Golden Brown - GlenDronach with Daniel Bruce McLaren - Monday 24 and Tuesday 25 September
For $110 you'd probably expect a platter of haggis, neeps and tatties to accompany your whisky tasting, but on this occasion, it was the price that secured a seat at the table with the brown and gold Gods of whisky - whisky that most of us mere mortals will never get to taste. This was the much anticipated GlenDronach vertical spanning the 8yo Heilan through to a 27yo Single Cask, Vintage offering from the latest Batch #16 release, and pretty much everything else in between. I’m guessing It’s not often the Parliament finishes 5th at a scored tasting, but well, this was that kind of tasting.
Billy Walker purchased BenRaich, Glenglasaugh and of course GlenDronach when they were rough uncut diamonds, albeit with vast warehouses of immense potential, and polished them to the top flight collectible distilleries they are today, prior to selling out in 2016. So collectible are some of these names now, that the current retail price of the 27yo from Batch #16 at around $800 would put the street value of a cask of this golden brown nectar at around $500,000 - a true reflection of just how the whisky industry has moved in recent years.
There were some fabulous idiosyncrasies surrounding this tasting and which provided plenty of food for thought whilst blindly navigating the order on the two nights. Firstly the three single cask Batch #16 releases were all over 20 years old meaning they were all distilled prior to the closing of the distillery between ‘96 and ‘01. This closure also had the rather serendipitous result of meaning that there were actually five whiskies over 20 years old at the tasting - the 21yo Parliament, the three Batch #16 releases and the 18 year old Allardice too. Say what, I hear you cry! Well, with the last bottling being from 2017, one would have to source whisky form casks dating from 1995 or ‘96, making the whisky more like a 21yo or possibly even a 22yo. Lastly, bar the Heilan, all these whiskies were aged in either PX, Oloroso or a combo or the two, providing a glorious chance to put the effects of these cask to the test.
And well we did. Our presenter, Daniel Bruce McLaren had been up to his usual tricks in engineering a blind order of devious duplicity, and which saw the starting duo composed of the 22yo 1995 single cask and the 21yo Parliament. Two whiskies of a similar age and both seeing some PX - but the single cask stood out proudly, bringing depth and concentration and a few more angles to the spirit, in comparison to the remarkably slick, well rounded and top dressed Parliament.
Next was our mystery, the Hazelburn 13yo Oloroso 2004/18, a Campbeltown masquerading as a Speyside under a veil of oloroso, but which was ultimately betrayed all too easily by an aura of peat. Wow that's a pretty peaty whisky for an unpeated whisky, but then, from the springbank processing line it should probably have “caution, may contain peat” written as a disclaimer somewhere on the bottle. Its ashen rose petals scraped from a dirty garage floor were the antithesis of some of the slick, well polished pieces of GlenDronach furniture amongst which it sat.
Next up were the 25yo 1995 and the 27yo 1993 single casks aged in sherry anc Px casks respectively. Their appearance in the glass had gently suggested their age - but once in the palate, they screamed old and casky. Tannic, stewed fruits, molasses and gravy oozed in every direction, coating every last taste bud, but the age and oak had leveled them in some respects, and for every man finding oloroso there was a woman spotting PX. Proof perhaps that the actual oak is more important than the previous contents?
Hot on the heels of the two single casks was the Allardice, which gave them a real run for their money. It finished third on the first night (pipping a single cask offering) - showing as much grunt and depth as the batch #16s, and at a fraction of the price. The next bottling could well be a 23 year old - so watch this space!
And lastly, the bell curve of the tasting was completed by the 12yo. This was a welcome palate cleanser after the previous three, and just what the doctor ordered, a honey, lemon and ginger to soothe our poor palates and which even pipped the Parliament to fifth place on the first night.
And so, the Batch 16 single casks certainly offered some beautifully deep and rich expressions, like reduced gravy or a bouillabaisse from Marseille that has sat on a hob for 20 years or so, slowly getting richer and richer. Often these whiskies can leave you wondering if they’ve been left in cask too long, but these were certainly not one dimensional, caramelised sherry bombs - with plenty finding interesting savoury and Umami qualities, and none showing too much tannin (which can certainly often be the case with old single cask whiskies).
So in conclusion, a truly memorable tasting which was well worth the price - but one does have to wonder how much pricier these whiskies can get?
Here's the scores for those who are keen...
Glendronach 1990 27yo #7902 (PX Puncheon) 52.1% -10.03
Glendronach1995 22yo #3311 (PX Puncheon) 50.3% - 9.27
Glendronach 1992 25yo #127 (Sherry Butt) 50.9% - 8.77
Glendronach Allardice 18yo 46% - 8.55
Glendronach Parliament 21yo 48% - 8.23
Hazelburn 13yo Oloroso 2004/18 - 8.06
Glendronach 8yo Heilan 43% - 8.05
Glendronach 12yo 43% - 7.96