Single cask whisky is by its very nature idiosyncratic. Not all wood is identical – even when sourced from the same location and holding the same precursor liquid. Density, wood grain, the individualism of coppering, warehouse temperatures and air pressures – all these variables, plus many more are going to result in a mature spirit character that varies greater between casks. And, I guess, that’s the nub of why single cask releases are popular – whilst in essence you’re choosing which horse to back, the experience offered has inherent appeal because of its uniqueness.
But, there are certainly downsides to single cask releases – well-known brands understand the allure of cask-limited releases and often price accordingly – and that’s before any judgement of quality has been taken on board. You see, with great variance in conditions, comes great variance in liquid – there’s simply no guarantee that an a amazingly high price label is going to translate into an amazing whisky once it’s in your glass. You’re paying for the privilege of this individuality, and unless your source prides itself on the superiority of its single cask releases (independent bottlers for instance), you’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some.
In essence this conundrum is why I’m active and passionate supporter of SMWS – there, like everywhere else quality varies, but there’s usually the opportunity to sample at Society (and partner) bars before purchasing, and likewise a generally lower barrier to entry to many OB single cask releases, where, you’re digging much deeper into your wallet. Nevertheless, you’re still often looking at a crap-shoot – it comes with the territory.
Glendronach’s single cask bottlings are released annually – and supply never meets demand. If you’re ever in the market for one of these batch release (particularly an older expression), you’d better get your skates on.
Batch 16 (which I believe is the largest to date) of Glendronach’s sherry-forward (though sometimes they change things up a bit with the occasional port pipe) single cask series was released at the end of February last year. Fifteen single casks, from a 2006 11 year old, up to a mighty 1989 28 years of age (with a fairly large gap between 1995 and 2002, when the distillery was closed for the best part of five years) were unleashed and promptly eagerly hunted to near extinction.
Our review comes from cask #3311 a PX puncheon (offering a generally similar capacity to a butt, but being slightly more squat and rotund) that’s matured the Dronach spirit for 22 years since 1995. 518 bottles were disgorged from the puncheon and bottled at 50.3% ABV. The initial cost of £180 per bottle is near enough what you’ll be looking at to nab one of these at auction – plus fees and shipping of course. Not cheap, but not too shabby when you look at the price of other distillery's OB single casks of a similar age.
Nose: More dainty than one might be expecting, but still with plenty of dark depths – baking spices (cinnamon and nutmeg) sit alongside airy fruitcake packed full of raisins, sultanas and particularly cherries. Buttered Soreen malt loaf is joined by spent cigar tobacco and walnuts, whilst balsamic and aged-mustiness whafts in the background. Reduction brings out orange peels and warming ginger (even gingerbread) whilst unleashing just a touch of struck match saltpeter.
Taste: Rich and chewy offering a combination of lacquered teak panelling, sour macerated cherries, chocolate and spent coffee grounds. The development moves through an array of dried stone fruits (apricots and peaches), before introducing some liquorice and almost bitumen-like tarry minerality. Water unlocks more cask qualities with white pepper and stem ginger joining musty earthiness.
Finish: Long, with sour jammed cherries and a slight coal ash/chalkiness that moves steadily towards bitter drying oak.
This PX-matured Glendronach offers a deep sherry character that’s not all about sticky sweetness – both bready bakery an unexpected sharpness from minerality offer distinctiveness, whilst leading themselves well to the aged-spirit in play here. Whilst long, the finish does err towards acridness and wood tannins – but nevertheless, this is sizeable and heavy sherried whisky produced in a manner that’s characteristic of the Glendronach style.