Glenkinchie is also known as 'The Edinburgh Malt' - which makes sense, given its location
near the city in the East Lothian foothills. The distillery is located in the glen of the Kinchie Burn,
not far from the village of Pencaitland. The name 'Kinchie' is probably derived from 'de Quincey',
the name of the original owners of these lands.
The current owners (Diageo) link Glenkinchie to the Milton distillery that was founded on
the same location around 1825 by brothers John & George Rate. For a period the distillery
was operated by James Gray of Leechman & Gray. However, John Rate had control again
in 1852 - one year before the distillery fell silent. Glenkinchie was sold to a farmer named
Christie, who turned it into a sawmill.
Glenkinchie remained silent for a few decades. It wasn't until 1880 or 1881 that a
consortium of brewers, blenders and wine merchant named Glen Kinchie Distillery Co.
bought the buildings and started to reconstruct the distillery. In a way this revival was
another fresh start for Glenkinchie, putting the actual foundation date of the current
distillery even further away from the 1825 claim.
In 1914 Glenkinchie and 4 other Lowland distilleries founded SMD (Scottish Malt Distillers).
A little more than a decade later, Scottish Malt Distillers was bought by Distillers Company Limited (DCL).
During the second world war (1939-1945) Glenkinchie was one of the few malt whisky distilleries in Scotland that
remained in production. The traditional floor maltings at Glenkinchie were closed in 1968.
The old floor maltings were turned into a distillation museum in 1969 by
Alistair Munro, a former manager at Glenkinchie. Meanwhile, the distillery
itself kept churning out malt whisky in relative obscurity for to more decades.
This changed in 1988 when the six 'Classic Malts' were launched by United
Distillers (UD, the predecessors of Diageo). Glenkinchie 10yo represented
the Lowlands while the other 5 regions were linked to 5 other UD releases;
Cragganmore (12yo, Speyside), Dalwhinnie (15yo, Highlands), Lagavulin
(16yo, Islay), Oban (14yo, Highlands) and Talisker (10 years old, Skye).
Glenkinchie distillery is located near Edinburgh and has some
strong ties with the city. Other malt whisky distilleries in the area
were Glen Flagler (inside the Moffat grain whisky complex),
Rosebank and Saint Magdalene / Linlithgow.
These distilleries were all closed in the last few decades, but
some kind of revival has been going on in the Lowlands of
Scotland since the start of the new millennium. .
Existing distilleries like Bladnoch and Rosebank (Falkirk) were revived and brand new distilleries like Ailsa Bay,
Annandale and Kingsbarns were constructed. Nowadays, most Lowland distilleries were built just a few years ago.
1) Glenkinchie was part of Diageo's original series of 6 'Classic Malts',
together with Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Lagavulin, Oban and Talisker.
This series was first released in 1988. Around 2005 a bunch of other
distilleries were added to the range; Caol Ila, Cardhu, Clynelish, Glen Elgin,
Glen Ord, Knockando and Royal Lochnagar.
4) A fairly unusual cast-iron worm tub is still used at Glenkinchie distillery
to condense the freshly distilled spirit. The worm tub is two storeys high with
a rectangular spiral instead of the usual round shape.
6) Glenkinchie’s visitor centre attracts around 40,000 visitors per year.
5) There are three dunnage warehouses at the Glenkinchie distillery,
holding some 10,000 casks of maturing whisky.
3) Glenkinchie has the largest wash still in Scotland with a total capacity
of more than 30,000 litres.
2) Glenkinchie uses a full lauter mash tun with a capacity of 9 tonnes.
7) Edinburgh was the first city in the world which had its own fire brigade.
2007 - The 'standard expression' of the Glenkinchie whisky
has been the 10 years old for almost two decades. Although
there's a trend towards bringing younger expressions on the
market, the new bottling is 12 years old. That's just as well;
even after 10 years the Glenkinchie malt whisky hasn't
picked up a lot of character.
2010 - A cask strength expression of Glenkinchie is
introduced, which is available exlusively at the visitor’s centre.
2016 - According to the ‘World Whiskies Awards’, Glenkinchie 12yo is the best Lowlands single malt.
(In my own experience, it most definitively is not - which makes one wonder if those awards serve a real purpose.)
2008 - The neck of the wash still of Glenkinchie (the distillery
operates with one pair of stills) is replaced. The wash still is
(one of) the largest in Scotland with a contents of more than
Glenkinchie NAS (59.3%, OB, Distillery only, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Powerful but nonedescript. A faint bourbony sweetness. Caramel? Quite harsh after I added water.
Taste: Big and fairly sweet at C/S. No development. With water it loses its structure. Harsh, dry finish.
Score: 64 points - the nose of this whisky is quite alcoholic. This Glenkinchie is not really my cup of tea.
Glenkinchie 12yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Fresh, grassy and metallic. Chalky as well? Prickly alcohol. Perhaps a hint of oil as well?
Taste: Sharp start, growing sweeter in the centre. Feels a little gritty. Plywood finish.
Score: 60 points - which is the same score I gave to the 'basic' Glenfiddich NAS in the early 1990's.
However, while the Glenfiddich has much improved over the years, Glenkinchie went the other way.
Glenkinchie 1995/2009 Distillers Edition (43%, OB, Amontillado Finish, G/282-7-D)
Nose: Light fruits and clay. The fruits grow heavier and more complex after a few seconds. Furniture polish?
It's the sort of profile I usually enjoy, but here the elements seem not very well integrated. Some rough edges.
Taste: Fruity, overly sweet start. Smooth in the start, but the mouth feel grows hotter, harsher and drier.
Score: 74 points - just below average, but I enjoy it much more than the regular 12yo old whisky.
Glenkinchie 12yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Farmy, on the relatively 'heavy' side. Changes rapidly over the first few seconds.
Based on the nose alone it would have scored in the lower 70's... I'm just not a fan of Glenkinchie I guess...
Taste: Gritty and slightly sour. Strong tannins; fairly harsh. This whisky is quite an attack on your senses.
The finish of this Glenkinchie grows extremely bitter, swiftly pulling the score into the lower 60's.
Score: 64 points - although most other maniacs rated this whisky considerably higher.
Glenkinchie 1992/2007 Distillers Edition (43%, OB, Amontillado Finish)
Nose: Fairly sharp and rough. Strong fruits, but not very well integrated. Quite interesting though.
Horse radish? Some spices. Not much substance beneath the expressive surface. Clearly a finished whisky.
Taste: Sweet. Based on the nose it could have approached or even reached the lower 80's.
However, IMHO it'd just not 'good' enough on the palate. Crude tannins and some aspirin. Jagermeister?
A fairly big burn. An odd, artificial fruitiness that sometimes exceeds the borders of whisky territory.
Score: 75 points - I wouldn't actively recommend it, but I like it much better than the regular 12yo OB.
Did they actually increase the finishing period compared to earlier batches? If so, I think they're on the right way.
Glenkinchie 20yo (58.4%, OB, 10yrs American refill + 10yrs brandy casks, Bottled 2007)
Nose: Beautiful balance. A little mainstream, but a fine example of a good, well-balanced whisky. Spices?
Taste: Smooth with a gentle fruity undercurrent. Quite sweet. In fact, is that the brandy I'm tasting?
Score: 83 points - it goes in the direction of a finished whisky but hangs together fairly well.
Glenkinchie 12yo Limited Edition (58.7%, OB, Bottled +/- 2004)
Nose: Sweet and smoky. Nicely balanced, but not very expressive at first.
A little grainy. Malty too, with what seems like a very subtle sherry influence.
No fruits. Instead, organics appear after a while. Hey wait, now I get melon.
Very pleasant, but it doesn't choose sides. A little too middle-of-the-road for me.
Taste: Big, hot and sweet start. It remains very hot - this is a real afterburner.
You can really 'feel' the higher proof in this one. Bitter towards the finish.
It does quite well on the palate - big and quite sweet at first, growing drier.
Score: 83 points - it's not complex enough to reach the upper 80's but I like it.
However, I should mention that it needs quite a while to get into the lower 80's.
Glenkinchie 1986 Distillers Edition (43%, OB, code G/273-7-D, Amontillado Finish, Bottled +/- 1999)
Nose: A lot of sherry added to the 'standard' character of Glenkinchie - which is good.
After a while, the sherry moves to the background and hints of honey and melon emerge.
Taste: 'Dusty'. Sherry, but very soft. The wood becomes more obvious over time.
More astringent and woody in the finish than the standard bottling of Glenkinchie.
Rating: 73 points - Quite nice actually; a dream within a dream. Here, the double wood treatment pays off.
This version is considerably better than the standard 10yo version which received a rating of 66 points.
Glenkinchie 21yo 1978/1999 (60,8%, Signatory Vintage)
Nose: Pretty sharp, but it doesn't really advertise the cask strength. Couldn't find a lot there.
Sweet start, with a bit of artificial orange like in 'Fanta' lemonade at the end of every whiff.
Some smoke after a few minutes. More citrus and sweetness in the nose with some water.
Taste: Seems very sweet and surprisingly drinkable for a cask strength at first, until it reaches your throat.
Wow - What a burn. Time to add some water. Still full of sweet power. A bit more malty.
With an extra big splash of water (to about 30 Alc %) a lot more smoke in the nose, but little sweetness left.
The taste seems very soft at first, but explodes within seconds into a sweet burn. Very peppery finish.
Score: 79 points - Woehah! Very nice for a Glenkinchie, too bad I forgot the cask number.
Glenkinchie 10yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1995, 70cl)
Nose: probably my least favourite 'classic malt'; typical young Lowland malts are not reallt my style.
The nose is soft and friendly with some sweetness. Rather complex, but too much water ruins this whisky.
Taste: showed interesting development, but remainded a bit bland. It's dry essence drifts away.
Score: 66 points - some people seem to like it a lot, but it's not my type of whisky.
Glenkinchie 17yo (46%, Cadenhead, Old dumpy bottle, Bottled 1980's)
Nose: Grainy and creamy - much 'mellower' than the 10yo OB I remember from the 1990's.
Some faint fruits and spices. Hint of smoke or peat? Italian sausages? Hint of chloride?
More and more organics emerge over time, eventually lifting it from the 70's into the lower 80's.
Taste: Sweetish start, growing fruitier in the centre. Winegums. Feels a little gritty, though.
Score: 80 points - and once again this is a malt that needs some time to reach its peak.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Glenkinchie malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Glenkinchie I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Glenkinchie.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.
These six 'classic malts' have now been integrated in a larger
portfolio called 'Classic Malts Selection' which also includes
distilleries like Caol Ila and Clynelish. Five of the original six
distilleries still use so-called 'worm tubs' - a fairly old fashioned
technique for cooling the vapours and fresh spirit that has just
condensed at the top of the still. All stills need to be replaced
at some point (with each 'run' some of the copper dissolves in
the whisky), and given the other rationalisations in the industry,
these worm tubs might be replaced too.
Glenkinchie has always operated with just two stills.
However, what they lack in numbers at the distillery they more
than make up for in size; Glenkinchie has one of the largest
wash stills in Scotland (its contents are over 30,000 litres).
This wash still was replaced with a brand new one in the spring
of 2008. Given its massive size of both the old and the new still,
the roof of the still house had to be removed in order to replace
the old still with the new one. Most of the distilleries in Scotland
have their stills built at the famous Forsyth's coppersmiths and
fabricators from Rothes, but Glenkinchie's new wash still was
constructed at Diageo's own coppersmith facilities.
The Lothians are famous for the high quality of the barley that is grown in the area.
We can thank the 18th century 'Society of Improvers of Knowledge of Agriculture' for that; they introduced many
improvements to the farming practices in Scotland. This society was founded by John Cockburn who was born in
the village of Ormiston, a stone's throw away from Glenkinchie.
When Glenkinchie was founded in 1837, well over a hundred licensed distilleries were active in the Lowlands.
However, at the end of the 20th century only three of them had survived; Glenkinchie, Auchentoshan and Bladnoch.
Fortunately, things looked up for the area a few years later when Daftmill (a micro distillery) and Ailsa Bay (a much
larger project from William Grant & Sons) were constructed. Just like the Campbeltown area, it would seem that the
Lowlands have started to recover from a very difficult time for distilling.