It is safe to say that we’ve covered GlenDronach well on Malt, with over 20 reviews or tasting notes. We don’t tend to go crazy for many distilleries like that, although we’re racking up a fair number of reviews for most places. But it’s a sign that we rather like a distillery.
So when the latest batch of its single cask whiskies is released, an annual event in which many a good cask is emptied out, we get rather excited. For the GlenDronach nerds among us, fans of rich, dense, sherry-tastic drams, here’s the full line up of 15 whiskies for Batch 16:
GlenDronach 2006, 11-year-old, Cask #1979 (PX puncheon), 679 bottles, 57.2% ABV. Cost = £77
GlenDronach 2005, 12-year-old, Cask #1451 (PX puncheon), 698 bottles, 56.1% ABV. Cost = £82
GlenDronach 2004, 13-year-old, Cask #3342 (Port pipe), 643 bottles, 55.4% ABV. Cost = £90
GlenDronach 2002, 15-year-old, Cask #4648 (PX puncheon), 678 bottles, 54.7% ABV. Cost = £110
GlenDronach 1995, 22-year-old, Cask #4038 (PX puncheon), 681 bottles, 55.1% ABV. Cost = £180
GlenDronach 1995, 22-year-old, Cask #3311 (PX puncheon), 518 bottles, 50.3% ABV. Cost = £180
GlenDronach 1993, 24-year-old, Cask #445 (oloroso butt), 649 bottles, 52.4% ABV. Cost = £205
GlenDronach 1993, 24-year-old, Cask #55 (oloroso butt), 567 bottles, 56.7% ABV. Cost = £205
GlenDronach 1992, 25-year-old, Cask #334 (oloroso butt), 592 bottles, 58.5% ABV. Cost = £230
GlenDronach 1992, 25-year-old, Cask #127 (oloroso butt), 636 bottles, 50.9% ABV. Cost = £230
GlenDronach 1992, 25-year-old, Cask #103 (oloroso butt), 517 bottles, 56.7% ABV. Cost = £230
GlenDronach 1990, 27-year-old, Cask #7902 (PX puncheon), 632 bottles, 52.1% ABV. Cost = £270
GlenDronach 1990, 27-year-old, Cask #7003 (PX puncheon), 617 bottles, 55.3% ABV. Cost = £270
GlenDronach 1990, 27-year-old, Cask #1014 (PX puncheon), 641 bottles, 50.9% ABV. Cost = £270
GlenDronach 1989, 28-year-old, Cask #5476 (PX puncheon), 546 bottles, 49.9% ABV. Cost = £310
The GlenDronach (and Springbank) Gap
Now, we were sent samples of three whiskies from Batch 16, which are detailed below, ranging from the mighty 28 year old through to the youngster at 11 years of age. But the reason I wanted to list them all is so you could see that massive gap between 1995 and 2002. This is, of course, the 5 or so years when the distillery had ceased production. (It closed in 1996.)
In fact, because of that gap, the distillery was later selling whiskies far older than the label suggested. At one point, to have a full range of age statements, you bought a 12 year old GlenDronach and you were essentially getting almost 18 year old GlenDronach. These were the glory days in which the distillery earned its cult reputation. (This is the chart famous among GlenDronach nerds.)
It’s a similar way to how Springbank became popular with whisky fans – as it had closed for the better part of a decade (1979 to 1987) and therefore it, too, had a gap to plug. So Springbank was known for putting out ridiculously older whiskies in the guise of younger ones, probably to create the illusion of a wider range of age statements – back in the days when the industry relied heavily upon age statements being a marketing tool, and no one really cared about older whiskies like they do today (by which I mean, putting it in a cabinet never to be consumed). Transpose the above for GlenDronach to a bigger gap for Springbank, and you can see that drinkers were absolutely loving life during that period.
Which begs the question: would these distilleries, which have strong followings today, have been as popular if they had stayed true to the age of stocks they had available? Was the fact that they sold older whiskies as younger ones the true engine of their success? Food for thought. You probably won’t hear many people talk about it either, as no doubt it skirts close to the limits of the law.
Anyway, back to GlenDronach and this set of releases. The prices for Batch 16 don’t seem too bad to my mind. Yes, the distillery has been recently acquired by a large US corporation, and yes, that always ends up with prices going up because that investor needs to see a return pretty sharpish (they’re in the business of making money, not whisky).
The cheapest whisky here is the 11 year old at £77 – which isn’t actually outrageous. Just look back 4 years to Batch 10, under the previous regime, and you’d be parting with £66 for a 12 year old. (Of course, the 12 year old in Batch 16 is £82.) A 24 year old then would set you back £152, and today its equivalent is £205 – that’s a hike of £50 in four years. Two years ago, for Batch 12, you’d be looking at £167 for the 24 year old. The Brown-Forman tax at this age bracket is looking like a good £25, on top of natural price creep. That’s basically the price of an acquisition, foisted on the consumer.
But because GlenDronach was always pretty good value, this doesn’t feel too bad to me, and I like that this particular batch of whiskies is large – with 15 bottles in them. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot different about the presentation of the range, or indeed the fact that it exists at all. Losing this series was what many GlenDronach fans feared – and it doesn’t appear as if it’s going anywhere. Yet.
Anyway, let’s have a drink.
GlenDronach 1989 Cask #5476, 28 Years Old, 49.9%
Colour: polished mahogany.
On the nose: sweet! Sticky golden syrup sponge pudding, or Tiramisu even. Notes of coffee in there certainly, with strawberry jam, vanilla, slight sawdust notes, old school desks. Under those notes are flashes of herbs before it settles to mixed peel and dried apricots.
In the mouth: lovely texture, with some curious rye notes tucked away. Wholemeal toast, with some warming nutmeg and cloves. Heather honey and syrup, but then it’s back to spice. The oak dominates (this feels slightly too long in the wood). Camphor. Those lovely sweet notes on the nose don’t quite manifest here: the complexity doesn’t come with the depth.
GlenDronach 1995 Cask #3311, 22 Years Old, 50.3% – Review
Colour: burnt umber.
On the nose: Very Dronach. Massive depths to this one. Cola. Dark chocolate. Molasses. Figs, dried prunes. Touches of Madiera wine. Time brings fresher fruits, but more red fruits, plum jam and the likes. Rich, dark onion chutney.
In the mouth: Absolute beast here, with much of the nose echoed in intense, warming, spicy chutney notes. Mince pie filling. Warmth – such heat. There’s also sulphur here (but don’t forget, some of us like sulphur). That burnt match note lingers, then comes the bitter (90%) dark chocolate, damsons, and prunes again. Perhaps a shade too sour on the finish.
GlenDronach 2006 Cask #1979, 11 Years Old, 57.2% – Review
On the nose: quite fresh and fruity for a Dronach. Very tart, redcurrants, cranberries. Orange zest. Caramel, cranberries – cherries even. Heather honey. Not overly complex.
In the mouth: again, very different. Caramel – salted caramel chocolate, with a lot of prickly oak, tannins. Orange marmalade, cinnamon and nutmeg, allspice, cloves. Dried cranberries and sultanas. Not that sweet though: very tart and puckering. Bitter dark chocolate and pepper on the finish.
These are different whiskies, to my mind. And given I’m a fan of the distillery, they aren’t massively rocking it for me personally, which is hard for me to say. I’ve tasted dozens of GlenDronachs on Malt, and these are probably the poorest value for money of any of them. Not to say I dislike them – from these alone, GlenDronach is still better than most Scotch distilleries, and these are still decent whiskies.
But a distillery changing direction in what it wants to be perceived as the house style – or the luck of the draw? I’d say the latter, as we are dealing with single casks rather than single malts. Outliers. Curiosities.