Like almost everybody I know, GlenDronach ranks high on my list of favorite distilleries. I have tasted 54 different GlenDronach expressions, and 53 of them were good. Some were even stellar, but each of those 53 were good. Each was a bottle that I could see enjoying, if not necessarily buying. Yes, the single cask batches have become really expensive in the past two years, but they’ve only moved in line with the crazy market we’re in, so I can’t even really complain about that.
However, even after such a winning streak, a dud was bound to show up, and GlenDronach’s string of 53 came to an end last night, when I tasted the GlenDronach Peated.
This is a young expression, lacking any real character, other than the peat, of course. That’s a shame, because the GlenDronach spirit can do a lot with the right casks. I was speaking to a friend, and expressed my disappointment with the Peated, and he said “GlenDronach should stick to sherry casks only, it’s what they do best”. While I agree that GlenDronach has pretty much replaced Macallan for many aficionados as the primary source for quality sherry matured whisky, I think that there’s room on the market for GlenDronach in styles other than the “sherry bomb” and if you need proof of that, just look at the highly successful finishes series featuring various ages matured in bourbon casks and finished in virgin oak, Marsala, Tawny Port and Sauternes. How about “plain” bourbon casks? Yes, those work well too. If you haven’t tried the 8 year old Hilean, you might want to, even though it has some sherry casks in it, the amount of sherry matured whisky isn’t enough to counter the malty vanilla and honey influence of the bourbon casks. At eight years old, by the way, it’s definitely a good sip.
The GlenDronach Peated was matured in ex bourbon casks and finished in Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks.
So what’s wrong with the Peated?
Two things. First of all, it’s too young. You can still get the new make on the nose, which to me is a put off. The Hilean at 8 does not suffer the same malady, so this had less time/wood influence. The second problem this expression suffers from is that the casks used just weren’t active enough. I can understand that in a distillery that basically makes unpeated whisky, you wouldn’t use your prime casks for a single peated run, as you can’t go back from peated to unpeated spirit (unless you want to do a Balvenie, and now Glenlivet Nàdurra, with the peated casks as a finish). I think that first fill bourbon casks (or a decent proportion of those) would be more suited for this spirit, especially if you intend to mature it quickly. I don’t have too many expectations from the Oloroso and PX casks used for the finish, as GlenDronach would only use casks at the end of their useful life for the peated whisky, as mentioned above. I hope a change is made with the casks, because we know the guys at the BenRiach Company can make good peated whisky.
On to the tasting:
GlenDronach Peated (46% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Gold, thin legs running off a pretty sturdy necklace.
Nose: Honey, floral new make notes, smoke, malt and some brine. A touch of sweet spice wafts up from the glass. With time, a maltiness comes through on the nose.
Palate: Peat and some honey amid a strong wash of spice. Some cereal is discernible.
Linger: Strong spices on the tongue, with the peat all over. The spices extend to the top of the gullet, with some peat burn. A residual sweetness remains on the back of the palate.
This first batch is disappointing, and I hope it’s used to learn and improve.
Is there room for it on the market? I think so, both as the peated or unpeated distillery distinction is blurring, and in that whisky fans are curious to see different facets to the same spirit. But if you’re gonna do it, do it right, baby!