A little over a year ago I published what has probably become the most read of all my whisky posts: my report on Glendronach’s somewhat freewheeling use of the term “single cask”. This post has been in the top 10 most read pages on the blog every month since, and it seems like it gets linked to on some whisky forum somewhere in the world for the first time every week.
While whisky geeks seem to find the question interesting they also seem to have largely shrugged at the practice. There hasn’t been any sort of sustained outrage, and nor have there been calls for Glendronach to clarify their practices or use less misleading language on their labels—I haven’t myself purchased any of the single cask releases since then and so can’t confirm if there has in fact been any change on that front.
Well, we get the transparency that we ask for, and the industry is probably all too pleased that we don’t really ask for very much.
Anyway, it is this “single cask” release, cask 1240 that kicked all of this off for me. I’d purchased it on release and when the talk about the very large outturn from some of these casks began (on one of Ralfy’s vlogs and elsewhere) it was at this bottle’s label that I looked and which piqued my interest in the question. I didn’t, however, get around to opening the bottle and tasting it for myself till last December—there’s no reason for this other than the fact that I had other Glendronachs opened that I needed to finish. As it happened, I opened it for one of our local group’s tastings and it did not fare badly, on the whole, though it did divide the group. I didn’t think it was anything special but I didn’t think it was bad either. Here now is my formal review.
Glendronach 23, 1990, Cask 1240 (50.8%; “PX puncheon”; from my own bottle)
Nose: Rich plum and orange peel at first along with some polished oak. The plum comes to the top pretty soon and now there’s other red fruit as well (a touch of cherry?). The oak gets spicier and the orange peel is now dried and dusted with clove and a bit of cinnamon. Very winey but quite nice on its own terms. A little brighter with water.
Palate: More straightforwardly sherried here but everything is sort of blurred together into a sweet and spicy whole. Really hard to pick apart. And…that doesn’t really change with time—well, maybe there’s some burnt sugar and concentrated beef stock. With a lot more time the orange peel becomes more assertive but there’s also an increasing amount of sulphur (making my mouth feel a little furry). Water makes it spicier (cinnamon).
Finish: Long. Gets oakier as it goes with quite a bit of tannic grip (but nothing offensive). A bit nuttier too now. The spices (clove, cinnamon) emerge at the very end. The sulphur that popped up late hangs around or maybe it’s just expanding tannins from the wood that’s the source of the sharpness. Water calms that note down a bit.
Comments: The nose was quite nice, and, indeed, I found it quite drinkable on the whole—and quite improved at time of tasting from what it was like when the bottle was freshly opened a few months ago. It’s just not what you’d expect or want from a 23 yo malt, at least not a very good one. My guess is the original casks were too woody and they sought to balance those notes out with an aggressive PX finish. At a much lower price and labelled as “small batch” I don’t think anyone would have looked askance at it.
[I’ve finished the bottle since taking these notes and drank most of the rest with water.]
Rating: 82 points.