...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

GlenDronach, a little history before the Taste Off

After twice referencing in April that I was going to do this in May, I am now conducting my GlenDronach Taste Off in August.  I ordered the minis through The Whisky Exchange back in May and they have since been keeping company with other future blog post subjects.  Not anymore, though, as I'm setting them free.

The sherriest bunch of minis
I've been telling folks that I've been looking for a Macallan Killer this year, and I should probably qualify that remark.  I enjoy Macallan considerably.  They do an excellent job with their products and when their whisky is affordable I often recommend it.  But with their well-oiled worldwide distribution machine and luxury marketing team, they are giants.  They have the third largest share of the single malt market (behind the Two Big Glens) and the fourth largest distillery capacity.  And with all of that weight they have taken major shelf space away from smaller whiskys.  Consuming bar and store shelf space equals broadening brand awareness.

Just because they're bigger and have a larger presence in the whisky world, doesn't necessarily mean they're better.  They do have the financial means to get the lion's share of good oloroso casks from Spain.  They do have good stills and great staffers.  This all results in a very good consistent product.  In order to be consistent there's great cask management, but there's also chillfiltering and caramel color (and low ABVs).

And also, I like supporting small(er) businesses.  Aside from my favorite baseball team, I always like to root for the little guy.  Heck, my family is full of little guys.  <--- That's a stature joke.

Anyway, all of these aspects combined have me on the search for other great sherried whiskies.  That search has been a little passive of late with my peated spirit obsession.  But I really would like to find a go-to sherry-cask-matured whisky that isn't Macallan.  Especially since no one knows what's going to become of their upcoming non-age statement bottlings.

So I'd like to give GlenDronach a try.  As I write this, I haven't started the Taste Off; in fact I've never even tried their whisky.  But in every whisky corner, they've been getting raves.  So let's take a look at their goodies this week.  (And perhaps this Autumn, we'll snoop around other sherried whisky brands.)

In 1826, the Glendronach Distillery Company was founded in Aberdeenshire by a group of investors headed by James Allardice.  A decade later, most of the distillery was destroyed in a fire.  With the help of executives from Teaninich Distillery and Glenfiddich, the distillery was rebuilt and production restarted.  Walter Scott of Teaninich owned the distillery until 1887, after which ownership bounced around a few times:

1887 - 1920 - A consortium from Leitth
1920 - 1960 - Charles Grant of the Glenfiddich Grants
1960 - 1976 - William Teacher & Sons (known for their blends)
1976 - 2005 - Allied Breweries (later Allied Domecq)
2005 - 2008 - Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard)
2008 - current - BenRiach Distillery Company

The distillery underwent a number of changes over those 120+ years.  Under Teacher's ownership they doubled their stills from two to four, thus doubling their potential output.  They did their own floor malting up until the distillery was mothballed in 1996.  Upon reopening in 2002, they began buying their malt (now unpeated).  They were one of the last three distilleries to heat their stills via coal firing, but when Pernod temporarily closed the distillery in 2005 the heating system was switch to steam.  Pernod soon reopened the distillery and produced whisky for a short while before selling it all to Billy Walker of BenRiach Distillery.

Walker and company capitalized the 'D' in the name and relaunched the entire range in 2009.  With a healthier wood-management budget, the distillery's new bottlings were now unchillfiltered, caramel additive free, and with higher ABVs.  GlenDronach has had massive success with their single cask releases (some of the most critically acclaimed whisky in the world), and also tinker around with special wood finishes every year or so.

GlenDronach's capacity is 1.4 million liters, though they're up to 1.1 million right now (1/8th the size of Macallan's production).  Half of that booze goes to Pernod Ricard's blends.

But I'm interested in the stuff that's going into their single malts.  So stay tuned for the 12 year "Original", 15 year "Revival", and 18 year "Allardice" this week!

Please the bottom half of my Whisky Notes page for sources.


  1. What'd you get charged for shipping from TWE for the minis? Their website just lists costs 'per item'.

    1. Back in May, I did some snooping because they don't tell you this.
      1 to 3 minis = 9GBP shipping
      4 to 5 minis = 12GBP shipping
      More minis than that and the prices double immediately.

      Not sure if this all still holds true.

    2. Thanks for the info. Still a lot for shipping, but it might be worth it for either 3 or 5. Always gotta max out those kinds of systems.

    3. No problem! It is a lot for shipping considering how small the parcel is. I think you'd need to get to 14 or 15 minis before the shipping per mini gets better than 2.4 GBP/mini.

    4. The solution? Order 20 minis. Gets down into the $2-3 per mini range for shipping.

    5. Oh, brilliant! That would keep one busy for, you know, a couple days.

  2. That's a very succulent looking flight of little sherry demons. I want to do that too. Maybe I will - in spirit and samples... Take time to enjoy, really enjoy that very lovely set of drams.

    1. Thank you! Will definitely take my time. I'll be reporting back all week...

  3. Something to note is that like Ardbeg and Bruichladdich (two examples of mothballed distilleries that were reopened), GlenDronach is presently bottling whisky made from before the mothballing (1996 and earlier) while the whisky made from 2002 onwards is maturing. I read on the Whisky Exchange blog that the current GlenDronach 12 is closer to 15 years old. Apparently the label is legally correct since the whisky isn't younger than 12 years old. My guess is Benriach wanted a GlenDronach 12 bottle out there filling the shelves to make the switch-over easy when actual 12 year old whisky can be bottled.

    1. That's a good point. It'll be interesting to see how the 12yr changes in 2014 with all of the newer juice. Thanks for the note!

  4. By the way, GlenDronach has a very interesting footnote to its early history. Apparently James Allardice had some difficulty selling his whisky in Edinburgh (due to Glenlivet being the best seller stuff back then as it is today) so feeling down he visited a brothel and paid the prostitutes with his unsold whisky. Upon his next visit to Edinburgh people began buying his whisky thanks to the positive word-of-mouth from the ladies who shared the whisky with their clients.

    Wonder if this story gets mentioned on the tours?

    1. Damn. They should.

      Word-of mouth, indeed.

      I love whisky history. Thanks!

    2. When I read the story in a whisky book, I had the sudden thought that I had heard this before. Turns out Ralfy brought this up in his Glendronach 12 review. Back in those days the prostitutes were quite the "influential" crowd so if they said the whisky was good, the whisky WAS GOOD!

    3. I guess the next question is, would one rather take whisky advice from an actual prostitute or a figurative one? Because I think now most folks take their lead from the latter.