There is nothing so lovely as really immersing oneself in a distillery. I’ve been an Islay man through and through in the past. I love Bruichladdich, and I’ve more than a soft spot for Caol Ila. But I’ve recently turned my whisky eye to the Highland and Speyside regions, as there are plenty of distilleries there that need attention as well. One is GlenDronach.
Founded in 1826, the distillery’s story centres on a characterful chap well worth reading about, and whose sales initiatives involved successful word-of-mouth buzz by prostitutes (social media execs, take note). In 1996 the distillery was mothballed by Allied Distillers, but then moved to the mighty Chivas Brothers before later going into the independent hands of the folk who owned the BenRiach distillery, of which I’m a fan.
GlenDronach has since become something of a favourite in the whisky community, often performing well at the Malt Maniacs awards. It releases a pretty big aged range, as well as a lot single casks – but it was that core range I wanted to get reacquainted with. That’s the distillery’s calling card – the 12, 15 and 18 year olds. Let’s get to it:
GlenDronach 12 Year Old (43% ABV; about £35)
Colour: medium amber, but with a ruby tinge. On the nose: an introduction to sweet sugars. Caramalised onion chutney, full of those rich, dark flavours. Muscovado sugar, opening up into some stewed fruits. In the mouth: a solid follow-through of those heady, dark sugar flavours. A lovely medium weight in the mouth – it just sits there, oozing around. Lots of plum jam. A creaminess – almost thick cream cheese. A gentle heat starts to show – slight note of oak. If this is your standard entry into GlenDronach, is a hell of a welcome handshake.
GlenDronach 15 Year Old (Revival) (46% ABV; about £45)
Colour: as above, but +1 darkness. On the nose: even sweeter than the 12, this is molasses territory. Though it’s not overwhelming. It opens up into a sort of nutty, fresh note, then I’m getting all sorts, including a kind of sweet pan-fried sage on top of a creamy risotto. Raisins. In the mouth: ooh yes. Give this to someone who claims they don’t like whisky. Gentle, velvety texture that oozes class. Intense sherry flavours, but not overwhelming. It’s like a thick wool coat, with a lovely silk lining – made on Savile Row. I keep saying I’m a fan of nicely textured whiskies, as this has it – a kind of slipperiness, hand-holding, tongue-sitting. While it’s squatting in your mouth you get all manner of sugary sensations, yet it’s not a thumping piece of candy. Mouthwatering. Figs. Prunes. Dates. All that jazz. A little autumnal spice. This would be perfect after dinner, or sipping with a thick chill in the air outside.
GlenDronach 18 Year Old (Allardice) (46% ABV; about £60)
Colour: you get the idea. We’re into dark heather honey territory now. On the nose: not unlike the 15, though here there’s a much broader palette, without one thing dominating. Clear sherry notes, with dried fruits galore. Cherries, apricots, chestnuts, a sort of sweet floral bouquet, too. Freshly sawn wood. Whereas the 15 was intense, this seems a little more mature. In the mouth: that texture is a fraction thinner and more mineraly than the 15 (that is not a bad thing, just a comparison). That thinness seems to bring some deeper notes. Cadbury’s fruit & nut – raisins, sultanas, you know the type with these whiskies. Green & Blacks 85%, perhaps leading in to champagne truffles. Slight touch of tangerine. A glass of decent Bordeaux (in fact, going back to the texture, there’d not be much between those two). There is a woodiness there, though very gentle. Not an extreme finish, but there’s enough to keep things pleasant. In the deep distance – cloves, and maybe a little Chinese five spice. But it’s very distant and keeps you guessing.
I can’t decide between the 15 and the 18 Year Old myself… But in conclusion? Let’s put it this way. If you like Macallan and Dalmore, then you can get the equivalent of their some of their fine drams for a fraction of the cost with GlenDronach. Hugely underrated, in my opinion, and a distillery that deserves far more attention. I’d probably put them on a par with Glenfarclas for value for money and characteristics. There’s something good going on here. If you’ve not discovered them, go out immediately and buy a bottle of the 15 Year Old or 18 Year Old. You won’t be sorry.