Thursday, March 6, 2014

A fitting introduction - GlenDronach & Douglas Cook

The GlenDronach 31yo Grandeur
GlenDronach is not a whisky we see get a lot of dram time here in Australia in comparison to other scotch whiskies. So when the Oak Barrel put on a GlenDronach show with Douglas Cook, Regional Sales Manager and all round Nice Guy, it was a chance not to be missed. It has been a while since I was back at the oak barrel so it was good to be in familiar territory again.

GlenDronach Distillery is located in the Aberdeenshire of the Scottish Highlands. In 2008 GlenDronach it was purchased by BenRiach Distillery so now once again proclaiming the pride of being a privately owned once more. Classed as being somewhat as The Grandfather Of Sherry Casks Matured Whisky, prior to the 2008 purchase, GlenDronach has had a chequered history of ownership including a mothballing from 1996 to 2002. GlenDronach does not hide the fact either that a minor percentage of its whisky goes out to blenders making up a part of the familiar Teachers and Balantines brands in the past. Primarily maturation in Spanish ex-sherry casks make up the bulk of the GlenDronach ageing process though there is a few alternate casks used for experimentation or still remaining from the previous owners floating around.

Douglas Cook of GlenDronach Distillery
Douglas presented himself well providing a wealth of knowledge about the distillery and the processes of making whisky to all those willing to ask and listen. Douglas's reputation had proceed him in regards to how he liked to talked so it was no surprise my note pad was 6 pages full before we even got to taste the first whisky (I really need to develop better hand writing skills). Douglas described an interesting story about how it is recorded that GlenDronach's original marketing strategy in the 1800's was built on word of mouth by notable ladies of the night working the Edinburgh streets. Is also refreshing to hear Douglas class GlenDronach as a "craft distillery" which is a term I have not heard used of any Scottish Distillers themselves. Like most distillers of course they use no artificial colouring or chill filtration. All their whiskies are unpeated and they use a 3rd party malting facility as GlenDronach dose snot have its own matlings floor. It is also worth a note that they fill their casks at around 62% ABV and that their oldest cask at this time was laid down in 1968 and is still a high enough proof to be considered whisky.

Chocolate and a GlenDronach 12yo
After the event Douglas was more than willing to answer a series of queries I had scratched down in my trusty note book. Though I asked many a question Douglas was stumped on a few and noted that they really needed to be directed  to the Master Distiller, Bill Walker. Bless Douglas though he did his best as I hounded him on anyway. Following is some of my questions and answers by Douglas though I must point out I hastily was scrawling away so I would be paraphrasing in most cases in the responses.

Are GlenDronach Whiskies all 100% matured in Spanish ex-sherry? "About 90% of out casks are ex-sherry but we also have Port, Madeira, and Sauterne in small quantities. We also have some ex-bourbon casks remaining".

How long has sherry casks been the focus of Glendronach's maturing process? "Record's show Glendronach has been using sherry casks since the 1800's. More modern times, not sure, maybe 1960's".

How much does it cost for a spanish sherry cask? "About £600 pounds"

Why do the sherry casks cost so much? "There is too many distilleries buying casks which is making the prices rise".

GlenDronach is a key ingredient in Balantines and Teachers whiskies. What percentage of GlenDronach is retained for the distilleries own single malt range? (I commented straight after maybe 80%) "A good guess. I Would say yes about 20% is sold for blending in the past". Douglas has since confirmed with Billy Walker that 100% of GlenDronach is now kept for bottling as The GlenDronach Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

How are you finding Australia's response to GlenDronach? "Good. From when I was here 2 years ago Australians are asking more questions about quality, more about our limited releases, and the stores (bottle shops and staff) are more tuned in about whisky".

When was the change from using coal to fire the stills to steam. And do you think it has improved the character of the whisky? "2006 we changed to steam"."At this time we have nothing to profile as these whiskies have not reached full maturity. You will have to ask Billy about that in more detail". Douglas then went on to comment about how the coal fire (being much hotter) would create a caramelisation in the still which steam does not.

The evenings lineup
A standing room event only saw us arrive to a tidy little dram of GlenDronach 12yo being handed out which we sipped a bit too quick as it was a good 15min before out host took the stand and by then we had already emptied the glass. This compounded a problem as the whiskies were served out of sequence for the remainder of the night against Douglas's tastings. A few of us did manage to hold onto our drams and made the effort to get back on track to what was being talked about. Dram for dram was poured back into the same glass as well. With no real way of cleaning out the glass I felt it did upset nosing and tasting with taint of the previous whisky in the background.

On tasting was the GlenDronach 12yo, 15yo Revival, 18yo Allardice, and 31yo Grandeur. Following is some brief notes I took on the night:

GlenDronach 12yo
ABV: 43%
Matured: in ex-sherry Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks with the higher percentage of maturation in Oloroso.
Colour: Red Amber

Nose: Sweet florals, raisins, vanillas and creams and a slight oily character.

Taste: Dark chocolate, almonds, creme brulee. A full bodied nature with carbon and ginger spice in the lower palate.

Finish: Medium and dry.

GlenDronach 15yo Revival
ABV: 46%
Matured: 100% Oloroso. This is considered the "House style".
Colour: Toffee caramel

Nose: High clove spices, warmed sherry, cola and toasted cereals.

Tasted: Silky smooth on the lips before the nose again is initially spiked with something liked crushed ferns that then gives way to the palate developing a citrus tang. Full bodied with hot ginger and mint spices leading to mouth puckering.

Finish: Long and chest warming

GlenDronach 18yo Allardice
ABV: 46%
Matured: 100% Oloroso
Colour: Burnt toffee

Nose: Heavy sherry wine influence in the forefront, large raisin, orange citrus and fruit spices.

Taste: Dark chocolate and oranges, really dry and chewy with some spiky spices prickling the lips.
Finish: heavy and sits high in the throat. Loses it's sweetness very fast.

GlenDronach 31yo Grandeur
ABV: 45.8%
Matured: 100% Oloroso
Colour: Ruby red.

Nose: Sour grapes, furniture polish with mild brown sugar sweetness and subdued cherries.

Taste: Coffee, almonds and spiced ginger. A little chewy and the furniture polish still remains.

Finish: Medium, nutty and uninteresting.

Overall it was a fitting introduction to GlenDronach. They were very pleasant whiskies and for ones being aged in 100% ex-sherry casks I encountered none of the horrible syrupy unbalanced sweetness so many distillers are making the mistake of these days. The casks are clearly picked for exceptional quality to impart enough influence without reducing nuances that make singe malt whisky what it is. Douglas noted he feels that as the whiskies matured exclusively under the new ownership come online these expressions are only going to get better. Bring it on I say.

The Baron