the series, this bottling is probably the most unique bottling from GlenAllachie in my opinion.

It has the symbolic significance of being the first spirit distilled under Billy Walker’s watch after he purchased the distillery in 2017, and is also GlenAllachie’s first peated whisky. The way this bottling was made also hints at the future direction of GlenAllachie, suggesting that there will be a shift to slightly peated expressions. I’d add that this peatiness has a different character from the peatiness of Islay whisky because mainland peat from northwest Scotland is used, and the aromas are said to be sweeter.

This expression had also been fermented for a longer period of time. Typical GlenAllachie had been made from wash that was fermented for about 120 hours. This expression enjoyed 160 hours that makes for a more estery and fruity spirit. It is then matured in ex-rye whiskey, bourbon barrels and virgin oak casks – also unusual cask styles for GlenAllachie. It has an outturn of 10,000 bottles worldwide.

So let’s give this a taste!

GlenAllachie Billy Walker 50th Anniversary Future Edition 4 Years Old Peated, 60.2% ABV – Review

 

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: A gentle ashiness hits first, followed by honey-charred elements reminiscent of honey char siew (Chinese BBQ pork), and smoked applewood bacon, paired with the citrus tang of smoked lemons. At the same time there’s a rich cocktail of tropical and funky notes – think honey and pear cider that's both sweet and tart, pineapple juice and a hint of funky Jamaican rum. On the back of it, savoury undertones of prosciutto, and subtle mineral elements rounding it off in the mix.

Palate: Fresh, bright and fruity with a lively spicy kick. It has a lovely oily texture that coats the tongue and make the flavours linger. Opens with a strong wave of pepperiness intertwined with the zesty bite of citrus. There's a rich, thick orange marmalade quality, complemented by a gentle ashy background. The standout feature is the pronounced pear and apple sweetness, giving it a profile akin to old-style Scotch where the smoke plays a supporting role, allowing the fruitiness to shine.

Finish: Quite lengthy, continues with bright citrus acidity slowly giving way to a lingering pepperiness and a comforting, sweet ashiness.

 

 

My thoughts

⚡️Super lively, super layered.

For a whisky that's only 4 years old, this is pretty stunning. It isn’t quite the same, but it certainly has a character that reminds me of the old-school Islay Scotches I've had the pleasure to taste. The profile is very layered, especially with its dominant orchard fruits that is accented by that mellow ashiness.

This bottle edition is one that keeps coming up in conversations, long after the glass is empty. My advice? Don't rush through it. It has a bit of heat and power due to its youth, but despite that, there's a depth of flavour here that's very much worth the time uncovering.

If this is any indication of what's to come in the next decade for GlenAllachie, I'm eagerly looking forward to it!

| If you're based in Singapore, the GlenAllachie Billy Walker Future Edition is still available from Asiaeuro Wines & Spirits Singapore.

@CharsiuCharlie