During the Spirit of Speyside festival, my erstwhile colleagues and I decided to take a detour up to GlenDronach distillery. Long-term readers will note that GlenDronach is something of a favourite on Malt, with some 14 (now 15) reviews of their mostly wonderful bottlings. I visited the distillery last year, too, so this was really an excuse to find out what the mood was like at the place since the Brown-Forman takeover has had some time to take effect.
Well, as you can probably imagine, not a huge amount has changed in a year, save the introduction of the American flag on-site. We managed to be steered around the place again (thanks, Karen!) and take a peek through warehouses. Due to the health and safety paranoia that is sweeping through Scotland at the moment – or rather, insurance paranoia that references health and safety – cameras aren’t permitted into the most interesting places of many sites. (Not being able to take photos for fearful ‘what ifs’ makes you wonder if distilleries will eventually do away with tours altogether.) But I did manage to take photos through open doors – and as you can see, the dunnage warehouses still possess that murky and slightly macabre beauty, as they have done for rather a lot of years.
It’s always worrying when a large corporation takes over a favourite place. That Rachel Barrie is becoming the new whisky maker is excellent news. My biggest concern – and I think it’s a valid one – is that to successfully grow the brand in far corners of the world, stocks will have to be consolidated. (I’m already hearing that retailers aren’t able to release their own editions.) That means fewer of the thousands of random single casks that has made GlenDronach popular with whisky fans around the world, and more focus on core-range or ‘brand’ releases. It’s not a million miles away from what Rémy Cointreau did with Bruichladdich, although there it wasn’t the case of reducing single casks, but rather reducing the sheer number of bottlings – sad, as it was the mad spirit of experimentation and diversity that made many of us love the place to begin with.
And that might mean, in a few years time, we’ll see fewer things like today’s GlenDronach bottling – although I suspect the hand-filleds will remain in some form or another. This is what I picked up this year at the distillery and, for me, it was better than some of the older single casks we tasted. It’s an 11 year old that had spent its time maturing in a sherry puncheon. It cost about £80 (I bought two) and was bottled at 57.7% ABV.
GlenDronach Hand-Filled Sherry Puncheon 2017 (Cask #1441) Review
Colour: old oak.
On the nose: maple syrup, blackcurrant jam. Incredibly vibrant though. Balsamic glaze over cooked meat (but not charred). Apple and blackberry pie. Then sticky dried figs and prunes, drifting into tiramisu. Just a slight undertone of oranges. It is, quite simply, everything a heavily sherried whisky ought to be – but the casks have been very good, and very kind to the spirit.
In the mouth: Christ alive. 11 years! Massively thick texture that delivers dates, figs, raisins and then into tarter blackcurrants and redcurrants. Very jammy indeed. We lean towards the tartness: hoi sin sauce, the balsamic vinegar returning, with some gentle Chinese Five Spice seasoning. Now it’s just a fraction – a fraction, mind you – bitter and tannic (rather than peppery) and that’s the only thing stopping this being a perfect single cask. (But will we ever really find perfection in whisky?) The finish is endless and sticky, with tiramisu re-appearing.
A top GlenDronach whisky and just yet another reminder of how fantastic this distillery can be. In fact, this is an amazing whisky – it’s just that I have very high standards in particular for GlenDronach, given it is one of my favourite Scotch whisky distilleries, and tend to be more critical in my tone. Worth making the pilgrimage.