Ahh Glendronach, how we love thee. When you consider how indifferent the previous owners (Allied Distillers and Pernod Ricard) were with regard to bottling and marketing the distillery’s produce as single malt, it can be safe to say that things would have been very different without the intervention of Billy Walker and the BenRiach Distillery Company.
Glendronach distillery was founded in 1826 by a consortium, one of whom was James Allardes (often referred to thereafter as James Allardice). The distillery’s early years were relatively nondescript and it even suffered a fire in 1837 which ravaged parts of the distillery.
The ownership of the distillery then passed on to Walter Scott (one of the founders of Teaninich distillery) in 1852 and he owned and operated the distillery until his death in 1887, after which a consortium from Leith purchased the distillery.
The distillery remained under the control of the consortium unti 1920, when it was purchased by Charles Grant for £9000 (which is the equivalent of £426600 after adjusting for inflation).
Grant owned the distillery for the next 40 years, before it was sold to William Teacher & Sons. Over the years, Glendronach had become an important component in various blends and Teacher’s was definitely one of those which relied heavily on the whisky the distillery produced, which made their decision to purchase it to ensure a constant supply of whisky an astute one.
The distillery remained under the control of William Teacher & Sons until their acquisition by Allied Breweries in 1976. Allied had a subsidiary company by the name of Allied Distillers for the distilleries under their control and these included the likes of Laphroaig, Miltonduff, Scapa and Tormore distilleries.
This led Allied to release a range of whiskies known as the Caledonian Malts in 1991 in order to compete with the Classic Malts range released by United Distillers (now of course known as Diageo). The initial range consisted of Glendronach, Laphroaig, Miltonduff and Tormore whiskies, although the latter was eventually replaced by Scapa.
Allied then mothballed the distillery in 1996 as it was surplus to requirements and it was silent until 2002, when production resumed for a short period before it was once again closed in 2005. However, the second closure was due to the need to replace the coal-fired heating system to one which was operated by the direct firing of steam and the distillery was once again operational in September of the same year.
It was in 2008 that Glendronach’s future was assured, when Pernod Ricard agreed to sell the distillery to Billy Walker and the BenRiach Distillery Company for approximately £15 million.
Billy Walker had successfully relaunched the BenRiach brand and fully intended to do the same with Glendronach, due to the distillery’s proud heritage of maturing whiskies in sherry casks and the quality of the whiskies that it produced for the various blends.
This led to the launch of the distillery’s core range of 12, 15 and 18 Years Old whiskies, all of which were matured either in Oloroso sherry casks or a combination of Oloroso and PX. The distillery also proceeded to release a flurry of limited edition and single cask expressions along with a number of wood-finished whiskies.
The core range was further augmented in 2011 with the introduction of the Glendronach 21 Years Old ‘Parliament’ expression, which had been matured in a mix of Oloroso and PX casks.
The distillery also released what was then their oldest official bottling, a 44 Years Old expression which had been distilled in 1968 and matured in a single Oloroso sherry butt for the entirity of its life. This was then followed in January 2016 by a 47 Years Old expression which had also been distilled in the same year and matured in a PX cask for its entire life.
The distillery also decided to halt production of the immensely popular Glendronach 15 Years Old ‘Revival’ expression, which had been matured entirely in Oloroso sherry casks, due to the lack of aged casks in the warehouse.
This production halt was brought on due to the 6 years of silence between 1996 and 2002 and the distillery has assured fans of the brand and the whisky that production will resume in 2018 once the casks have been aged sufficiently.
One of the worst kept secrets in the industry is that the whiskies used in the Glendronach core range are traditionally older than what the age statement professes. This is due to the initial abundance of aging stock in the warehouses, which allowed Billy Walker and his team to create expressions which were rich and highly sought after considering their relative price points.
In mid 2016, the BenRiach Distillery Company, which consisted of Benriach, Glendronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries, was purchased by Brown Forman for £285 million. The acquisition cements Brown Forman’s long-awaited entry into the Scotch whisky market and groups the aforementioned distillery brands with the likes of Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve under the same umbrella.
However, Brown Forman have been astute enough to acknowledge the importance of Billy Walker’s role in revitalising all three distilleries and while Walker has received a significant sum (approximately £95 million or 1/3 of the purchase price) for his efforts, he will continue to oversee the production and cask selection process for the BenRiach Distillery Company.
In terms of equipment, the distillery sports a 3.7 tonne cast iron mash tun with rakes, 9 washbacks made of larch and with a fermentation time of between 60 to 90 hours as well as 2 pairs of stills. This gives the distillery a capacity of 1.4 million litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis, although the production for 2017 should be slightly below capacity.
This week’s review focuses on three single cask expression of Glendronach which have been matured in either Oloroso or PX casks and bottled by the distillery for various reasons.
So, let’s dive right in!
Glendronach 1995 19 Years Old PX Puncheon (Cask #4028, 55.4% abv, TWE Exclusive)
Colour: Polished mahogany
Nose: Initial entry presents a pronounced hint of sherried raisins, cinnamon and toffee, followed by dark chocolate shavings, cocoa butter, freshly roasted espresso beans and honey. With time, the sweetness recedes slightly to reveal nutmeg, cloves, supple oak and hazelnuts. (22/25)
Palate: Initial entry presents more of the sherried raisins as well as a pronounced yet elegant alcohol kick. This is quickly followed by toffee, creme brulee, cocoa butter and just a hint of cigar leaves. (22/25)
With time, dark chocolate shavings, cinnamon, espresso beans, drying oak and allspice emerge and combine well to provide a rich, almost Christmas cake like note. Coats the palate well and there is a certain buttery texture to the mouthfeel. (22/25)
Finish: Medium to long on the finish, with the cocoa butter combining well with the dark chocolate shavings, sherried raisins and oak to provide a sweet, spicy and drying end to the proceedings. (20/25)
Balance: A well-balanced dram which exhibits a multitude of complexities and facets while allowing for the various elements to shine both individually and as a collective. The mouthfeel is initially buttery before becoming somewhat drying towards the end. (21/25)
Glendronach 1991 21 Years Old PX Puncheon, (Cask #5405, 49.9% abv)
Nose: Initial entry presents a rich, dark and jammy note that is reminiscent of berry compote slathered across a slice of Christmas cake. Cinnamon, nutmeg, a slightly sulphurous hint and dense sherry combine to give this dram a luscious and enticing nose. Hints of oak and black pepper emerge towards the end. (23/25)
Palate: Initial entry presents a rich and intense sherried sweetness followed by a fair bit of the warming spices from the nose. Very vibrant and luscious stewed red fruits follow there is a definite hint of berry compote alongside some glazed Maraschino cherries and chewy malt. A slight hint of honeysuckle towards the end. Very more-ish. (23/25)
Finish: Long and lingering on the finish, with the sweet sherry and stewed red fruits combining beautifully with the oak and wood spices as well as a late development of dark chocolate shavings. A veritable symphony of flavours! (22/25)
Balance: An exceptionally well-balanced and complex expression with an abundance of flavour and depth. If anything, this would probably be the best PX-centric Glendronach that I have tasted thus far! (23/25)
Glendronach 1993 23 Years Old Sherry Butt (Cask #447, 51.7% abv)
Colour: Treacle toffee
Nose: Initial entry presents a pronounced jammy note coupled with sherried raisins, berry compote and nutmeg. With time, cinnamon, fudge and slightly bitter oak emerge to intermingle with the other elements. (21/25)
Palate: Initial entry presents a richly sherried note coupled with more sherried raisins, berry compote and demerara sugar. Manuka honey, cinnamon, fudge and dark chocolate shavings emerge soon after and are complemented by a hint of acetone and oak. There’s a faint hint of cigar leaves and tobacco pouch which emerges at the very end. (23/25)
Finish: Relatively long on the finish, with the sherried raisins, cinnamon, dark chocolate shavings, cigar leaves and tobacco pouch hints lingering on to the very end. There is a certain amount of drying oak which adds a bitter edge to this, but it is within a reasonable level and doesn’t overpower the other elements. (21/25)
Balance: A fairly well-balanced expression which exhibits pretty much all the characteristics that you’d expect from a sherried Glendronach that was matured in a cask other than PX. Not as rich as the other two, but certainly intriguing in its own right. (20/25)
All in all, I definitely preferred the Glendronach 1991 21 Years Old PX Puncheon expression as it exhibited a level of richness and integration which was somewhat different from its counterparts.
While that’s not to say that the others are bad whiskies, it’s just that this particular expression exhibited a greater level of complexity and nuance which set it apart from the others.
As it stands, all three of these expressions are sold out or unavailable on the conventional online retail stores, although one may be able to find them in some stores or at whisky auctions (hopefully for reasonable prices).
Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead.
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