Malt and Oak is delighted to welcome Sean Russell, founder of the GlenDronach Appreciation Society, as a contributing editor to the blog!
September 2016 saw the second of the years’ single cask batch release from GlenDronach.
There appeared to be an even bigger craze in obtaining these batch #14 bottles faster than previous releases. The popularity of not just the distillery, but also these bi-annual single cask releases seems to be becoming a bigger event every time. The demand over the last 2 to 3 years has absolutely astounded me. Not only because the whiskies are of a quality that put them at the top of the Christmas tree, but because GlenDronach’s status is swiftly moving from “must have” to “have absolutely got to have” to “cult”. It really has become a product that generates so much conversation and noise, and as expected, it has also closed the gap even more between 2 distinct audiences: Drinkers and Investors. GlenDronach really is a collectable commodity now more than it’s ever been. And with the recent acquisition of the Benriach Distillery Company by US company Brown-Foreman, there seems to be speculation on whether future batch releases will be as good – or even there.
So back to this particular review; batch #14. The biggest single cask batch ever released. 12 bottles ranging from 2004 to 1985. A mixture of powerful aged Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry monsters, to young sherry finishes. For me, it’s one of the most exciting releases for a long time. And as I suspected, it did not disappoint. There are some absolute stunners in the lineup.
The whiskies were all tried at least twice. Some with a little water – but not all.
The list starts with the youngest first, working down the line of age, and ending with the 1985 (the year when Jennifer Rush was at number 1 in the UK charts with ‘The Power of Love’ – and I’m glad those days are over!)
Whiskies included in Batch #14:
- 2004 cask # 5523 / 12 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 58.3% vol
- 2003 cask # 4034 / 13 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 52.5% vol
- 2002 cask # 1504 / 14 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 55.5% vol
- 1996 cask # 1485 / 20 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 53.0% vol
- 1995 cask # 543 / 20 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 54.6% vol
- 1994 cask # 339 / 21 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 53.0% vol
- 1993 cask # 42 / 23 years old / Oloroso Sherry Butt / 58.6% vol
- 1992 cask # 226 / 24 years old / Oloroso Sherry Butt / 58.4% vol
- 1991 cask # 2683 / 24 years old / Oloroso Sherry Butt / 49.2% vol
- 1990 cask # 2973 / 26 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 50.8% vol
- 1989 cask # 2662 / 26 years old / Oloroso Sherry Butt / 54.8% vol
- 1985 cask # 1037 / 30 years old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 52.3% vol
2004 Cask # 5523 / 12 Years Old / PX Sherry Puncheon (Finish) / 58.3% vol
Appearance: Dark Amber, thin oily legs
Nose: Sweet. Sour plums, bubblegum, Tizer (who remembers that?), and a bit more bubblegum. Quite a confusing nose for me and one that seems to be a bit erratic.
Palate: Immediate, and quite intense peppery sweetness from the off. After it has sat in the mouth, and after that peppery crackle has subsided, cloves and honey appear (briefly), and then some dried fruit. There’s also a distant rubbery element – but i’m a fan of sulphur and rubber when it’s in balance with the rest of the flavours. It’s not out of kilter here.
Finish: Sweet ’n’ sticky with a mildly bitter chilli-tingle. It’s also slightly perfumed. Think a pleasantly perfumed soap.
Water adds: More raisins to the nose, with an increase of pepper & perfume to the palate. The finish is drier with more bitterness.
Conclusion: It’s a finish, and it’s young. I find it difficult to compare whiskies of this age and type to the older heavyweight sherry-bombs that are in this review. Still, of the 3 ‘millennial’ whiskies included in this latest batch, it’s pretty good. But not the best.
2003 Cask # 4034 / 13 Years Old / PX Sherry Puncheon (Finish) / 52.5% vol
Appearance: Dark Amber, slow long oily legs
Nose: Sweet sherry with a glug of cherry Cola. It’s quite ‘grassy’ too, with a warm pudding aroma. There’s definitely a slight soap-smell here. And then wood shavings appear. It does smell quite spirity and young, but there’s not really any alcohol burn.
Palate: Medium sweetness, and is definitely less ‘in your face’ finishing than its younger 2004 sister-bottle, but it does have the characteristics of a whisky that’s had that final sherry cask finishing ‘boost’. There’s a medium woody bitterness, but is still quite full bodied.
Finish: Long, with a sugary-sweet sherry linger. A woody dryness appears and stays for a little while and gently fades away.
Water adds: More sweetness to the nose, and on the palate there’s more fiery wood and dryness. The finish is drier and slightly quicker.
Conclusion: These 2000 bottles are very different beasts. The finishing in sherry casks has given them an intense and boosted character in many ways, but are not as heavy as their brothers from the last Century.
2002 Cask # 1504 / 14 Years Old / PX Sherry Puncheon (Finish) / 55.5% vol
The 3rd and oldest of the millennials…
Appearance: Dark Amber. Thin oily legs
Nose: Gum drops, sherry, alcohol fumes, grapes, fig rolls. It’s very sweet smelling with a toasted grains element in the background. There’s also an acidic note.
Palate: Very sweet with an immediate and feisty crushed pepper sizzle. The pepper does subside quickly, with the saccharine-like sweetness hanging around. That cereal/grains aroma detected on the nose now appears on the tongue and brings with it a bitter-dryness.
Finish: Medium-long. Timid buttery dryness stays in the mouth, accompanied by a diluted sweetness.
Water adds: An acetone note to the nose, while there’s an increased bitter-woody bite on the palate. The finish becomes drier with more sharpness and tartness.
Conclusion: My least favourite of the three 2000’s bottling in this batch. I thought this might be similar to cask #1500 from an earlier batch, but it is very different.
1996 Cask # 1485 / 20 Years Old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 53.0% vol
The youngest of the 20th Century bottles in this batch.
Appearance: Red Chestnut. Slow oily legs
Nose: Warm caramel, stewed fruit, freshly opened wine gums, old furniture polish, old fashioned chewy toffee…….this is more like it!……lots of sherry/dessert wine, bread & butter pudding straight of the oven. Lots and lots of lovely thick, rich and decadent aromas going on here.
Palate: Lovely rich oaky sweetness moves over to a very welcomed liquorice sharpness. Then there’s the faintest hint of peppermint – I wasn’t expecting that. The whole mouthfeel is mouth coating and beautifully oily.
Finish: Long and slow. It’s super-long in fact. There’s a lovely gentle spent matchstick element that is lying there with the bitter sweetness. It is so agreeable to the tastebuds.
Water adds: I couldn’t bring myself to add any.
Conclusion: I really, really like this. It’s reminiscent of cask #1020 from batch #11 (and I really, really liked that. Quite a lot.)
1995 Cask # 543 / 20 Years Old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 54.6% vol
Appearance: Dark Amber. Slow thin legs
Nose: Quite spirity. Sweet candy, baked apples, unripened banana, rhubarb tartness, raspberry yoghurt.
Palate: Lot’s of sweetness and a chilli-tingle. The heat from the alcohol is prodding the tongue, roof of the mouth and then jumping on the back of tongue for good measure. Lot’s of wooden oaky bitterness, but then the heat re-appears.
Finish: Medium-long. Sweet and bitter. Slightly too woody for me and it just seems to dominate the overall character.
Water adds: More fruit & caramel on the nose, and spiced sweetness on the tongue.
Conclusion: A solid whisky, absolutely no doubt about that. But it isn’t really doing it for me. I seem to struggle with these 95’s…
1994 Cask # 339 / 21 Years Old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 53.0% vol
Appearance: Deep Mahogany, long slow legs.
Nose: Again, that lovely rich, juicy aroma you get when you open up a pack of wine gums and shove your nose in the pack. Thick PX sherry, and boozy trifle. You can almost smell the sherry-soaked oak staves of the cask. There’s also the anticipated caramel, with peanut brittle, chocolate raisins, and Garibaldi biscuits with the juicy currents crammed into them.
Palate: Oh yes, here we go! A sip of this and sink into a soft comfy chair. Waves of concentrated spicy treacle flow over the tongue, along with thick PX sherry, toffee and an appearance of cigar tobacco. Theres an extra dark chocolate bitterness and a warming slow burning spicy element.
Finish: Long. The dark chocolate bitterness stays for an age and then gently gives way to a refined and sweet, oily mouth-coat. The gentle cigar-ash lingers and sits there.
Water adds: Spicy stewed fruits and as expected, more pronounced dryness.
Conclusion: Really lovely. It’s more laid back and mellow than other PX’s of a similar age, but is punching above its weight with a beautiful layered complexity.
1993 Cask # 42 / 23 Years Old / Oloroso Sherry Butt / 58.6% vol
Appearance: Deep Antiqued Cherry. Thick oily legs
Nose: Fabulous nose! Vibrant and fruity sherry. And again, a packet of freshly opened fruity jellied sweets. Sweet Teriyaki sauce, freshly pressed cloudy apple juice, moist raisins, beautiful old beeswax furniture polish, warm and gentle spices, and I even got a whiff of Juicy Fruits.
Palate: Chocolate-covered coco nibs and coffee beans present a beautiful sharpness, married with an insanely good sherry and vanilla sweetness. There’s a sweet nuttiness as well – praline. Booze soaked raisins, spice, and crushed black peppercorns give you a sweet spicy tingle.
Finish: Long. Drying and exquisite, with a fantastic burnt sugar bitterness. There’s a very (very), faint ashen linger.
Water adds: You must be joking. But if you must, it adds more spice and wood.
Conclusion: This whisky needs to breathe! The Oloroso does act differently to the PX, and imparts more of a sweeter, refined offering when done right. It’s more of a sleek Cheetah compared to the rugged Panther of a PX. I read somewhere once that when you let a whisky breathe, you should give a minute for every year of its life. 23 minutes was too long for me, as I was impatient.
1992 Cask # 226 / 24 Years Old / Oloroso Sherry Butt / 58.4% vol
Appearance: Dark Mahogany. Very thick, slow oily legs.
Nose: Oh wow. It’s a “look back down at the glass” moment. Intense sherry – rich, thick, and warming. High-quality bees wax antique furniture polish, spiced cake mix, juicy sultanas, sour stewed plums, black treacle and runny toffee. Cherries and custard. It is insanely beautiful on the nose. So much going on here with the intense aromas. There’s also a whiff of sulphur, but the type of sulphur that really works for me (think back to cask #1020)
Palate: Utterly sublime. Superb and right up my street. Another look down at the glass moment again. Thick and chewy, dark and crispy toffee from a toffee apple melting in the mouth followed by a more chewy cigar-ash sulphur bite. A ridiculous amount of dark, oily, rich and sweet sherry flows in and covers the tongue. Then the bananas, biscuits, and rubber-clad cherries have their turn. The rubber being that element of sulphur – but as with other heavily sherried GlenDronach’s – it works magnificently and adds a heavy dimension to this heavyweight sherrybomb.
Finish: Long. Beautiful bitter-sweetness that is all encompassing and warming. The spent matchstick linger stays, but is perfectly balanced with the old sweetness of the sherry cask that this little beauty has sat in for 24 years. And to think there’s only 554 bottles of this. Ever. This is one that invites you back for a second, third, fourth glass.
Water adds: More treacle and stewed fruits on the nose, then the palate gets an increase of crushed pepper, cardamon and wood. The finish brings on more lovely oakwood bite & cigar linger.
Conclusion: This is one where I could (and will), unreservedly hide away somewhere by an open fire with no noise but the crackling wood, and sip. Beautiful. One (not) to share. But like with many of the other whiskies – let it breathe and open up.
1991 Cask # 2683 / 24 Years Old / Oloroso Sherry Butt / 49.2% vol
Appearance: Dark Amber. Thick slow oily legs.
Nose: Golden syrup, plums cooked in butter, breakfast pastries (pan au raisin). There’s a faint wisp of tropical fruit. It does have a light-acidic note with a slight acetone element.
Palate: The lower ABV is very apparent. Banana and tropical fruits seem to be present here, along with barley sugar drops, and buttered toast.
Finish: An elegant and gentle fruity mouth-coating, leading to an unhurried drying.
Water adds: A nuttiness to the nose. More pepper, bananas and caramel to the palate with increased dryness.
Conclusion: Very different from the others. It’s more tropical and fruity, but is, at the same time, sumptuous & warming.
1990 Cask # 2973 / 26 Years Old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 50.8% vol
Appearance: Dark Mahogany. Long and lazy oily legs.
Nose: Wow. Absolutely beautiful mix of old PX sherry, maraschino cherries, spent matchsticks, raisins, flat cola, rich and moist fruitcake. Theres a very faint twang of ripe banana. Chocolate Digestives, fresh espresso, almonds, sour cherry jam (as I have a jar in the fridge) The nose is absolutely massive.
Palate: Oh boy… Treacle, old thick and sweet sherry, toffee, mocha, dark cherries. Loads and loads of aged flavours. It’s absolutely stonking. There’s also the perfectly balanced rubbery-treacle element that was a stunning characteristic of Batch #11’s cask 1020.
Finish: Long. Unhurried and just lovely. The slow, sweet bitterness that is followed by waves of herb and spice. Fabulously lazy in the drying stage. And again, that lovely spent cigar ash and woody bite.
Water adds: More sweetness and an increase in the drying oak-wood on the palate, and more cigar ash on the finish.
Conclusion: Absolutely fantastic. Another ground-breaking 1990. It’s ticked so many boxes and is an absolute delight to drink.
1989 Cask # 2662 / 26 Years Old / Oloroso Sherry Butt / 54.8% vol
Appearance: Medium Amber. Long thin, oily legs.
Nose: Dry Oloroso sherry, balsamic vinegar, honey, pears and warm fruit. Then a slight sour tartness appears followed by some milky coffee. The spirit is quite active here.
Palate: Sweet, with that milky coffee element appearing. There’s a clear liquorice bitter-sweetness, coupled with a woody bite. Sherry sweetness is a constantly there holding everything together. The liquorice re-appears.
Finish: Long. Liquorice bitter-sweetness stays on the tongue and at the back of the mouth for a long time.
Water adds: Sour fruit and polish on the nose, with more pepper on the palate. The liquorice bite is increased on the finish.
Conclusion: Very enjoyable with a lovely flavour that flits between gentle sweetness and bitterness. If you want a less explosive sherry bomb, this is most definitely a keeper. It makes a really nice partner to some of the more heavier whiskies.
1985 Cask # 1037 / 30 Years Old / PX Sherry Puncheon / 52.3% vol
Appearance: Medium/dark Amber. Slow, thick oily legs.
Nose: Fresh and squidgy brioche, runny caramel, xmas spices, raisins, faint espresso coffee, old shoe polish, and toasted grains. A really lovely nose.
Palate: Oakey sweetness, followed by oat biscuits, then sour plums, pear drops, brown muscovado sugar, and butter.
Finish: Long, with a dark brown sugar bitter sweetness. A woody, tang of bitterness is left to dry and coat the mouth, leaving a lovely warming sweet glow. It’s creamy, aromatic and oily.
Water adds: More sourness, nuts, banana, and polish on the nose. On the palate, everything seems to calm down a little, with more dryness.
Conclusion: This one really needs to open up for a while. It’s character definitely changes after a bit of breathing. It’s really aromatic, sumptuous, and deep. Layers of flavours appear, and it’s clear that the marriage of wood and spirit has worked well, serving up plates of sherry, wood, age and spice.
The batch #14 Winners…
Choosing the winners from this batch was quite hard for me. There at least 5 whiskies in here that I would happily stock up on and drink. But the one I have chosen as my overall favourite is based on my own personal tastes and a comparison to another whisky from a previous cask (I think you can guess what that is if you either know me, or have read the notes above)
1st: 1992 – Cask #226
2nd: 1990 – Cask #2973
3rd: 1993 – Cask #42