GlenDronach Distillery produces a single malt I often recommend to folks (especially those who are looking to expand beyond Macallan), but rarely buy for myself. A lot of that has to do with my sherry issue. For those unfamiliar with "my sherry issue", here's a brief recap:
Sometime around February 2012, I realized I didn't like ex-sherry cask matured whisky. I could appreciate it and sort out which were higher quality and lower quality versions, but I never desired actually drinking the stuff. There was a palate turnoff that equated to something like, "I don't want sherry, I want whisky!" So, I tended to search out ex-bourbon cask-matured or low oak influenced malts. As a result you'll tend to find somewhat of a paucity of reviews on sherried whisky around these parts.
But over the past year, I've been able to pinpoint where things sherried go wrong in my mouth. Firstly, sherry-finished malts rarely seem to pull the oak, wine, and spirit together. Instead, all the parts bang around separately and the spirit itself loses in that battle. Glenmorangie Lasanta is an example of this. Meanwhile, full powered, cask strength whisky fully matured in sherry barrels can me very happy; for instance, this lovely legal lass. Whiskies that are a mix of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks -- see here and here -- can be very welcoming. Though my palate finds the sherry element first in these malts, it tends to yield and accept and sometimes embrace. And then there are the inexplicable miracles like Yamazaki 18. I long for more delights, so I leave myself open to the possibility of the miraculous.
I have reviewed GlenDronach's official 12, 15, 18, and 21 year olds. They're all decent, with the 15 being the strongest and the 21 possibly being the weakest. The prices on the older whiskies are much more reasonable than those of similarly aged Macallan. Plus the ABVs are 46-48% and the whisky is not chill-filtered. Thus, I'm happy to recommend them. But I've never bought them.
Then there are the GlenDronach single casks. Of these casks, the oldies' lore grows more each year, with everyone from the Malt Maniacs to Jim Murray gushing over their quality. So the 35-40 year old bottles usually vanish before hitting the shelves. Thus the next level of casks, those of the early '90s, become much desired. Those are also scooped up very quickly. I've tried three of them and I've enjoyed every one. I had the pleasure of officially reviewing my favorite, the aforementioned "lovely legal lass". Thanks to its cakey, nutty, tobaccoy, and chocolatey nature, I would be happy to buy a bottle of it -- if I had $160 just lying around. That one has been my favorite GlenDronach.
But now it has a challenger.
Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd
Maturation: a mix of former Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks
Region: Eastern Highlands (on the edge of Speyside)
Alcohol by Volume: 54.8%
Batch: 1 (2012)
Limited bottling: 12,000
That's right: No Age Statement. I'm about to gush about a no age statement whisky. So shoot me (full of GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 1).
12,000 doesn't sound like that limited of a release, but this stuff is GONE. Due to its success, the distillery has released a second and third batch. And I believe the new third batch's turnout was 16,000 bottles. Each batch is proving to be slightly different. To me that's a good thing, since the blenders are not trying to force an exact replica each time. But please note: I have not tried batches 2 or 3, so I cannot speak for them. I shall address Batch 1.
The color is of a dark gold with some crimson around the edges. At first sniffs, the nose is full of cocoa powder, gunpowder, and dates. Then, slowly, notes of honey, nutmeg, something between cardamom and ginger, and tangerines ease out. With 15-20 minutes of air, out come the prunes, cinnamon, and Elmer's glue. The palate is full of thick sticky sweet PX sherry. Hershey's Special Dark, toasty malt, cracked black pepper, and tapioca pudding follow. Lots and lots of chocolate in the finish. The sherry gets a little drier. Some pipe tobacco develops, as do figs and prunes. But mostly, hot fudge sauce. Oh, so much hot fudge sauce.
The nose gets grape-ier. As in fresh red grapes and grape juice. And raisins. It gets a little dirtier too, with very earthy molasses, leather, and something farmy (used hay in the sun?). This is met with notes of cardamom and caramel sauce. It's like a Macallan with some dirt under its nails. Ah, here's the chocolate in the palate. Milk chocolate-covered dried fruits this time. It's sweeter now, but also has some of that earthy note from the nose. Perhaps actual earth? Milk chocolate again in the finish. There's also some citrus tanginess along with dried apricots.
It's the chocolate that gets me. That hot fudge thing in the finish lasted about 5-10 minutes. Beyond that, the rough and tumble notes in the nose (gunpowder, glue, soil, and hay) prove to be a lot of fun. Some of it might be due to youth or a quirky cask or two, but it provides the percussion to the malt's bass line, the fruits' lead guitar, and the chocolate's vocal harmony.
Now, can we get some of this in The States now please? Maybe Batch 4? Hopefully closer to Aberlour A'bunadh prices ($60-$70) than Glenfarclas 105 ($85-$95) prices. Price aside, I would choo-choo-choose this above any of the regular OB range (12yo-21yo). It's livelier, bolder, rougher, fruitier, and chocolatier than any of them. And, gasp, it makes me want to try some more sherry-matured whisky.
Availability - Sold out, though Batches 2 & 3 can be found via European retailers
Pricing - Batches 2 & 3 are $85-$110 depending on shipping costs
Rating - 91