Glendronach used to be, and sometimes still is, listed as a Speyside distillery, but the Scotch Whisky Association (which regulates the production and marketing of all Scotch whisky quite strictly) has placed it (along with the similarly regionally troublesome Ardmore) in the Highlands. And as the SWA is a litigious lot, let’s agree that it is in the Highlands; and as I don’t particularly care about regionality, let’s just forget I brought the whole thing up.
Glendronach used to be open, then they closed, and then they opened again, and in 2008 were bought by the same folks who revived Benriach. Since this takeover there’s been an overhaul of the core line: there’s a new 12 yo (“the Original”), a new 15 yo (“the Revival”), and an 18 yo (“the Allardice”, named after a founder, I believe). I have not had the 18, but the 12 and particularly the 15 are quite good in their class. Neither are as good, in my view, as the more recent 21 yo “Parliament”, which is now available in the US. However, among whisky geeks the excitement around Glendronach—which is seen in this community as surpassing the Macallan and vying with Glenfarclas for the championship belt in the heavily sherried weight-class—attaches itself largely to their releases of various single cask whiskies from particular vintages. I have tried a few of these and they have all been very good at worst, and a 15 yo, 1995 single PX sherry cask (#4681) for the UK was really quite excellent.
The bottle I am tasting today is from the 1993 vintage, from the 6th release. It was released in the EU and is from a first-fill oloroso sherry cask.
Nose: Dark rum, molasses, raisins, dark chocolate; then a hint of pencil lead (or is that ink?); concentrated cola; glazed roast pork (the emphasis on the glaze, not the meat). There’s some kind of fruit trying to poke its way through (plums, maybe) but, neat, the fruitiness is more cough syrupy (not that the nose is cough syrupy; just the fruity note). With time and some air it gets more raisiny and nutty and the roast pork turns into ham. Let’s see what water does. Ah, here comes the dried fruit: apricots, figs, tangerine peels; no more hints of cough syrup. The tangerine peels turn into mocha ice-cream, and I seem to get the slightest whiff of smoke. With a lot more time in the glass the nose turns really quite sticky sweet, as the tangerine peels give way again to rich raisins and maple syrup. This is what the Aberlour A’bunadh and the Macallan CS and all the young sherry bombs wish they could grow up to be.
Palate: Not as hot as the abv would lead you to expect, and not very tannic either (as many high strength oloroso matured whiskies can be), but it is quite closed. Some sweetness with hints of clove; a touch of smoke leading to an inky note. Quite drinkable neat but water will make it sing. Yes, with water here come the raisins, first by themselves and then in a reduced red wine sauce; some mossy, woody notes as well and, yes, light smoke too (a wood fire, nothing phenolic).
Finish: Long, hotter and more tannic than on the palate (but not very); gets salty; the sherry notes separate a little at the very end. Water removes all the heat and tannin and lengthens the dark raisiny sweetness which goes on forever.
Comments: As you may be able to tell, I rather liked the nose on this one. The palate and finish were great too but not quite at the level of the nose—at least, not tonight; I remember loving it on all levels when the bottle was first opened, two months ago. Tonight, I’d say it is very good, but just barely falling short of being outstanding—and not quite at the level of the aforementioned 15 yo, 1995 PX cask. But I will come back to this one again (and again). I have a sample of another 19 yo, 1993 ex-Oloroso cask (an official bottling for K&L) and I look forward to comparing the two soon.
Rating: 89 points.