In the 7 months since I did the review for batch #14, a lot has happened in the world. A lot. Donald Trump is in the driving seat of the world’s biggest Super Power. Great Britain has its second ever female Prime Minister and is leading its exit from the EU, Star Wars Rogue One hit the big screen and made Darth Vader awesome again, and my 6 year-old Daughter started Karate that quite frankly, scared me and continues to do so.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. And the new owners, Brown-Forman appointed a certain Rachel Barrie as Whisky Maker for BenRiach, The GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh Distilleries. Whisky Maker or Master Blender - call it what you will - but this role is a huge deal and one that could re-define The GlenDronach as a distillery, and us as its consumers. Her impact and decisions on the aqua vita slumbering in the oak casks in the warehouses will be a driving force in the success and continued popularity of the product. But Rachel’s heritage and past experience is of whisky-legend. She’s gained huge respect from her previous camps, and taking on this role for GlenDronach is pretty exciting. There’s a lot of expectation and anticipation. No pressure then.
The impact and notoriety in the time that has elapsed between the Walkers re-kindling the distillery and then handing over the reins to Brown-Forman, is, quite frankly phenomenal. It used to be talked about in whispered conversations between whisky geeks who were in the know who didn’t want others to find out, but in no time at all GlenDronach and its super-atomic-kickyouinthefaceandnotsaysorry-sherry-bombs were being shouted about from every corner of the globe. It’s a bullseye of a product success story that Robin Hood and his keen eye couldn’t match. Just look at the crazy and frenzied rush to get hold of these latest bi-annual single cask bottles. See one? No? That’s because they’ve gone already. You were too slow. Crazy.
So this review albeit a bit delayed, is for Batch #15. A more manageable 6 bottles this time and they range from 1990 to 1995. The oldest in the group is 27 years. And they are as you’d hope all very dark. Interestingly, there are no Millenium bottles this time, nor is there anything from the 80’s and nothing from the 70’s.
The more observant amongst you will also notice that half of the bottles say ‘Sherry Butt’, and not Oloroso or PX. Simply put, this makes it a bit of a guessing game in identifying whether they are from a Pedro Ximenez cask, an Oloroso sherry cask, have been re-racked, finished or something else. It’s unlikely that they are finishes as this is normally stated on the label, but at the time of writing this I haven’t seen an official statement to explain what ‘Sherry Butt’ actually means. But does it matter? For me, no. If it tastes phenomenal and has me sticking my arm out for more, then that’s all that matters. I guess that’s a personal thing and everyone has differing views and expectations.
So here’s what batch #15 offers…….
Whiskies included in Batch #15:
o 1995 cask #4418 / 21 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 52.6% vol.
o 1994 cask #3379 / 22 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 51.6% vol.
o 1993 cask #43 / 24 years old / Sherry Butt / 59.2% vol.
o 1992 cask #89 / 25 years old / Sherry Butt / 57.0% vol.
o 1992 cask #52 / 25 years old / Sherry Butt / 58.5% vol.
o 1990 cask #7005 / 27 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 53.4% vol.
As usual, the first up in this batch review #15 review is the youngest of the whiskies; a 21 year old PX from 1995.
1995 cask #4418 / 21 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 52.6% vol.
Appearance: Indian Rosewood, long & thin oily legs
Nose: Soured fruit gums at the forefront with a faint pear drop tone. Then the expected sherry, toffee, raisin, and spicy confectionary aromas appears before a whiff of a boiled sweet that I haven’t tasted in years; maple syrup candy drops. That’s a nice surprise.
Palate: Sweet and tingly with a peppery bitterness. But this time, it’s a bitterness that calms very quickly and then spreads itself over the tongue and roof of the mouth with a light oiliness. Letting it sit in the mouth allows a very timid ashen element to make an appearance before a bitter oakiness pushes it to one side.
Finish: The sweetness on the nose and palate transform into a more saccharine sweetness. The bitter peppery effect is still there and a more pronounced bitter chilli-tingle.
Water adds… …more raisins and dried fruit to the nose, hotter pepper, and more wood to the palate. The finish is more aggressive and fiery with greater dry & bitter tone.
Conclusion: This is the first one I’ve tried and it’s niggled me. I’ve gone in not letting my pre-conceived ideas of not liking 1995’s impact this review. But I’m not convinced by it. Again. It’s not unpleasant at all, and certainly has all the traits of ‘Dronach DNA, but it’s just not doing it for me.
1994 cask #3379 / 22 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 51.6% vol
Appearance: Indian Walnut (almost identical to the 1995), very long & slow oily legs
Nose: Vibrant sherry, oodles of moist raisins & strawberry jam on toast. Spicy toffee, gentle herbs and faint old leather, waves of gentle fruity alcohol vapour. This one’s quite busy and exciting.
Palate: Rich sweetness that sits on the sides of the tongue for ages. It’s beautifully balanced with a glorious ‘not-in-your-face’ sweetness, but one that appears and slowly grows. It’s fab. There’s also a lovely malt loaf flavour with a gentle pepper studding on the tongue.
Finish: Very long with a beautiful swing from sweet to light-bitterness to dry and back to sweet again. All the while, the tongue is gently poked with a gentle heat.
Water adds… …caramel and polish on the nose. Bitterness and oak on the palate. The finish is still long, but its bitter.
Conclusion: Absolutely delightful. Beautifully balanced and thoroughly enjoyable. No water needed with this whatsoever.
1993 cask #43 / 24 years old / Sherry Butt / 59.2% vol.
The infamous nineteen ninety-three. The year everyone hones in on when bottles appear. The stuff of fables & legends.
Appearance: Mahogany, lazy & unhurried oily legs
Nose: One of the increasingly rare whiskies that appear where you can nose this for an age, and not even drink it. This one is a total treat for the olfactory organs. Gooey raisins in runny caramel. Sticky toffee pudding with vanilla custard. Lots of sherry and gentle spice. The sherry that’s coming out is old and dignified. Like a beautiful old leather Wingback chair in a grand room next to an open fire. Gorgeous.
Palate: Dark chocolate, espresso coffee, slightly over-done shortcrust pastry, figs, loads of dark sherry and a kick of spice such as coarsely ground black peppercorns. Then there’s a sweet-coated liquorice twang that appears.
Finish: Very long with a predominately bitter-sweet, like a fine dark chocolate or toasted muscovado sugar. The sherry sweetness is there but doesn’t dominate.
Water adds… …more tart & sour notes, wine and caramel on the nose, tapered sweetness on the palate, dryness & increased chilli-tingle heat on the finish. Again – I would not put water in this.
Conclusion: Another cracker from the fabled year of ’93. However, this is not the as good as some ‘93’s that have appeared from other past batches. But I’d say this is most definitely one to grab as it really is a beauty of a dram. Buy buy buy (but I didn’t need to say that did I?)
1992 cask #52 / 25 years old / Sherry Butt / 58.5% vol.
Appearance: Mahogany. Thick & slow oily legs. And the legs just hang on the inside of the glass for ages.
Nose: Initially, quite a ‘fumy’ hit of cherries, vanillin, sherry & alcohol. Allowing the whisky to sit in the glass for longer so it can breathe allows more subtle aromas to appear such as polished wood, maple syrup, fruitcake spice, and warm brioche. There’s also a faint creamy buttery note.
Palate: Hot sweetness combined with a sour bitterness hit you immediately, but it calms down quickly leaving the mouth dry. The nose gave away what I thought this would be like. There’s a slight anaesthesia numbing of the lips as well, but that’s not completely surprising giving this is a whopping 58.5% ABV. Of course, the sherry is there in abundance, but for me, this is just a hot sherried sucker punch of a whisky.
Finish: Long and dry with lots of bitterness.
Water adds… …an improved nose with moist squishy fruit and more of that scent of brioche. The sweetness turns down a notch and is slightly more sour which I think is an improvement.
Conclusion: Of the two 1992’s in the batch, this is not my favourite. It’s quite harsh and aggressive. My lips stayed numb for longer than I’d have liked!
1992 cask #89 / 25 years old / Sherry Butt / 57.0% vol.
Appearance: Mahogany. Long & thick oily legs.
Nose: At first smell, this is quite similar to the other 1992 in the batch (#52), with that a mix of cherries, vanillin, sherry & alcohol, but then you pick up a faint sulphur element – but it’s so timid. I’m going from #89 to #52 to #89 to #52 repeatedly to see the nuances between the two. They’re very similar. I’d say this one is leaning towards a more mature, buttery, and creamy nose, where the other 92 is feistier hot-fruit. After coming back to this, there is a definite faint sulphurous note. But I like sulphur in certain quantities as it can add a nice chewiness to the whisky on the palate.
Palate: Fabulous sherry sweetness with a poke of pear drops, ash, faint rubber, burnt sugar bitterness oak and spice.
Finish: Long and slightly ashen. There are definite signs of that sulphurous note, but it’s so gentle you need to look for it.
Water adds… …tartness, polish, and sulphur on the nose. The sweetness is mellowed and there’s an increase of wood and bitterness on the palate. The finish is ever-so reduced and drier.
Conclusion: This is definitely a whisky that wouldn’t last that long in the bottle. A fabulous example of a hallmark GlenDronach.
1990 cask #7005 / 27 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 53.4% vol.
Appearance: Walnut. Long lingering oily legs.
Nose: Yikes. Deep, rich, and aromatic dried fruit - concentrated raisins and dark rum-soaked maraschino cherries. Thick, old sherry with a Belgian chocolate coated cherry on the side. Again, that lovely sour note that you get with antique furniture polish. As far as noses go, this one is making mine twitch splendidly.
Palate: This is it. The showcase at last. Sweet’n’smooth (yep, I used the ‘s’ word) This doesn’t feel like a whisky of 53.4%, as it’s so nicely balanced. Decadent dried and candied fruit land and then blossom in the mouth with a gentle unhurried sweetness. The chocolate-dipped cherry element that was identified in 10yr non-single cask bottle by a friend last year is here, but in greater force. There’s so much going on here. Honeycomb, brown sugar, fruit, herbal-sweetness, more fruit, and then almost an injection of dark rum. A beautiful influence of cask, sherry, age, and nurturing.
Finish: Massively long and honeyed. The sweetness lingers in the mouth for an age before leaving a rich oily footprint. It’s exactly the reason why this distillery has its fans. A true sherried behemoth with a gentle touch.
Water adds… …Increased wine and a touch of balsamic vinegar on the nose. More heat and spice on the tongue. Greater woody dryness on the finish. For me, this cask works best without the addition of water.
Conclusion: Absolutely wonderful. This is the kind of whisky I would unashamedly hide from people and not share! If you like a rich, thick, oily and classy fruit-laced sherry-bomb of whisky, then this is for you. Every batch that comes out has its winner, and for me, this would win over multiple past batches.
The batch #15 winners…
Choosing the winners out of this batch was very easy for me. As usual, each whisky was tasted multiple times over a couple of days with and without water.
…and here they are…
1st: 1990 – Cask #7005
2nd: 1994 – Cask #3379
3rd: 1993 – Cask #43
I’d also like to personally thank Rachel Barrie for her support for this review and the also for supporting the GlenDronach Appreciation Society Facebook page and its members.