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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Single Malt Report: GlenDronach 14 year old Virgin Oak Finish

Though Monday's post was entitled, "A week of unsherried Glendronach," this whisky spent at least some of its life in European oak before being finished in American virgin oak, according to its makers.  Yet in the reviews I've read, almost no one ever references the European oak or sherry.  Most folks spend a lot of time focusing on the abundance of new U.S. oak.  So I had assumed that this whisky spent much of its life in lifeless multi-refill sherry casks, and I had set my expectations low since the whiskybase vox populi enjoyed Tuesday's and Wednesday's single casks much more than this official release.  Surprises were in store.

Distillery: GlenDronach
Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd
Age: minimum 14 years
Maturation: ex-sherry European oak casks firstly, then new American oak secondly; the exact lengths of time are undisclosed
Region: Eastern Highlands (on the edge of Speyside)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill filtered? No
Caramel Coloring? No
(Sample purchased from Master of Malt)

Its gold color is lighter than that of this week's single casks and the 15yo Revival.  The nose holds a lot of fruit.  At first there's apple and pineapple.  Then later, apricots and maraschino cherries.  Then finally, white peach.  Meanwhile, there's a defined wood smoke note right up front that then fades away with time.  There's definitely some sherry in there, reading as toffee and prunes.  Vanilla and caramel do appear after 30 minutes.  Some sawdust and bourbon show up after 40 minutes.  Overall, it noses like it's going to be very sweet.  But luckily the palate is gentle with its sweetness.  It's really malty, though.  A soft desserty note lingers throughout; something like toffee pudding with orange zest and sea salt.  Sure there's vanilla and caramel, but they register at low-to-moderate levels.  Some oak spice picks up after 30 minutes.  It finishes with that wee puff of smoke from the nose.  A little bit of dryness and salt.  It grows sweeter and picks up more citrus with time.  The oak shows here the strongest, as split timber and caramel.

First off, this was much better than I had expected.  Serge and Ruben reference problems with the oak levels.  While I too have issues with high levels of oak in whisky, I really don't think the oakiness is too high here.  In fact I find that it compliments the malt well.  I'll take John Hansell's side in this instance.  And I really enjoy the bundles of fruit in the nose.

The nose shines the brightest with the fruit, oak, and sherry mingling well together.  The palate is decent and mild.  (One of the Malt Maniacs says that it tastes too malty.  Too malty?  You're a Malt Maniac, right?)  Meanwhile the finish is the one place where the oak almost goes overboard.  And yes, there definitely is some sherry in the mix, appearing mostly in the nose.

GlenDronach released this whisky in July of 2010.  Now it's nearly gone.  I have a feeling that the lack of support from the whisky gods for this particular wood finish may have limited its sales which in turn limited the distillery's desire to risk more of their sherry casks for additional batches of this release.  And that's a shame.  While I don't think it can beat most of their sherried range -- I would take it over the 12 year old Original, though -- it's a good whisky, and considerably better than most of today's oak heavy whiskies which don't even cop to the oak tech involved in their construction.  I'd consider buying a bottle of this if I found it at the very low end of its price range.

Availability - Maybe a couple dozen retailers worldwide
Pricing - $75-$85 US; $55-$75 Europe (w/VAT)
Rating - 86