Friday, January 25, 2013

Whisky Review: GlenDronach Vertical Tasting - 12, 15, and 18 Year

For my 200th post, I'm going to take a look at three of the standard expressions from GlenDronach.

The history of the GlenDronach distillery stretches back to 1826 when it was founded by James Allardice in the northeast corner of the Speyside region, making it one of the earliest licensed distilleries in Scotland. It was extremely successful during the 19th century, paying the highest duties of any distillery in the country. Over the centuries, the distillery passed through a number of hands until ended up with Allied Distillers, who mothballed it in 1996. It was restarted in 2002 and was held briefly by Chivas Brothers before being bought by the owners of the newly independent BenRiach distillery in 2008.

Under the ownership of BenRiach, GlenDronach has significantly changed their line-up, moving towards more of a craft presentation with the abandonment of chill-filtration and most expressions being bottled at 46% ABV or above. One of the main things that has not changed is that GlenDronach's whiskies are all matured, at least initially, in ex-sherry European oak casks. This tends to put their whisky on the rich and sweet end of the spectrum.

GlenDronach 12 Year 'Original'

Nose: medium-rich creamy oloroso/amontillado sherry, a slightly sour tinge, fresh grapes, raisins, berries, underlying malt, light vanilla, slightly floral, milk chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking spices, romano cheese. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes softer and more malty, with more integration of the sherry, floral, and malt aromas, plus bigger milk chocolate and vanilla.

Taste: medium floral and sherry sweetness up front, early big pepper, dueling malt and sherry at the back, with bitter cacao at the back and a bit of sourness throughout. After dilution, it becomes more rounded and only drops off a bit at the end, with the initial sweetness and pepper becoming more integrated and brighter sherry notes and the addition of some vanilla.

Finish: bitter and slightly astringent, but not very oaky, malt, pepper, sherry. After dilution it becomes more tannic with the addition of some dark chocolate.

I think this is a very solid whisky for their entry-level single malt. Bottled at 43%, it has a decent amount of body. However, it did lose a bit after adding water, so I do think it would be a stronger contender at 46%. While sherry is very present, it hasn't yet completely overwhelmed the malt, like some sherried whiskies. This is a little bit surprising as the whisky going into this expression is aged in both ex-oloroso and ex-PX sherry casks, though that may mean that there are more refill rather than first fill casks involved. I'd place it right in between the 12 year old single malts from Aberlour and Glenfarclas in terms of the level of sherry influence. With that said, I'm not sure it's a great value, as both of those other two are significantly cheaper here in Oregon. However, the balance may tip depending on where you live (for instance, it's only $40 from Hi-Time Wine Cellars) and I don't think you can go wrong with any of them.

GlenDronach 15 Year 'Revival'

Nose: much richer sherry (more first-fill casks?), raisin sweetness, some fresh berries, hints of floral malt, vanilla, rancio - well-aged cheese, dark chocolate (60-70%), coffee. After adding a few drops of water, chocolate becomes the dominant aroma, with sherry underneath, more funky rancio notes, blackberry liqueur, more oak, a bit perfume-y, hint of baking spices, and an overall increase in creaminess.

Taste: smooth but ponderous sherry sweetness up front, big but less bright pepper, bittersweet cacao, mild oak, perfumed. After dilution, it retains the smooth start but with less sweetness, then sweet berries and pepper hit mid-palate, with cacao nibs in dark chocolate at the back.

Finish: bittersweet sherry, cacao and light oak tannins, baking spices, and a certain sharpness

The 15 year old is bottled at a solid 46% and clearly has much more sherry influence. Aged exclusively in ex-oloroso sherry casks, the richness comes through very clearly. This is edging right up to the line of overwriting the malt, with only hints of its agricultural origins left in the nose. However, it is balanced by the more bitter notes on the nose and palate. It very much feels like a dessert dram and would not be out of place next to a roaring fire on a winter evening. While priced too high in Oregon for me to consider it a good value here, it's only $72 from Hi-Time, which is a much more attractive proposition.

GlenDronach 18 Year 'Allardice'

Nose: dark, rich, savory oloroso sherry, bright raspberries, hints of malt and vanilla, sweetened oatmeal, maple syrup, 60% dark chocolate, a touch of coffee. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes dustier, with the sherry and chocolate dominating, the fresh berries are still present but in diminished form, the raspberries seem more like a compote, and buttery sugar cookies emerge.

Taste: sweet and creamy sherry and berries, pepper comes in mid-palate, a bright burst of oatmeal, dark chocolate, and maple syrup, leading into a bittersweet finish. After dilution, there is a distinct sense of an acidic raspberry tang overlaid on the creamy sweetness up front, pepper is slightly diminished, and the chocolate becomes more like cacao nibs.

Finish: berries, pepper, sweet sherry, a touch of oak, oatmeal.

Like the 15 year old, the 18 year old is bottled at 46% and aged exclusively in ex-oloroso sherry casks. I really like how it seems to have turned a corner, returning to a certain kind of graininess on the nose and palate. However, it definitely seems more like sweetened oatmeal than malt, to me. The sherry also seems a bit less in your face than the 15 year old, which is pleasant. Maybe there were more refill casks in the mix? The only major downside is the price - it's usually well above $100, which is pretty spendy territory. While previously it was an exceptional deal from the UK, that route is somewhat closed off right now if you're like me and live in one of the countries where shipping is now excluded (or at least stinkin' expensive). However, if you can still take advantage of their lower prices, this is a fabulous sherried whisky that I would love to drink more often.

This was a really interesting set of whiskies to try. There's a very strong familial resemblance between all three - a pattern of initial sweetness, then a big burst of pepper mid-palate, the combination of sherry and chocolate on the nose, and a fairly bittersweet finish. This gives the series a strong sense of evolution - the details changing, but the core of the whisky remains the same.

Last, but not least, I want to take a moment to thank GlenDronach for releasing such a nice little pack of miniatures. It's really nice when distilleries put them together and I really wish more would do this as a way to promote their products. Not too many people are going to plonk down the cash for their older bottlings without tasting them first and this is a pretty cost-effective way to get a sneak peek.


  1. i'm intrigued. Can't wait to get me a bottle!

  2. I have had both the 12 and 15. I thought the 12 was too sweet (from PX maybe) and not nearly as complex as the 15. I am curious about the 18 now but think I might pass that up and try to find on older bottle. Is the 18 noticeably more balanced or more complex than the 15? I like sherry finishes but not when they overpower everything.

    1. I genuinely liked the 18 better than the 15, since I felt like there was more malt character remaining behind the sherry, but the quality:price ratio just isn't there in the States. The 15 is still in the mid-$70 range, while the 18 is often over $110. The 15 is definitely sherry-centric, but it's the best of the bunch if you're going to buy an entire bottle.