It’s fair to say that we have a bit of a soft spot for GlenDronach here at Regional Wines, and when these hallowed whiskies arrive on our shores, we feel obliged to get them into a tasting as soon as is humanly possible. And rightly so, as with the current price of the latest brown and gold boxed batch release, this is literally the only way that many of us will ever get to taste them.
Ok, that’s enough on price, heaven knows I banged on about it enough after the last GD tasting. Instead we’ll focus on just what a fine tasting these whiskies provided. Not just thanks to their breathtaking depth and complexity, but also through the rare chance that they provided to examine different casks of similarly aged whiskies and once again to put to the test, the theory that whisky is all about the cask. As ever, we discovered it isn’t always quite that simple.
This is the order in which the whiskies were tasted over two nights. They were served blind and the mystery whisky was completely unknown...
- Mystery Whisky - GlenAllachie PX Sherry Wood Finish Finish 12yo 48%
- GlenDronach 28yo 1990 #2623 Oloroso Butt 50.1%
- GlenDronach 26yo 1992 #113 Oloroso Butt 50.1%
- GlenDronach 26yo 1992 #8596 Port Pipe 49.3%
- GlenDronach 23yo 1995 #3040 PX Puncheon 52.5%
- GlenDronach 13yo 2006 #3359 Oloroso Puncheon 56.7%
- GlenDronach 13yo 2006 #3343 PX Puncheon 56.3%
A fine looking lineup indeed with some interest to boot. Two 26 year olds and two 13 year olds but both of these couples from different cask types. An old age crony in the shape of the 28 year old, a cheeky port pipe and a much lower price tier whisky, but made by the man who until recently was steering the ship at GlenDronach... one Mr. Billy Walker. Many layers of intrigue with which to play with and surely a simple enough task of spotting oloroso, PX and port casks... after all there’s many obvious clues to look for; the sulphur and rubber of the PX cask; the rusty hint of the port pipe and the Xmas cake and custard from our dear friend the oloroso cask. Surely this would be easy enough for a gaggle of well seasoned (ahem) experts?
Daniel, our long standing presenter of some 25 years, kicked things off by disclosing which two whiskies were the 13 year olds. This seemed like a strangely benevolent act from the master of mystery, but cannily served to complicate things, as in truth, the two 13 year olds didn’t taste markedly different and did not seem to overtly express their cask provenance - oloroso and PX. Being given such a large nugget of information, and it ultimately proving less useful than expected, sowed doubt into the minds of the attendees, who were soon deep in the game of figuring out which whisky was which. Once the seeds of doubt had been planted… the confusion grew and bloomed.
The start of the lineup was obviously populated with the old whiskies, plus a mystery... but where was that port pipe and why wasn’t the PX proving easy to spot?
The first whisky showed a melange of flavours befitting a finish. There was melon, spearmint and tobacco from some time in US oak casks and a smattering of raisins thanks to its final stretch in a PX cask - and which left it feeling a touch disjointed and out of sorts.
Next was our old timer which screamed classic GlenDronach but was layered with unconventional, funky oddities and aged notes that a wine critic might call “tertiary”. This slightly peculiar, but, at the same time spectacular whisky had a mixed response over the two nights scoring poorly on the first but much better on the second. The sense of malt, or fruit if you like, was all but gone, and what was left was a glass of tannic woodiness with layers of sweet confection and sulphurous burnt rubber. Everything and more to those with a jaded palate, whilst over the hill or passée to the purists amongst us.
Then came the two 26 year olds. First was the oloroso cask - a bright brass tack of a whisky gleaming in the dark and offering butterscotch, oranges and humbugs, but which was out gunned by the port pipe. This had all the raisins, Xmas cake and salted caramel we’ve come to expect from an oloroso cask plus layers of chocolate orange - but there were certainly no red hues in the glass that can sometimes betray a port pipe, and certainly no obvious red fruits on the palate.
Number 5 in the lineup was the hands down winner over the two nights and rightly so. This had grunt but sweetness to balance and a real liveliness in the mouth, a certain energy that forced it over the palate. There was animal, mineral, vegetable and fruit in fine oily brush strokes - akin to a still life by one of the old masters.
Which brought us to the two 13 year olds. The PX cask (number 7) was sweeter and deeper but didn’t have the complexity nor subtlety of the oloroso cask which mixed apricot jam with caramel confectionery and finished like a bakewell tart.
When it came to the guesswork the results were telling. The majority of people guessed only three or less correctly, despite having been given a massive heads up as to the location of the two youngest whiskies. People had struggled to spot the cask types - but is this really surprising?
I was lucky enough to attend the GlenDronach masterclass with Stewart Buchannan at Dramfest this year, where the GlenDronach brand ambassador spoke of how GlenDronach typically now only uses Spanish oak. With four whiskies at our tasting aged 23 years old or over - had the Spanish oak they shared in common served as a great leveler of flavour? 23 years, let alone 28, is a long time to spend in contact with oak (I’d imagine, having never tried it myself). Is it possible that after this time, any traits of the previous contents of the cask had become assimilated into the whisky and had been overpowered by the rich and spicy flavours of the oak itself?
Another factor at play with tighter grain European oak is that, unlike the charred US oak used in bourbon barrels, it does less to filter out impurities such as sulphur. Therefore, when people talk of PX casks showing sulphurous notes, this is likely more a factor of European oak, and in this respect, just as likely to occur in any kind of wine cask that is made from European oak. So, once again we find that these whiskies have a lot in common. Without knowing just how long the PX, oloroso or port spent ageing in the casks prior to the introduction of whisky - it’s really impossible to gauge the magnitude of flavour these cask types will impart on the whisky.
In my opinion - using only 100% Spanish oak is something to shout about. Wouldn’t it be great to have all this information somewhere on the bottle? I wrote to GlenDronach a few weeks back asking for information on all the casks featured at this tasting - but am waiting to hear back. I’ll keep you posted, just don’t hold your breath…
Here’s some scores for those who are keen.
Mystery Whisky - GlenAllachie PX Sherry Wood Finish Finish 12yo 48% - 7.65
GlenDronach 28yo 1990 #2623 Oloroso Butt 50.1% - 7.81
GlenDronach 26yo 1992 #113 Oloroso Butt 50.1% - 8.45
GlenDronach 26yo 1992 #8596 Port Pipe 49.3% - 9.35
GlenDronach 23yo 1995 #3040 PX Puncheon 52.5% - 9.55
GlenDronach 13yo 2006 #3359 Oloroso Puncheon 56.7% - 8.69
GlenDronach 13yo 2006 #3343 PX Puncheon 56.3% - 8.54
Please contact John at email@example.com if you would like to purchase any of the above - some of these whiskies are available by order.