Moving on from my recent review of the GlenDronach 12 year old, our next destination is the Allardice 18 year old offering. Named after James Allardice who founded the distillery in 1826 this expression was re-launched in 2008 alongside the 15 year old Revival and the 12 year old stalwarts.
It’s quite apt that when Billy Walker and the BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd acquired GlenDronach in 2008, one of their first moves was to lay the foundations and cement this core trio of whiskies. Thereby laying an avenue for annual releases and pundits who suitably impressed wanted to explore GlenDronach further. It’s become a well-worn and defined pathway to the delights of the distillery. Sadly the Revival was put to rest in 2015, discontinued until 2018 to allow stocks to recover and gaps to be filled. It is a necessary sacrifice for a distillery that upon our recent visit still displays an old bygone charm.
Annually, GlenDronach can produce around 1.4 million litres per annum, or to put this into comparison Tullibardine is 3 million and the mighty Tormore can produce 4.4 million. Yet when you think of GlenDronach it’s those huge sherry flavours and dedication to the craft that only Glenfarclas can match and possibly eclipse nowadays. Again for comparison Glenfarclas averages about 3.5 million a year. So the point is GlenDronach for its size amongst whisky enthusiasts is punching well above its weight and should be appreciated even more. The retired sherry king at Macallan recently was producing as much as 11 million and even that wasn’t deemed enough.. There is a huge market out there for GlenDronach.
There isn’t anything wrong with overachieving but walking the GlenDronach site earlier this year as part of the 2016 Spirit of Speyside festival, our group was united. We’ve visited many distilleries old, new and mothballed. The overwhelming view for #thetormore4 was that GlenDronach looked more than a little tired; it had that sense of investment being overlooked. This is a wonderful distillery to gaze upon – even with the inclusion of that 1950/60’s urban functional still room – it still retains that periodic charm we hope to witness in every distillery. Internally things are a little shabby but remain loved and well-polished.
This isn’t a criticism of the BenRiach group concerning what investment GlenDronach has received since 2008, but it did refocus our views when debating the recent sale of the group. Much like Bruichladdich a small player can only go so far, particularly with large projects, modernisation and competing internationally. Everyone and everything ultimately has a price. Stepping into room is the villain of the piece in the form of US drinks giant Brown-Forman.
It’s the latest in a series of spirit acquisitions for the owners of Jack Daniels who know how to label and sell a brand. Walking GlenDronach many of the outer buildings were closed and the tour itself a little amputated with no real warehouse to display and no internal photography allowed. An excellent guide made up for this in some part but that sense of what a fantastic tour GlenDronach could be with investment remains a strong belief. A little of that American showmanship and glitz would make this corner of Scotland a destination for many. As much as I love closed distilleries and seeing traditional aspects on tour, changes are necessary at GlenDronach to guarantee the promise suggested by many of its whiskies. That £285 million price which includes 2 other distilleries could look like a steal if Brown-Forman harnesses the potential of the distillery whilst ensuring the whisky maintains a high standard.
And on that note let us delve into this Allardice 18 year old right now.
Colour: a bronze rubbing
Nose: almonds coated in dark chocolate, also caramel and a ginger freshness. Also evident are cherries, raspberries and spent matchsticks. Returning to the glass gives syrup tart and honeycomb plus ginger ale! With water cloves are noticeable.
Taste: more chocolate and treacle, almost a Black Forest Gateau cake in some respects. Honey and olives, there’s a bitterness from the wood that is firmly in place – with water cloves and grapefruit come through.
Overall: it’s good certainly, but I’m not taken hugely with it. I much rather prefer the GlenDronach Original 12 year old so far in our quest, or as someone reminded me online recently the BenRiach 12 year old sherry wood. Coming next we’re jumping up to 21 years of age and the GlenDronach Parliament.