Aug 172015
 

GlenDronach 18 y.o. Marsala Cask Finish275

46% abv

Score:  85/100

 

GlenDronach in all its incarnations is a personal favorite brand of mine.  They always keep it exciting and their adherence to a top notch wood policy keeps me loyal and spending money.  I’ve found a few oddball single casks that weren’t quite firing on all cylinders (for me, at least), but they were unquestionably the exception, not the rule.  Day in, day out the team at GlenDronach puts out great whisky.

While the distillery’s output is typically rather heavily sherried, here we have an 18 year old malt that spent its twilight days in Marsala wine casks.  I’m not certain as to the length of finishing period, but the impact is huge.  The whisky itself is a shimmering gold/orange/pink colour in the bottle (the likes of which I’ve only ever seen in one or two other malts) and the drink itself is syrupy, bold and fruity.  It’s exactly what should be expected: mature and elegant Highland whisky with a big burst of mouthwatering – then subsequently drying – wine fruitiness.

And does it work?  Yes.  But it’s a close one.  The wine is a little too big, to be honest, but like a spinning top or a Weeble, its off kilter quirkiness is enough to keep me engaged, as opposed to turning away.  I like this one.  More for the nose than the palate, but nevertheless I do like it.

Nose:  Big fruity, wine-y nose.  Spicy, rich wood notes. Orange zest (and juice!) and maraschino.  Some custard and vanilla.  Banana peel.  A slight nuttiness.  Ginger, mild cinnamon and a dash of pepper.  A faint floral soap breeze blows across the top of it all.  All in all…rather delicate and rather appealing.

Palate:  All the wine promised on the nose makes an appearance here.  Brace for it.  A moment or two in it puckers the back edges of the tongue.  Lots of syrupy fruit.  Now ginger again and truckloads of spice.  Wet oak.  Like cognac over poached fruit.  Walnut and almond.  Leaves behind fruits skins at the back end.  A little heavy on the wine, but not so top heavy that it falls over.

Thoughts:  Not too harmonious, really, but there is something that works about it all nevertheless.  I really, really like the nose, and sorta kinda like the palate.

* Thanks to our mate, J Wheelock, for bringing this one by not too long ago and generously pouring for a crowd of unsavoury sorts.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:40 am
May 192014
 

GlenDronach Grandeur 31 y.o. (Batch 3)092

45.8% abv

Score:  90.5/100

 

Generally speaking, any little whisky write-up I do will have some sort of pithy angle to it.  That’s just me trying to keep it interesting for myself, and hoping to entertain a litte while we get our ‘geek’ on.  But, like it or not, sometimes the best approach is a straight forward one.  (Having now conceded this, does that now make it an angle in and of itself?  Hmmmm.  Let’s just move on…)

A good mate of mine contends that GlenDronach are the big dogs when it comes to sherry casks nowadays.  Forget Macallan…forget Glenfarclas…forget Aberlour.  It’s tough to admit he’s ever right, but at the same time it’s becoming increasingly hard to argue the point when the distillery puts out drams like this.  Simple fact of the matter is that all of the best mature sherry bombs I’ve tried in recent times have all borne the ‘Dronach moniker.  Spending a couple hours in the distillery’s warehouses is now one of those bucket list things for me.  Would make a hell of a write-up too, if I ever get ’round to it.

GlenDronach Grandeur is a 31 year old distillery bottling.  Or was, I should say.  This Batch 3 from a wee while back is apparently the last of this grandfatherly old malt to bear this unique age statement.  After a period of fallow, Grandeur is now to be resurrected as a 24 year old.  A sign of the times, unfortunately.  Especially as I can’t imagine we’ll see a compensatory price drop when this happens.  Time will tell, I suppose.  We’ll hold to optimism, however, that the end product continues to be held to the same standard of near flawless Oloroso butt vatting, ’cause let’s face it…this is exceptional.

Nose:  Dried tropical fruits and rich jammy notes.  Oiled leather.  Figs.  Espresso.  Sandalwood.  Furniture polish.  Sticky toffee pudding.  Bitter, high cacao chocolate.  A vaguely waxy, latex note.  All with a berry coulis sweet thread throughout.

Palate:  Very mature fruity notes on arrival.  Some coffee again and chocolate fudge.  Glosette raisins.  Almond paste.  Maybe even raw almonds as well.  Or toasted almonds.  Walnut.  Oily savoury notes too.

Thoughts:  Great cask selection.  A couple of well chosen barrels…and absolutely no ‘blending away’ of crap.  This is what mature sherry should taste like.  I find I actually crave this flavour profile some evenings.

*Big thanks to my mate, J Wheelock, for the opportunity to try.  Ahem.  More than once.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:45 pm
Feb 032014
 

GlenDronach 2002 #708 (KWM Exclusive)096

55.4% abv

Score:  89/100

 

Looks like the good folks at Kensington Wine Market have picked another winner here. 

You know I’m a sucker for the GlenDronach single casks, but what even I didn’t know was how special they can be even in this relatively young state of maturity.  I approached this whisky with middling expectations (herein conceded as an age bias) but must admit I was more than silenced with the first nosing. 

I won’t wax poetic about deep intricacies and subtle shadings on this one.  Here we have exactly what we’d expect in a sweet young sherry bomb.  Big, rambunctious and not for the faint of heart.  But what’s unique in the case of cask #708, a 602 bottle yielding PX puncheon, is just how clean and surprisingly vibrant this is in comparison to so many of its contemporary ‘bodega buddies’.  An ultra pristine cask here guarantees a superb ride from start to finish.   

Let’s go back to that previous concession of age bias for a minute or two.  While I’m not a whisky snob, I am cynical that a whisky is properly mature at the ripe old age of 11.  Even here…where we have a really neat whisky…I dread to think of how this would have turned out if it had been left to age for another decade or two.  GlenDronach’s history of exceptional older casks supports this supposition too, I might add, but I guess if they were all left to mellow into middle age we’d likely price ourselves out of the game in short order.  In short…I shouldn’t complain about having a great whisky at a fair price instead of an exceptional whisky at a prohibitive price.

Guess we’ll consider this yet another case where we lucky sods in Alberta make out like bandits.   

Nose:  Big, BIG chocolate fudge.  Great spices, nutmeg in particular.  A little bit of an Amrut sort of profile here.  In fact, if I tried this blind, I’d likely think it was an Amrut.  Almond.  Mincemeat tarts.  Great dark stewed fruits, and quite syrupy.

Palate:  More of that big chocolate.  Dark cherry and licorice.  Quite jammy…big and thick.  Cinnamon and nutmeg.  Lots of dried fruit, especially apricot.  Soooooo much melted chocolate.

Thoughts:  Very nice clean sherry cask.  89 points…maybe more.  The good folk at KWM have picked another winner.  Love this one.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:06 pm
Nov 192013
 

GlenDronach 15 y.o. Tawny Port FinishTP4

46% abv

Score:  81/100

 

This GlenDronach Tawny Port Finish is not so much a good whisky as it is an interesting one.  

GlenDronach is a Speyside distillery known and revered for the stunning depths of its sherried malts.  Its accolades are many and well-earned, and its trajectory is only on the upswing since the owners (BenRiach) began investing plenty of time, attention and money to bring the distillery back from a five year silence in the late ’90s and early ’00s.  For that, of course, we’re eternally grateful. 

Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of this distillery.  It’s a profile perfectly suited to my proclivity for bold flavours and flawless use of sherry maturation.  Of course there is the occasional dud of a cask with hints of sulphur, but for a distillery so heavily reliant on these barrels, they are surprisingly few and far between.  Marry that standard of excellence with a spate of beautiful older single cask releases in recent years and I find myself in sherry heaven. 

So…having said all of that…to see a GlenDronach release floundering under the weight of this experimental ‘finish’ is somewhat disappointing.  At the risk of offending the purists, at the heart of the matter sherry and port are not dissimilar.  They are both brandy-fortified wines.  The actual ins and outs of regional regulation requirements, maturation processes, fermentation, etc absolutely make these two beverages unique, however I’d be hard-pressed to always be able to identify a port-finished whisky vs a sherry-finished whisky. 

I suppose what I’m driving at is simply an articulate way to voice the following question:  is this whisky’s profile defined primarily by the 15 year old malt itself, or by the finishing period in port pipes?  I ask this in light of one particular fact: that port should be sweeter than sherry, by nature, and this whisky is not nearly as sweet as I’d expect in even the most basic of unfinished GlenDronach releases. 

Just my two cents, folks (and not even worth that).  Either way…not a bad dram, just missing the soaring highs I’ve come to expect from one of the most exciting distilleries out there.

Nose:  Maltier than I’d expect in a 15 year old GlenDronach.  Where are the big fruits?  Some dark breads here and maybe a touch yeasty.  Whole unground nutmeg seeds (milder than the pungent ground spice).  Raisin and caramel.  Fine dark chocolate.  There’s simply not enough going on here.  Kinda disappointing, really.  Expected a lot more fruit.

Palate:  Malty bread notes.  Currants.  Lots of spice.  Maybe some bitter grapefruit.  Citrus pith…with none of the sweet accompaniments.  Some woods and bold red wine notes at the back.  Behind the coffee aroma, that is.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:03 pm
May 162013
 

GlenDronach 1972 38 y.o. Cask 718barry's place pics 145

51.5% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

The 1970s were glory days for GlenDronach.  In particular, the early to mid seventies.  Some great new make spirit hit some great sherry butts and the end result…happy consumers.

There was a rather incredible run of casks from 1972 numbered in the low 700s (this one we’re speaking to now is #718) that were…simply put…awesome.  One was a Malt Maniacs award winner…another I believe earned some Whisky Mag accolades…a third was selected for a store here in Calgary, and was an absolute stunner.  I’d love to try more from this run but odds get slimmer each year of that happening.

Sadly, though, they can’t all be immaculate.  The spirit that was filled into these sherry butts would have likely been from the same distillation run, but being bottled as single cask releases means that the distiller is at the mercy of the wood.  And sometimes…that wood is not completely free of blemish.

Cask #718 is just such a one.  I’m not sure if it is over-cooked (too long in the cask) or simply had a bit of a dud home for its 38 years in the warehouse.  Either way, what we end up with is a good whisky that should have been great.  When you’re spending these kinda dollars (or pounds…or euro…or what have you) and buying a 38 year old whisky…’good’ sometimes isn’t good enough.

Make no mistake, however, I did enjoy this one.  A couple of off-kilter notes throw it far enough off course to not live up to its siblings, but still delight in its own ways.  The expected tropicalia is still present, but honestly…this one is right on the edge.  Maybe just toppling over.  Good thing it was pulled and bottled when it was. 

Nose:  Caramel.  Black current.  Some rather surpising meaty notes.  Putty.  Almost an egg-ish note.  Kinda sharp and bitter.  Still some tropical fruit notes, mango in particular.  Quite some grapefruit.  There is a definite ‘off’ note in here though, that throws everything out of wack.

Palate:  That ‘off’ note carries through to the palate as well.  Kinda like a black current cough drop meets egg.  (WTF?!)  Plum and some bold-stroke grapefruit.  Bitter chocolate and coffee.  Quite tart.

Something odd with this one.  Fortunately, it is anomalous.  The others I’ve tasted in this run of casks (low #700s)  have been brilliant. 

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:40 am
May 052013
 

GlenDronach Cask Strength (Batch 1)004

54.8% abv

Score:  91/100

 

Oh man…how we’ve waited for this one.

If ever there were a possible contender to knock Aberlour a’bunadh off its pedestal and steal the title of ‘favorite young cask strength sherry bomb’…this would have to be it.  Affordable, immense and immediately endearing.

GlenDronach is doubtless one of Speyside’s finest distilleries.  Their output is almost uniformly high…they produce some exceptional young whiskies…and further…their older whiskies are among the best available.  More on the older whiskies in other reviews though.  We’re here for a young’un today.

This expression is set to be small batch release type whisky, much like the aforementioned a’bunadh.  12,000 bottles in this case, and all sold out within three weeks.  Impressive start.  The folks at GlenDronach must surely feel a sense of justified vindication.  This whisky is a mix of Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez matured malts.  Yep…very sweet, as to be expected.  Age?  Who knows.  Youngish though.  And that works.

I should note here…it’s nice to see GlenDronach following on the heels of Auchentoshan and others in acquiescing to consumer demand and offering up that bold flavor stroke of cask strength and non-chill-filtered.  Not that we ever really worry about a lack of flavor from GlenDronach.  Excepting their 12 year old flagship expression, their releases are all 46% or higher.  Brilliant!  We’re not greedy or anything; we simply understand that alcohol is the vehicle for delivering flavor.  A simple equation: higher alcohol = bolder taste.

Complex dram, this.  And very impressive.  Give yourself a fair bit of time to work through this one.  It will continue to unravel as the clock ticks, releasing a swirling eddy of nuances.  These are the fun sort of whiskies we love; multi-dimensional, deep and thought-provoking.

From this humble reviewer to Billy Walker et al…many thanks.  Keep up the great work, folks.  Looking forward to batch 2.

Nose:  Cherry and strawberry jam.  Orange marmalade.  A hint of mint and pepper.  Chocolate.  Very sweet.  Spicy, but I think a tad less heavy-handed on the spices than the afore-mentioned a’bunadh.  Dried fruits covered in crystalized sugars.  The soft smell of suede.

Palate:  Juicy at first, but slightly tannic and quick drying.  A little pithy and rich in high content cacao.  Maraschino, dark dried fruits (raisin, plum, fig) and hints of old Demerara.  Again…very sweet.  Into tobacco and damp woods.  Now the spices are nipping at the tongue.  Long and long and long.  A finish I’m very fond of.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:24 pm
May 022013
 

GlenDronach 14 y.o. Virgin Oak036

46% abv

Score:  87/100

 

I was fortunate enough to marry the dirty girl, so this little run at the virgin is a rather interesting experience.  I’m not used to such a clean bout of fun anymore.  😉

You gotta give it to GlenDronach.  These guys know how to make their whisky interesting.  I suppose it helps knowing that your distillate is exceptional to start with.  When you have such an inherently clean and malleable base spirit coming off the stills it likely takes a little pressure off your cask policy.  In layman’s terms…their new make spirit is good, so barring disaster, their whisky should always be fairly solid regardless of what sort of cask it goes into. 

This is not to suggest that GlenDronach’s wood policy is anything less than top notch.  Contrarily…the proof is in the pudding with just how many brilliant and unique single cask bottling we see from this Speyside distillery.  Quality is one thing though, and generally enough to keep us coming back again and again, but it’s the spirit of innovation in a whisky such as this 14 year old virgin oak (or its contemporary, the 15 year old tawny port finished release) that gives the distillery a leg up on some of its rivals.

In case you can’t tell…I’m a fan.

This particular ‘Dronach served out the first of its sentence in re-charred puncheons, before moving over to fresh American virgin oak.  The result is a very light and fruity dram.  Rich in soft white bakery notes, vanilla and fruit.  Atypical for this generally quite sherried whisky, but a treat because of it. 

Nose:  Creamy and frothy orange (creamsicle).  Big vanilla smoothness.  Toasted marshmallow.  Little bit of cinnamon.  Creamy toffee.  White chocolate.  Candy-like sweetness.

Palate:  Vanilla and orange rind.  Grains.  Alcohol-soaked white cake.  Like licking the last of vanilla ice cream off of a wooden popsicle stick.  Quite aperitif-ish, really.

So…

Virgin oak, huh?  That purity has never really held a lot of appeal for me.  I’ve always had a thing for the dirty girl, but in this case…I’ll take one for the team and make an exception.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:33 pm
Apr 212013
 

GlenDronach 21 y.o.21P1

48% abv

Score:  85.5/100

 

One of the older siblings in the GlenDronach standard range.  Named, apparently, for a parliament of rooks (read flock of birds) that nests in the trees near the distillery.

Label says Oloroso and PX maturation, but I’d peg this more as 80% Manzanilla/20% Oloroso.  Well…maybe not quite, but it certainly isn’t even close to as sweet and rich and vibrant as the Oloroso/PX mix would lead me to believe.  Perhaps it’s simply the saltier nature of a quirky meaty note in here that makes me think Manzanilla.

Sadly, though not necessarily a spoiling factor, there is sulphur all over this one.  Not a heavy sulphur, but a broad swath of it across all facets nevertheless.  Even so…I still don’t mind sipping at this one.

Nose:  Needs a little time in the glass before shaking hands with this one.  Surprisingly beefy for a ‘Dronach.  I don’t mean that in terms of strength, but a true meat note in there.  Some sweeter sherry notes coming through too (orange, black cherry, raisin,).  Clove.  Malt heavy.  Over-toasted cask notes.  Finally…as mentioned…a healthy hit of sulphur.

Palate:  Like a diluted a’bunadh with a heavier malt/meat component.  Strong high content dark chocolate.  Bitter greens meet bittersweet juicy grape.  Tart fruit and wine.  There’s a match-like ashy note here too.  Quite drying.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:23 pm
Dec 312012
 

GlenDronach 18 ‘Allardice’

46% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Another far-more-than-decent dram from GlenDronach.  Once you get past the rather lackluster 12 y.o. gateway expression in the line-up the sky is the limit with this distillery.  It’s easy to overlook the odd soft ball from this distillery when the vast majority of their output is rather spectacular.

If opportunity (and income bracket) allows…do meander off the beaten path with this distillery.  Their single casks are often spectacular and much of their old stock is utterly magic.  But let’s stick with the standard range here, shall we?  As I mentioned above, the 12 year old is merely ok.  The 15 however, is a true diamond.  One of the best young whiskies out there.  The 18 then must be even better!

Errrr…not really.  Wait…what?  Gotta be honest.  This 18 is a sweet-spot dram for me (i.e. it is right in the wheelhouse of perfect ageing), but just can’t pip the 15 for vibrancy.

Allardice has a nose of heavy sherry, beautifully softened by age, rich in cherry and cocoa. Spicy notes of cinnamon and gingerbread meet thick ropes of vanilla and a slight yeastiness.  Very pleasant.  Backstopping all of this is a profile typical of sherried malts; pungent fruitcake, mild cigar leaf and deep plumminess.  A warm, comforting nose to be sure.

Touchdown on the palate is led by a slight bitterness, similar to tannic wine.  It develops into heavy raisin bread and mouthfuls of rummy fruitcake (a cop out tasting note, I concede, but an accurate reflection nevertheless).  Ginger too.  And cherry.  Quite drying.  Lovely…but (and not something you’ll hear from me often) maybe the barest hint of sulfur???

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:39 pm
Oct 202012
 

GlenDronach 12 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  84/100

 

Re-tasted and Re-evaluated.

Try as I might, I can not love this whisky.  I first reviewed it a couple of years back, and after having dipped my beak into the fantastic 15 year and other older variants, I began to second guess my earlier appraisal of this 12 year old.  I went at it completely independently of my previous marks and scores.  Interestingly enough, with absolutely no idea as to how I had initially broken down my scoring, I differentiated in only one place (the nose), and by a mere half point.

In an attempt to allow this bad boy to sparkle a bit, I threw together a bit of an informal horizontal tasting.  Four 12 year old sherried malts from the Highlands/Speyside regions went head to head.  The results were…unspectacular.  All good.  None exceptional.  Though I figured this may come out on top…it actually ranked in the bottom.  Sorry…ain’t gonna tell what the others were.

GlenDronach is a Highland Distillery of some esteem, and rightfully so.  Founded in 1826, they have been producing fine whisky for just shy of 200 years.  In recent times (2008) GlenDronach has been taken over by BenRiach.  The tradition of crafting bold sherried scotch whisky has not flagged in the least.

And while this is bold, it’s by no means beastly. 

Nose:  There seems to be a slight imbalance here, in that the barley is still singing over all else.  I would hope for a little more restraint on those cereal notes by 12 years.  It’s not unpleasant, just…not quite there yet.  Rum-soaked fruitcake notes (the usual spiel with sherries malts…figs and raisin, etc), some orange, chocolate dustings and pencil shavings.  Some toasted marshmallow creaminess too.  Though not bad, it sounds more pleasant than it is, if I’m to be honest.

Palate:  Barley, sherry (grape/wine) and sweet citrus are primary flavours on the palate as well, dipping and dodging the oak notes.  The arrival is firm, if unexceptional, before it moves on into drier fruits and a lingering oak whimper at the end.

If not for a bit too much cereal roughness (which is long ironed out by the 15 year expression) this would score higher.

Enjoyable, but a little disappointing.

Now…let’s go back to the beginning, in referencing the 15 (and other releases as well).  Though I can’t say the 12 y.o. does much for me, everything from the 15 year mark and on is really, really worthwhile.  GlenDronach, along with sister distillery Benriach, has some of the greatest old stores around.  Hit up some of those exceptional single casks if you can.  Those from the ’70s, in particular.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:32 pm