All of the whisky websites that I frequent have several things in common – they’re succinct, interesting, well-written and, in terms of reviewing – astute. But, they also demonstrate a key facet of being a sound whisky writer – the ability to understand expressions within the context of the wider market. It’s no easy thing after tasting countless truly exquisite whiskies to be able to reset the palate and expectations back down to earth. Reviewing entry-level and commonly accessible bottlings fairly is a fine art - and many budding enthusiast writers stand all too often on the shoulders of giants, failing to properly appreciate the composition of things deemed more ‘ordinary’.
There’s certainly been times when I’ve been there myself – almost spoiled – feeling like my musings and notes on decades old expressions are simply superior to those of more mundane expressions. It takes time (and countless tastings!) to put everything into perspective and to recognise the rich tapestry that exists at every level of the diverse world of whisky. As the old adage goes, if you don't know where you've been, you wont know where you're going.
Vertical tastings can certainly help you achieve this – they allow you to recognise the progression from entry point to longer term maturity in terms of flavour depth and complexity. But, sometimes you end up tasting and writing things out of order - and that requires resetting the palate and mind - to judge everything fairly and in context.
Such is the case for The Dramble’s account of the Glendronach core range – it’s completely arse about face. My first review of the range was back in June 2017 – the 21 year old Parliament – here we are over 18 months later looking at the commonly available 12 year old Original. Such is life!
The last 10 years have seen Glendronach concertedly reinforce its reputation for producing heavily sherried Speyside whiskies – barring the release of the 8 year old Hielan I’ve rarely seen an expression from the distillery in recent years that has not played entirely to its sherry matured DNA. This has become even more the case since the distillery’s sale (in April 2016) to Brown-Forman which has resulted in the ending of peated runs at the Huntly-based distillery – you’ll still find Glenronach Peated on the shelves, but don’t be expecting any more to be produced once that consignment has been and gone. Glendronach has carved out a popular niche in the whisky market and its owners are keen to exploit that positioning. Rightfully so – reputations are not formed overnight and every oddly finished or contrarily peated expression fails to provide the underpinning that Dronach is the place to go for big sherry. As such, it seems these variants of Glendronach have been consigned to the dustbin of history (all of the wood finishes are now listed under ‘Archive’) – at least for now.
But, Dronach’s single-minded approach to sherry maturation is not a thing of the past two years alone – this focus has been developing for well over a decade. Glendronach 12 year old ‘Original’ was launched in 2009 by the then owners Benriach Distilling Company. Prior to this, the Original was marketed as ‘Glendronach Original Double Cask Matured’ – very similarly styled packaging wise, but composed of ex-bourbon and sherry wood casks and bottled at 40% ABV. Since 2009 the expression has been delivered with a 12 year old age statement and has been created from 100% sherry matured stock – oloroso and pedro ximenez – and produced at a slightly higher ABV of 43%. The distillery’s core range is now 100% sherry cask matured except for the 8 year old Hielan. Even the recently introduced travel retail expression 10 year old ‘Forgue’ draws from the distillery’s now template oloroso and PX combination.
Our bottle of 12 year old Original seems to date for a few years back – around 2012. There’s been a wealth of batches produced since 2009, so I suspect there’ll be some variance in compositions over the past 10 years. I’m sure there are plenty of die-hard Dronach fans who would be able to elucidate on what they see as the perceptible changes over time. You can pick up a bottle of the current 12 year old for a very reasonable price £37.80 from Master of Malt. With the (ludicrous) repricing of Aberlour A’Bunadh to near double its previous RRP, Glendronach 12 year old perhaps represents even better value for money for a fully sherried expression.
Nose: Demerara sugar, dark chocolate and gingersnap biscuits combine with reduced blackberries, toffee apples and orange preserve spread on toast. Ginger and cinnamon are already making themselves known, alongside cacao powder and hints of dried tobacco leaves. There’s some green herbalness in the background – slightly mentholated – and strangely some boiled cabbage – not something I’ve detected before, an aberration I wonder?! Reduction brings out some additional fruit elements with green apple and ripe pear as well as smooth butterscotch.
Taste: A good level of viscosity and weight from 43% ABV – delivering a bigger, brighter and richer sherried experience. Raspberries, oranges, cherries and pears alongside raisins and sultanas – perhaps with a tarter element – unripe plums or rhubarb for example. Plenty of chocolate here, sitting with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and some dusty oak. Fairly one dimensional, but perfectly tasty all the same. Reduction (which is far from needed) dampens the spicing, but ripens the fruits, it also adds some oloroso nuttiness into the mix.
Finish: Medium to long with chocolate, hazelnut, and drying slightly bitter wood.
Glendronach 12 year old straddles the line between introductory and staple. Whilst possessing a lighter sherry influence than many Dronach expressions, there’s plenty of appeal here for those new to richly sherried expressions, whilst at the same time offering established sherry-heads a super solid price to quality ratio.