Ah, travel retail, that large, vaguely lucrative market that thrives on ‘exclusivity’. From a producer’s point of view, that more than likely means you have to knock something up that’s a bit different to your core offering in order to squeeze onto those shelves, to give people a reason to buy it (they can’t get it elsewhere) which is why – more often than not, but not always – we see one underwhelming release after another filter through onto the shelves. In short, it used to be the case that most of this stuff wasn’t generally the real McCoy. But is that still the case?
The fact that this is a huge segment of the market makes me think a producer could literally decant vinegar into a bottle, slap some random story and an eye-catching label, and it would shift Conor McGregor-levels of the stuff. It’s not as though many have to try: find a random barrel in the warehouse, slap a limited edition label on it and sell some questionable whisky for an eye-watering price, to essentially have your bottles act as an advert to waft in front of passers-by. Maybe stick it in another barrel for an intriguing finish.
No doubt it is worth it, for the market to have become the behemoth it now is. It’s possibly more effective than magazine adverts because at least you’re waving your label in front of some vaguely interested people. Or are they vaguely interested? Apart from the likes of you, the handsome and wise Malt reader, it’s probably Aunt Mildred sauntering back from her winter break in the Canary Islands, looking for something to get as a gift, and it’s either a bottle of whisky or a bottle of Paco Rabanne.
Yet despite the fact that no one has to really try, and the fact that the whisky is simply something cobbled together to be an exclusive product in an airport or three, maybe there are some very good treasures to be unearthed. Indeed, odds are you’ve been googling as you loiter in the airport to see if this bottle of GlenDronach is worth the asking price, if it is the treasure you have been searching for.
This 16-year-old GlenDronach Boynsmill – named after the ‘Boynsmill Estate’ where the distillery’s founder, James Allardice, set up shop – was matured in a combination of ex-Port, PX and Oloroso Sherry casks, before being bottled without colouring or chill filtration at 46% abv. So far, so GlenDronach. But it will set you back £88, which is about the same price as the standard and what was very good 18 Year Old.
GlenDronach Boynsmill – Review
Colour: burnished copper.
On the nose: most un-Dronach-like. It’s all very light and ethereal, distant. A curiously meaty olive oil note, with sultanas and dried apricots. Tangerines. Shotgun smoke? (A waft of the clay range.) A little mealy and husky, I suppose. Floral honey. Mossy. Cognac. Odd.
In the mouth: much better than I feared. A nice oily presence in the mouth, but some slightly metallic, charcoal notes undermining the dried fruits somewhat. Some weird sour note that I can’t quite pinpoint: acidic, like grapefruit, but not too much. It’s meaty in a Mortlachian kind of way. Walnuts, toasted almonds, with strawberry jam. Hints of a Bakewell tart, which I quite like, but there’s something here that doesn’t feel like the GlenDronach we all know and love.
A GlenDronach fit for modern-day Macallan drinkers? You have to wonder where this is going…
And because I have just opened another fairly recently, it’d be rude not to go back a few years with this bonus review…
GlenDronach 1995 – 20 Year Old PX Sherry Puncheon – Cask #3047
On the nose: now we’re talking: figs in syrup, tobacco, molasses. Black tea. Cinnamon and Chinese Five Spice. Nicely musty with a metallic ink edge. Mince pies. Coffee and dark chocolate. A touch of funky sulphur, always divisive, but you know me by now…
In the mouth: huge, sticky, rich. Oodles of damson chutney, rather than a jam, for there’s a balancing acidity, almost balsamic vinegar-like. HP Sauce even, which means it’s a little on the dirty side, but I don’t mind that. Coffee echoing the nose, with praline – or even Irish coffee, dare I say it. A shade too woody on the finish, perhaps overcooked.
Single casks, especially a slightly flawed one such as this, shouldn’t be more complex than single malts, 99% of the time, but here we have that 1% that just edges it… There’s more life in this thing. More fun. And I think that’s what is the essence of some of these older GlenDronach releases – though it’s hard to put your finger on it, they were just more fun. They had more spark. More soul.
To quote Bilbo Baggins the new distillery releases are starting to feel “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread”.