So, here it is. Thanks partially to a recent invite to an informal Zoom session with Glencadam’s blender and global ambassador, Iain Forteath, last month. A welcome opportunity to hear some thoughts straight from the horse’s mouth and reconnect with a trio of entries within the core range. Yes, including the 15 year old, which when it received an award from a certain YouTuber, prompted a flurry of interest and the distillery team trying to retrieve casks from other sources to bottle more of the edition. If you know Glencadam, then you’ll have already been fully aware of what it represents and the consistency it offers in its teenage years and beyond.
And I think that’s the key thing. Glencadam isn’t one of these bling whiskies or heavily marketed in the social sphere. It’s more of a word of mouth or knowing nod in the pub as you order a dram. Subtly going about its business without banging on the drum of promotion or blowing its own trumpet to an intolerable level. These sorts of things can be easily arranged after all. Paid campaigns on social media, with posts that tell you very little other than the product was good – wasn’t it always going to be that way if the post is paid for? Or fashioning articles and promotion that only talk in positive and raptures about a whisky. Thankfully, Glencadam seems immune to such behaviours.
Instead, a small group over a series of weeks jumped online to interact and see what happened. I took a backseat during our session, trying to hear what Iain was telling us (please folks, turn off your microphones to avoid background noise) and focusing on the drams to hand. So, we’ll be tackling the Glencadam 12, 15 and 21 shortly.
Glencadam is an initially difficult whisky, or I’d say one that you’re best to come to after you’ve explored Scotland’s regions and built up some experience. It isn’t difficult in a Glen Mhor sense, but it represents a style of distillate and whisky that you don’t see too much of nowadays. Located in the misleading Highland region, this catchment plays host to the funk of Ben Nevis, the fruits of Balblair, the yawns of Glenmorangie and the waxiness of Clynelish – and there are many other styles within this geographic. Compare this to say, Speyside, where many of the whiskies have an approachable and safe dynamic and you can see why the Highland region can be as treacherous and challenging as the terrain it covers.
Glencadam is naturally presented and in most forms will come in ex-bourbon casks. There are some sherried releases out there and single cask experiments in say, port, but only the whole, the whisky is lacking colour in the glass and is naturally presented. We shouldn’t overlook the affordability of Glencadam as well, in these times where whisky prices seem to be reaching for the moon, it’s good to have an option that offers a fair price for the experience.
In the glass, that’s the key thing always. Not the packaging or claims; these things serve a purpose in attracting your attention but offer no sway when you’re one on one with the product. Glencadam in my mind is a more traditional style of distillate. Not shaped by consultants or those looking to bottle at a young age. The North East of Scotland once played host to multiple distilleries who all had their own signature style. The opportunities to explore these realms now only exist to the rich and privileged but in Glencadam we can appreciate the location and individuality that this part of Scotland brings.
So, when I’m with Glencadam I think of a more spirit-led style. This isn’t to everyone’s liking with a certain greenness and cereals playing their part. The wood influence here is more of a companion rather than a domineering influence. This allows with time the fruity aspect of the distillate to come through. I’d recommend you check out Peter’s article on his distillery visit. This confirms the traditional and historical nature of Glencadam; still operating with just a pair of stills. To give you some historical context, several of the Speyside distilleries moved from a single pair to multiple or more, during the 1960s and into the 1970s. For most of its existence, the distillery has been a characterful and in-demand component for blenders, with particular emphasis on Ballantines and Stewarts Cream of the Barley.
By comparison, not too much has changed at Glencadam, and that’s not marketing speak (are you listening Laphroaig?) as for once it’s true. The biggest change might be the forthcoming arrival of some visitor facilities that match the rising prominence of the distillery. In recent times there’s been an adjustment of the core range and some new developments. This is partially triggered by a period of closure after the millennium before the distillery was saved by its current owners, Angus Dundee.
Surprisingly, the Glencadam flavour is achieved only with a short fermentation time of around 48 hours. That’s even less than some of the mammoth Chivas and Diageo producers who push the boundaries of what’s possible without overdoing things. There’s also a handcrafted nature to Glencadam and the inventive use of differing types of condensers. The end result is a buoyant and almost effervescent distillate that belies such a short distillate. This underlines my thoughts that fermentation isn’t just about numerical size; its all the stages that contribute to the final product.
Glencadam 10 year old – review
Colour: pretty clear.
On the nose: light, gentle with limes and a sugary sweetness. Ripe apples, cask char, rock candy and a chalky mineral aspect. Wet concrete, builders sand and bashed mint. Also staples such as raw cereals and white grapes. I didn’t feel water was hugely influential.
In the mouth: more fruity than the nose and lively in places. Some tartness, spirit-driven with olives, green apples and silver needle tea. Sappy, a gentle vanilla, peppery as well with some shortbread and grapefruit.
Glencadam 15 year old – review
Colour: still clear.
On the nose: less sharp, more rounded and more vibrant fruits with pears, apples and cream soda. Pine nuts, a sweet pastry dough, white chocolate and blackboard chalk dust. Raw cereals once again, syrup, new plimsols and peppermint.
In the mouth: lots of fruit now, a great balance and very easy drinking but plenty of character. Cooking apples, lime, a buttery toffee, pannacotta leads us into a lovely bit of vanilla, a creaminess with a good texture and more elegance overall.
Glencadam 21 year old – review
Colour: clearer still.
On the nose: a more comfortable and assured nose, relaxed and confident. Lemon, apples and pears with the freshness of vanilla and coconut. A little more tropical it must be said. A light honey, grapefruit, floral note and pineapple.
In the mouth: more progression, honey, toffee, apples and the meadow fruits that we’ve seen previously. Honeycomb, malty and a weak milky coffee. Tropical green fruits coming through now including some green mango and papaya.
An enjoyable session and one where you can see the progression in each whisky. There are core characteristics that link the whiskies, but there are noticeable differences thanks to the wonders of mother nature.
These whiskies all have the same foundations in spirit, wood type, bottling strength and colouring. They are also small batch, maybe only 1000 cases per run depending on the age. You can really appreciate the development that whisky is granted with a patient approach, unlike say, more of the youthful releases we’re being fed nowadays. The pricing for each of these whiskies isn’t outlandish or taking the preverbal.
Glencadam means character and arguably requires a bit more effort and focus from the drinker. The rewards are there if you invest the time to appreciate the nature of this distillery and what it is doing. So, if you’re ready, check it out and enjoy the refreshment of a distillery that’s faithfully keeping to its own style and releasing good, affordable whisky.
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