Well it’s come to the end of the year almost and it goes without saying that all of us are pretty much looking back on a year that never happened. The coronavirus has changed so much in our lives, very little of it good. I hope you have all managed to cling on and will look towards 2021 as being a better year.
The one thing for me that did change is that I reviewed about 45 drams for my blog, and as I am often asked what I have as my favourite, I think I should do a quick review. After all, that’s what everybody else seems to do, and why should I be any different?
Firstly, I could not pick an absolute favourite. That was too hard. Secondly, it had to be obtainable so if you want to try it, you can without breaking the bank. So that whittles out Yellow Submarine, which while still easy enough to get, it is only available on the secondary market at silly prices. Same goes for most of the silent distilleries I reviewed.
So without much more pomp and ceremony, my picks for 2020 were in no particular order
Glenallachie 15 – £65
Glendronach 18 – £97
Speyburn 10 – £25 if on offer. Around £30 otherwise
Glenlivet Captain’s Reserve – £45
Glenglassaugh Revival – £38
I picked all of these as despite them not being the best whisky in the world, after each dram I instantly wanted another. Only the GlenDronach is getting pricey at about £100 a bottle.
For the drams that are not easily available or limited edition, I would pick
Macallan 10 y.o – £400+ at auction including fees
Glenfarclas 2005 14 y.o Cask 2588 – released at £150
TWBC Invergordon 42 Batch 15 – £180+ at auction including fees
Allt Dour 8 – Robertson’s of Pitlochry – £55 (still available at time of writing!)
North British 30 Single Grain (Dramfool) – £95 on release.
Just goes to show you that you do not have to spend much for a decent dram, plus it is important that you aren’t a dram snob. Never thought I’d enjoy the Glenlivet or Speyburn so much.
In all fairness, if rarity or lack of accessibility wasn’t an issue, the Allt Dour would win top spot, with the Invergordon following closely behind. But because these drams have limited availability it’s hard to recommend them as overall winners. The Allt Dour at the time of writing is still available from Robertson’s of Pitlochry, but I’d be quick in getting one before they all go. I’ve bought a second one already.
We’ll skip over the worst whisky. It’s the last review of the year. Pay attention as I do vent my spleen quite extensively. That will be published on 30th December. Remember that you may well like what I don’t, and half of what I write in my very infrequent negative reviews is meant for entertainment
Turning the tables somewhat but what was your dram of the year? Did you buy and actually open a Macallan? Have you gone crazy for the latest wave of inaugural bottlings? Drop me a line and let me know your favourites. If I can, I might even try to review them.
Lastly, thanks for all your support. It’s good to know so many people read what I write. The best thing you can do for me is encourage your whisky loving friends to like or follow one of the social media streams I use (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or even this WordPress blog). It will only encourage me to publish more, assuming that’s what you want!
Wishing you all the very best for the New Year. May your 2021 be much improved over this year past. Stay safe, keep looking forward and get ready for year 3 of Scotty’s Drams.
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 beread 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.