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Glendronach (pronounced: glen-DRON-ak) is something of a cult legend amongst whisky lovers and deservedly so. Along with Macallan and Glenfarclas it is one of those special distilleries forever associated with stunning sherry casks. However, while the forever self-important Macallan has struggled to maintain this image, Glendronach has gone from strength to strength in recent years. It has had good fortunes under new owner Billy walker who has released some stellar standard expressions in the shape of the new flagship 15 and 18yos as well as some phenomenal aged single casks. The future looks good for Glendronach which is good for us drinkers because it is so often a stunning whisky.
Stills: 2 Wash 2 Spirit
Water Source: Local Sources
Capacity: 1.3 Million Litres
Owners: The Benriach Distillery Company Ltd
1960-1980: The Golden Era
Glendronach had its worm tubs removed and replaced with condensers in 1967 but, as far as modernization goes, that is about it for Glendronach, immensely impressive considering the nature of the industry in these days. One of the central reasons for Glendronachs continued greatness is the fact that it continued to use coal fired distillation up until 2005. Direct firing inevitably forces a higher proportion of heavier compounds through the still thus resulting in an unmistakably oilier, meatier and more robust distillate. It is a characteristic that it seems impossible to recapture with steam, as has been shown at the recently converted Longmorn and Ardmore distilleries. Glendronach also managed to maintain the use of its own floor maltings up until 1996. It was common practice to use a mix of peat and coal to dry the barley at Glendronach, this also played a huge role in its continued richer, older style characteristics.
Another essential ingredient of Glendronach is its insistence upon using sherry casks. During the sixties, the time from which the first bottlings of Glendronach originate, there was still a ready supply of great sherry casks. Casks that had come from Spain filled with sherry, a practice that kept them fresh and alive thus providing the distillers with phenomenal casks with which to fill their spirit. Glendronach has provided us with some of the clearest examples of the benefit of this practice through the years.
The whisky produced from the early sixties through to the late seventies was dark, rich, intense and brimming with all the classic characteristics of great sherry maturation. The best show minerality, immense variety of fruit complexities, delicate smoke, liqueur notes, soft tannin, dark chocolate, fresh herbs and many sub aromas of leather, balsamico, aged rums, rancio, tobacco and oak. These characteristics are evident in some of the phenomenal official aged casks launched in last two years. As well as older bottings such as a 1970 for Samaroli and another 1970 by Signatory, al these bottlings are sherry bombs of the highest caliber.
1972 is a particularly fascinating year for Glendronach as there was definitely a higher proportion of peated malt in use at the distillery. This is evidenced by an absolutely glorious official 18yo distilled in this year. It can also be seen in a more aged form in the 1972 casks recently released by the distillery, all of which have shown a wonderful rooty, earthy ancient peat quality perfectly balanced with all the classic sherry qualitites.
There are also many great official examples from early eighties through to the early nineties. Usually ranging from 8 to 12 years of age with some matured either in sherry or bourbon these can still be found for good prices and almost all are great. The bourbon matured ones are wonderfully aromatic, dry, mineraled, waxy and herbaceous, old style whisky at its best in other words.
1980-Present: Modern Masterpiece.
Unlike most distilleries Glendronach has lost none of its luster at the hands of mass production and modernization. There have been many official casks from the late eighties and early nineties released and all of them have been big, powerhouse sherry monsters. They are typically very clean but hotter and more intense than the older expressions. Sherried Glendronach at full strength from these years commonly displays big notes of soy sauce, muchrooms, oriental spices, truffles, dates, prunes, stewed fruits and big leathery qualities.
The official expressions took a dip in quality in the mid-late nineties but this was down to poor cask selection at the hands of then owners Allied Distillers. The recent official bottings from the new owners have been pretty stellar. The 15 and 18yo bottlings in particular have been outstanding, displaying the kind of sherry matured character that is reminiscent of an old Macallan 18yo from the 70s. It shows that Glendronach will have stocks of great whisky for years to come. Now with passionate ownership behind it and a massive renewed investment in top quality sherry casks, it seems like things are looking up for Glendronach. Obviously the loss of the maltings and direct firing will take a toll to an extent but how much so remains to be seen. It will take a lot to take the fire out of Glendronachs greatness.