Taste Review #69 – Glendronach 18 Allardice.
When I was a child, the Aberdeenshire area used to have a good handful of distilleries. Ardmore, Banff, Fettercairn, Glenugie, Glenury Royal, Glendronach, Glen Garioch and lastly Royal Lochnagar. Sadly, three of these distilleries have now not just fallen silent but have been wiped off the face of the earth following the cull of distilleries in the 1980’s. Ardmore, Fettercairn, Glen Garioch and Royal Lochnagar mostly produce liquid for their corporate owners to use for blending and aren’t as prominent in the whisky landscape as some others. That just leaves Glendronach. Up until I became interested in single malt whisky it was a distillery I had not even heard of, despite it being under 30 miles from my house as the crow flies. Its exposure was increased to me when they opened a visitors centre – the brown tourist sign at the A96 / A97 road junction was a clue, but this wasn’t enough for me to get some of their liquid down my throat.
One of the issues that caused me to be blind to Glendronach is that it used to be one of those distilleries that had an relatively anonymous existence as a distillery producing whisky for blends, formerly being part of Pernod-Ricard empire. As most other distilleries owned by large corporations, it did release its own single malts from time to time but with no great fanfare. This was to change when the distillery was sold to a consortium of which the master distiller Billy Walker was a part. Billy has had a great deal of success with buying former Pernod-Ricard distilleries with also rejuvenating BenRiach, and after selling these two along with Glenglassaugh to Brown Forman, has bought the Glenallachie distillery, also from Pernod-Ricard. It is in his style that the letter after Glen or Ben is capitalised to distinguish it from the former owners. I’ll just stick to writing Glendronach and not GlenDronach.
I’ve always had a soft spot for sherried whiskies, with Macallan playing a large part in it as once upon a time nearly every bottle of Macallan was superlative in quality to any other sherried whisky. However, well before I considered a whisky journey such as this blog, I was also on familiar terms with Glenfarclas and Tamdhu, two other Speyside whiskies that have excellent sherried expressions, yet Glendronach evaded my attentions. It wasn’t until an unpleasant encounter that my gaze fell upon the Glendronach range.
It all started when I had to work occasionally with a guy who turned out to be a bit of a bad apple. He could be a great work mate one minute and nasty the next, and for all of the rest of the small team I work with we never knew what version we were getting that day. During one of his good days and before I realised what a menace this guy could be, the discussion turned to whisky. He told me that the only whisky he really drunk was the Glendronach 12. It had occurred to me that I’d been passing the signs to the visitor centre for years and had never visited or really had concentrated on any of their produce. Quite obviously as somebody who has an interest in whisky, I felt it was imperative that I paid more attention to the spirit that Glendronach was making.
The Glendronach 18 year old Allardice that I am going to review for you was the first Glendronach that I actively paid attention to and all I will say at the moment is that I wish I had tried it sooner. It took me another three years to visit this distillery, and during the tour I had last year, I left my guide Ann in no doubt what I thought about it. My previous review of the visit Glendronach, along its history and a tasting can be read here. The Allardice refers to the founder of Glendronach, James Allardice, who started the distillery in 1826.
I’m not planning on saying much more, so let’s have our whisky and see what we think. I do hope you can join me in tasting this little beauty.
Region – Highland; Age – 18 years old; Strength – 46% ABV; Colour – Tawny. Nose – Christmas Cake in a Glass. Rich sherry overload – Raisins, Plums, Cherries, Figs, Spicy Oak – Nutmeg and Ginger; Palate – Medium body, slightly oily. Leather, Raisins, Cherries, Oak, Orange peel, chocolate, hint of treacle toffee; Finish – Medium to long. Drying, syrupy taste that clings to the mouth, touch of sulphur, sticky toffee pudding, instant coffee powder.
I am hoping that you realise that I liked this a lot. I fell in love with the Allardice from the first time I tasted it. To my palate, this is a lot better than some of the insipid modern Macallan that has come on the market in the past decade or so, and thus I had changed my allegiance. I’m just disappointed that I didn’t review this some time ago. Due to my work pattern and my inclination not to keep several whisky bottles open at a time, it will be a while before I open another full sized bottle. Perhaps I’d better reconsider this. I’m definitely convinced that this is better than a lot of modern Macallans, but I’m also aware it is a different style of whisky, being a Highland Malt.
The range of aromas and smells I got from this spirit included many of my favourite things; treacle toffee, cherries, raisins, coffee powder, sticky toffee pudding to name but a few. It was a no brainer that I was going to enjoy this.
Most modern single malts are likely to have the vast majority of the liquid in the bottle at the age stated on the label. This one is likely different. It is a thing to note is that with some Glendronach whiskies is that the distillery was silent for around 5 years from the mid 90’s. This means that this 18 year old bottle has spirit in it that will be considerably older, as will the 21 year old. Anything bottled between 2014 and 2020 will have to include spirit that can be as much as 24 years old and in larger amounts than might be found in a normal marrying of casks for a production run. It is my opinion the content of older spirit is indeed evident. I’ve never particularly compared batches as I am not convinced that I have that sharp enough of a palate, plus I am extremely unlikely to have two full sized bottles open at a time. Nonetheless the richness and depth this dram has would easily convince me there are older casks in there.
Is this good value? Here I start to swither. Depending on what bottle you got, I could surprisingly suggest it is not at the moment. My first bottle of Allardice was £74, a not unreasonable cost for a decent sherry whisky of that age. However prices have been creeping up so much that you don’t get a lot of change from £100. I don’t know if it is because of rising production costs, the fact that older spirit is playing a major part in the blending, or we are getting charged what the producer thinks the market can sustain. However let’s review facts. 46% ABV, Natural colour, non-chill filtered, age statement. It is an honest malt with nothing to hide. Sherried whiskies can command a higher price, partly because the casks are a lot more expensive, in this case it is an Oloroso cask.
Let’s not dwell too much on price. You have to try it if you like sherried whiskies. Keep an eye out for miniatures or see if it is in your local whisky bar if you don’t want to cough up a sizeable amount of cash up front without trying it. I’d suggest that you will not be disappointed though. This sample was bought from Amazon about a year ago and cost me £10 if I recall correctly.
If that isn’t enough to convince you that you need to try this whisky then let’s add a sprinkle of context – Macallan pump out NAS whisky at 40% with chill filtration, partially bourbon matured and then release it in a funny coloured box and still expect you to fork out £100ish for the privilege. The fanboys lap it up but I know many grumble about the lack of value for money in many of these drams. I know what my preference would be and it wouldn’t be the Macallan for the same money.
Keep an eye out for this at auctions. It is entirely possible to get this at less than RRP, even when auction fees are taken into account, but be wary of shipping costs; perhaps consolidate shipments. I have a few bottles of this with various date codes and I will be drinking them eventually, so I will be able to get the benefit of the older whisky. If you want a guide to what bottle dates are most likely to contain the oldest whisky, see this handy web page here. There is a handy PDF embedded into it.
Lastly, this proves that often being in a bad situation can often lead to good. I’m grateful for being recommended Glendronach, although I wasn’t as fond of the 12 as this. If the person I referred to is reading this, then thank you, I owe you a drink.
Yours In Spirits,
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Glendronach 18 Allardice 70CL Bottle – Whisky World.
All Other Photos – Authors Own