My background in catering means that I tend to be long winded with my tasting notes – you may have noticed! This is unavoidable, though; I simply adore food, drinks and flavours! People who know me, whether through the whiskyverse or elsewhere, know that eating is life in my world! If I enjoy a meal in a restaurant, my taste buds will be tingling trying to figure out the flavours. The same applies when I am tasting whiskies: I happily spend hours trying to pick out flavours or thinking of which experiences the whiskies are reminding me. Alternatively, if I watch a show featuring food that looks particularly delicious, recreating it at home is a must. It is very satisfying being able to produce something yummy and then promptly scoffing it down! If only I could make whisky at home, think of the possibilities!
Earlier in the year when I was up at my partner’s family home, I tasted the best wild bramble jam. I have not been able to find it again, however, as it was bought at a farmer’s market – most upsetting. Since then, I have noticed that when I’m out in Scotland’s wild places, I find myself looking for the juiciest blackberries in the hope of recreating this beautiful condiment. Alas, I have been most unsuccessful, and the ones you get at the supermarket don’t quite cut it.
The most recent place that I was on the hunt for some tasty berries was up in the northeast of Scotland. Successful in locating some bramble bushes, I was unfortunately disappointed to discover that they were much too sour. I have come to the realisation that I will probably never be able to recreate this jam unless I hunt down the creator and find her source of blackberries… but that’d be mad, right? I decided to do the next best thing instead and visit a distillery that produces some pretty tasty jams—no, sorry; drams.
GlenDronach, otherwise known as “Valley of the Brambles,” was on my list of must visit distilleries whilst up north. I didn’t know the meaning of the word GlenDronach until our tour guide Ann explained it to us. It reminded me of my journey, looking for the wild ingredients to make the perfect jam – just the name itself has me salivating! It’s these little things, coincidences or funny connections, that make experiences more memorable and special to me.
My fellow MALT contributor, Roy, once asked me how I decide to write about certain whiskies or distilleries and not others. My answer is that sometimes things naturally stand out to me; they touch a nerve and invite some inspiration, either in a good or a bad way. In this case, the meaning of GlenDronach reminded me of my thorny plight, and it was fitting in my anecdote. They also produce some mighty fine liquids, so how could I not?! When I looked at my notes, I realised I had on the nose “sticky wild berry jam,” but I assure you, I wrote them up long before I considered how to put together this piece! I hope that, in the end, the whole jammy affair has stuck together well and doesn’t leave a bitter taste.
As usual, I am late to the party, and Mark has previously written a lovely piece about GlenDronach distillery as well as covered many of their past releases, all worth checking out. Today, however, Phil and I will be reviewing a recent hand-filled single cask that was available as a distillery exclusive. Our samples were kindly provided by the distillery, mine a generous one from lovely guide Ann at the end of my tour.
GlenDronach Handfill 1994 Sherry Puncheon – Phil’s review
On the nose: quite forceful without water – a big alcohol hit at first, with some furniture polish notes. Once past the alcohol, it becomes much fruitier. Grilled pineapple, glace cherry, buttered fruit loaf, honey and sweet malt. Almonds, orange peel and heather. Then dry, dusty oak and old leather. Water highlights red berries and a slight herbal quality with marzipan.
In the mouth: a nice mouthfeel and arrival – dark fruit and brown sugar. Quite creamy. Fruit bread and vanilla custard, almonds, cherry and orange. It builds a pepper heat with spicy oak with mocha notes towards the end. Water thins the impact – the fruitiness lessens, and it heightens the cocoa and espresso notes. The finish is surprisingly short, with dark fruit and milky coffee.
A nice dram without being staggering; fairly straightforward without a huge flavour development. The palate marginally comes short of the nose, but the finish was the most disappointing aspect for me, as it really didn’t hang around long. A fairly typical sherry bomb, but I have had better from GlenDronach, even from the core range, and at a much cheaper asking price.
GlenDronach Handfill 1994 Sherry Puncheon – Dora’s review
Colour: brown sherry
On the nose: there is a lot of sweetness coming through on this one. Chocolate and muscovado sugar with a burnt toffee note. Fruitiness comes in the form of preserved cherries, red grapes and sticky wild berry jam. A darker and deeper note of espresso to begin with that lightens up to be creamy and malty, not unlike Horlicks. It also has an oaty porridge aroma that is like butterscotch with all of the sweetness. In the background, I detect dry earth and a barely-there hint of dried mushroom. Lightly sulphurous with a rich furniture wax note and supple leather scent.
In the mouth: the sweetness from the nose translates with the muscovado sugar and toffee. In addition to this is rich honey, but with a hint of sourness. The mouthfeel is quite dry, with hot chilli spice, white and black pepper. Black tea and coffee notes give it a bitter and tannic note and feel. Think of dried tobacco leaves and old spice with orange rinds and ground cinnamon. The creamy notes from porridge oats are there alongside a dusting of icing sugar. Powdery grapes and leather play on the tongue. After the initial dryness, the liquid is oily, waxy and chewy. It is like having afternoon tea with dense Dundee cake and an almond-rich berry frangipane. The finish is medium with a nice warming throat burn from the pepper and chilli notes. The dryness and oiliness are balanced, giving an aftertaste of a well-seasoned Christmas cake.
I found this whisky to be pretty damn tasty; however, I agree with Phil that you can get a similarly enjoyable whisky from the GlenDronach range at a more reasonable price. For example, I love sitting down with a glass of The Allardice 18 year-old. The handfill was great to nurse over an evening, and there is definitely nothing wrong with it; ticks the box on the nose and the mouth for me, so if the asking price is in your affordable range, I’d recommend it. If you like your sherry bombs, then this is a good one to try; it doesn’t have those off notes of latex and rubber that I find unappealing. A thumbs up from me!