I’m not one to turn down a unique experience, so when I was recently offered the chance to enjoy a few drams on board a vessel ahead of the annual Portsoy Boat Festival, I accepted without hesitation.
In full, it was a Glenglassaugh Distillery whisky and food pairing event. I am no whisky connoisseur, to say the least, so was delighted to even be considered.
The event took place last Friday (June 30) from 4.30pm to 7pm on 19th century Fifie Sailing Herring Drifter the Reaper to celebrate the company unveiling its new portfolio and branding.
My friend Abby joined me and with the pair of us residing in Turriff, we made way for the coastal town roughly an hour prior.
While we arrived at the harbour to a minor rain shower, this gradually cleared up to unveil sunshine for the remainder of the evening.
Neither of us had no idea what to expect.
How big is the Reaper? Will the tasting take place in or outside the vessel? How many people will be participating in the tasting?
We were equally as excited as we were apprehensive, but we needn’t have been the latter.
Built in 1902 by J&G Forbes in Sandhaven, the 70-foot sailing drifter has an impressive history which includes surviving the First World War and Second World War, as well as holding the record catch of herring in Shetland in the 1930s.
Purchased by the Scottish Fisheries Museum in 1975, the Reaper is one of the few vessels in the UK’s National Historic Fleet which is still in seagoing condition.
It was one of the flagship vessels attending the 30th Scottish Traditional Boat Festival.
There were a roughly 15 people invited on board the Reaper for the tasting, ranging from food and drink lovers and bloggers to devoted fans of Glenglassaugh Distillery.
The tasting took place on the top deck with the sail acting as our shelter.
Global whisky ambassador Stewart Buchanan greeted guests as we one by one made it off the gangway and onto the vessel. His enthusiasm was infectious from the get-go.
Whilst everyone conversed, Craig Wilson, otherwise known as the Kilted Chef, plated up our enticing food pairings to go with the three different whiskies.
However, he too took plenty of opportunities to converse with visitors before the proceedings began.
A new era of coastal malts
Stewart talked us through the history of Glenglassaugh Distillery, as well as the iconic Highland coastal spirit’s new portfolio and design direction.
The release of a flagship 12 Year Old Single Malt, which embodies Glenglassaugh’s signature coastal style, heralds this turning point.
As with all Glenglassaugh single malts, the new whisky has been gently matured in the distillery’s coastal warehouses overlooking the rolling surf of Sandend Bay.
Two other new whiskies, Sandend and Portsoy, respectively express the luscious and deep coastal elements of Glenglassaugh.
I was most excited to give Portsoy (ABV 49.1%) a try – given that we were in the village which, of course, inspired this richly peated single malt.
Matured in sherry, bourbon and port casks, it boasted a deep amber shade.
A tropical fruit scent was noticeable from the get-go. But for those that sample the Portsoy in the future, you may also notice sherried dark soy, port with liquorice and sea kelp.
It was full-bodied with dark chocolate, fermented soy and charred mango with treacle and a crack of sea salt.
We the moved on to the Sandend (ABV 50.5%), which is matured in bourbon, sherry and manzanilla casks.
The summer gold spirit is inspired by the crescent beach of Sandend Bay and, again, tropical fruit was most apparent on the nose. However, it also boasts aromas of vanilla ice cream, chocolate and sea salt.
As for the taste, Abby and I both agreed that salted caramel and grapefruit were the most prominent flavours. Others may also pick up pineapple and cherry.
Glenglassaugh 12 Years Old
Last but not least was the luminous gold Glenglassaugh 12 Years Old (ABV 45%), which embodies the brand’s signature coastal style.
It is matured in bourbon, sherry and red wine casks for waves of ripe fruit carried on an ocean breeze.
This was my favourite of the trio and proved the most sweet, boasting hints of ripe apricot and toasted vanilla on the nose and date, fig roll and morello cherry on the tongue.
Refills were provided for each tipple which was a lovely touch.
Later this year the portfolio will welcome a number of releases dating back to the 60s and 70s honouring Glenglassaugh’s heritage expressions, revisiting a time which helped to shape today’s distinctive Highland coastal malt.
Two courses were paired with the Portsoy, the first being Thai spiced Cullen skink with a mango and ginger mini buttery.
The buttery was a lovely touch with the mango elevating the flavours of the single malt beautifully, while there was plenty of flakey haddock in each serving of the skink.
Albeit very different to the first, I thought the second course paired just as well (if not even better) with the tipple.
Served with grain mustard potato puree and a kale crisp, the Portsoy whisky marinated Aberdeen Angus beef cheek was the most tender cut of beef I have had the pleasure of tucking into to date.
It tore apart with ease, and its rich sauce was a highlight of the entire evening, in terms of the food pairings.
After everyone had a glass of Sandend in hand, Craig began dishing out the next course – duck liver parfait with crisp fruit bread and pineapple salsa.
The textures in this canape were fantastic. The bread was crispy while the parfait was creamy.
However, the salsa was the star of the show with its citrusy flavours complimenting the whisky’s flavour profile of grapefruit, pineapple and cherry, to name a few.
My fellow guests and I were treated to not one or two, but three dishes when the Glenglassaugh 12 Years Old was being sampled.
The halibut and langoustine with fig and pistachio and micro herbs was arguably the most enticing plate we tried on the evening. It was equally as vibrant in appearance as it was in taste.
There was also a vegetarian option on the cards, a roasted carrot and honey cream cheese scone.
I hadn’t seen or tasted a scone like it before, but it was impressive. Its silky toppings were bursting with flavour, like its whisky pairing, and the scone itself had a fluffy interior.
The final dish on the cards – served by Craig and his team – was a dark chocolate ganache served with a cherry, raspberry coulis and honeycomb.
I knew this dessert would go down well with the Glenglassaugh 12 Years Old given they both oozed sweetness.
To round things off, Craig’s wife Lindsay was in charge of distributing a special whisky cocktail featuring the Portsoy.
Named Red Sails at Sunset, it was light, refreshing and zingy.
Abby and I sipped away at the remains of our drinks before cheersing to a superb evening and calling it a day.
Glenglassaugh Distillery was headline maritime sponsor at this year’s Scottish Traditional Boat Festival.