Was Revival Needed?

Taste Review #101 – Glendronach 15 old vs new

Rebirth. The chance to start anew. And in this dram’s case it has had a couple more re-awakenings than Lazarus. As we are now into the top three of the drams to be compared to old vs new, I turn my head back to the GlenDronach distillery, which I last reviewed in July 2020. I have to tell you that if I was to call myself a fanboy of any distillery, GlenDronach would be there. Only I detest the term fanboy, makes me think that I should be devoid of body hair from the nose down and wearing latex underpants and little else. That is a sight you do not want to see. It’s just that I really appreciate the Glendronach 18 Allardice, which was the subject of my last review from this distillery. I do like a sherry bomb if I am not getting my head blown off by island peated whiskies, and GlenDronach fits into this very category very well, same as some GlenAllachie, Glenfarclas and Tamdhu, but we’ll skip over the Aberlour for now due to some fairly disappointing reviews of young age core range.


GlenDronach 15 Revival

Glendronach distillery (let’s dispense with the Billy Walker signature capitalisation for a moment) has been operational since 1826, and was owned by Allied Distillers when it was mothballed in 1996. The older sample I have to try tonight is from that era, and was purchased from the Speyside Whisky Shop. By 2002, the distillery was reopened, while Allied Distillers eventually became part of Pernod Ricard. In 2008, the distillery was sold to a business consortium that included Billy Walker, who’d already bought the BenRiach Distillery in 2003 and would go on to buy the Glenglassaugh distillery in 2013. All three were sold to Brown Forman, the parent company of Jack Daniels in 2016, and in 2017, Billy was involved in the purchase of Glenallachie distillery to work his magic there and spread some more seemingly random capitals into a brand name.


Glendronach 15, pre Billy Walker era.

From what I could gather from the internet after my taste test that this 15 y.o dram was released in 1996, just before the distillery closed. It was the best seller in the limited range available at the time, although I do not know when it was discontinued. It wasn’t until 2009, under the watchful eye of Mr Walker, the GlenDronach 15 Revival was released, though by 2015 it had ground to a halt, in order to preserve older stocks. Re-introduced in 2018, this time by Rachael Barrie, I’d be hoping that stock management will ensure it will not have to have a hiatus again in the future, for this is a whisky that I’ve heard a lot of rave about, but never managed to wean myself off of the 18 yr old bottling. It’s time to find out if I can be persuaded to look beyond the 18 year old Allardice offering.

Glendronach 15 (1990’s)

Region -Highland Age – 15 y.o Strength – 40% abv Colour – Auburn (1.5) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Caramel, plum jam, pipe tobacco, leather, prune, cherry, cocoa Palate – sherry, leather, slightly drying, black tea, molasses, cocoa, burnt toast. Finish – medium, charred wood, treacle, gently fading spice,


Glendronach 15

GlenDronach 15 Revival (2019 Bottling)

Region – Highland Age -15 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour – Chesnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – PX and Oloroso Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Sherry, Strawberry, Vanilla, canned peaches, citrus peel Honey Nut Cornflakes. After sitting for a while and after water added a more pronounced sour citrus (lemon peel) became apparent. Palate – Oily, coats the mouth. Spicy wood arrival, Slightly sweet, dried dark fruit, orange peel, gingernuts, milk chocolate Finish – medium – wood tannins, slightly astringent, raisins, apricots, milk chocolate truffle. Needed water to calm down the wood spice and bring out more of the flavours.


GlenDronach 15 Revival on right

Conclusions

As much as these two drams may be similar in age, they do have enough differences to almost say that they are different whiskies. Looking at the two just in the bottle, we can see that the Revival bottling proudly states no colouring and no chill filtering. However the previous era bottle says nothing much apart from what it is legally obligated. So what do I think?

Let’s delve into cliches. The cliche about first impressions matter comes immediately into mind. When sampling the two whiskies neat, the older version was instantly drinkable and had so much more pleasant aroma. It would be remiss to write off the Revival at this point, as it was also presenting a decent nose, but yet had a slight sourness to it. And there I stick my hand back into the bag of cliches to find that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Of course, I take a look at the cover of my Revival bottle to see the magic numbers of 46% written. So I’m not really comparing like for like, and by dropping the the ABV down by adding some water, the playing field has been levelled somewhat. I am mindful as I write this that if somebody is playing cliche bingo, you may have a full house by the end of this review.


Side by side – Revival on right

Because I was wanting to conduct as accurate a comparison as possible, I poured a new dram of 25ml and added 3.5ml of water, thus taking the sample down to 40%. This changed things a bit, the Revival has become more calm, the wood spice has subsided somewhat, and the flavours, although I didn’t find any more, came into a clearer focus. I also felt the mouthfeel change somewhat to be less viscous, even than the undiluted 40% sample of yesteryear. The spices were still dominant for me, and I had to add even more water (1ml) to make it as pleasant as I felt the older sample was, then we have to realise that we have taken the dram down to just under 39% abv.

And here is were we have to face an elephant in the room. And for a change it isn’t me making the trumping noises. There is a lot of noise made about alcoholic strength, and how more is better as you can dilute to how you like it. That is an undeniable fact. The other fact about having a stronger abv is the need to chill filter is removed, as the fatty esters that make a cold whisky go cloudy will remain in solution, and by not chill filtering, more of the goodness is retained within the spirit and transferred into the bottle for your drinking pleasure.

But let me suggest this, as we try to back the jumbo into the corner. Remember the earlier era sample was chill filtered, yet to me tasted better than the undiluted 46% Revival. In order to get the Revival to taste as pleasurable, I had to dilute it to a lower abv than the older sample, which left it with a thinner mouthfeel. Therefore, what sample is better? This is something that caused me a bit of consternation as it was obvious that it would look as though I am just expressing a personal preference. I reached out to one of my #Whisky Twitter colleagues Mick as part of the @Whiskychaps who review a lot of whiskies and asked his opinion. The advice was sound I feel, as he said that it is MY preference that matters whether or not the whisky was better. What do I get most enjoyment out of? He also made a very fair point that impressed me quite a bit when he pointed out that few, if any people who will read this will have tasted the pre-Billy Walker whisky and in my opinion that I can add probably even fewer can remember it. After all, it was in the times of Allied / Pernod Ricard ownership that this was distilled, pre 1996.

It is while thinking of this point that I can bring another strong argument to the table. I said in my exchange with Mick that I can compare the older dram to the 18 year old Allardice. It is an hour later after that exchange that I just thought of checking my notes for that review that I see a general similarity. It is worth remembering that some people are raving about the fact that the Glendronach 18 and 21 were using significantly older spirit than the age statement that was distilled not by Billy Walker, but by the former owners pre-1996. The Revival I have now is likely to be using spirit that was distilled entirely after the distillery re-opened in 2002. Remember that the initial Revival release was discontinued for 3 years, and the original revival was also using Allied distilled spirit. I think this forms a pattern that leads me to a definite conclusion. Perhaps I need to try the original Revival to be sure, but with auction prices being adventurous just for a quick taste, this is not a realistic option.


GlenDronach 18 Allardice.

While I can honestly say that both whiskies are good whiskies, I’m not going to rush out to buy another GlenDronach Revival, but if I saw a pre Billy Walker era 15 on sale, I would snap it up. Controversial? Possibly, but what matters is taste, and I could enjoy the older dram straight off, the flavours seemed more balanced. While I have a lot of time for what Billy Walker and now Rachael Barrie produce, but I wonder now that the distillery is using spirit made since the re-opening, will the 18 and 21 head the same way going forward? I realise that this may not be a popular opinion, but we will see what happens. Will people start harking back to the Allardice and Parliament produced in the pre 2020 period in the same way they refer to the original Revival?

For me, this is an older spirit win. Thanks to Mick for raising some good points that helped me focus on what really mattered. I bought both drams from the Speyside Whisky Shop – thanks to Matteo for shipping to my ‘remote location’ as deemed by DHL. I paid £25 for the old miniature and £63 for the full sized bottle of the Revival.

Scotty

Index of tastings here

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Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

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All Photos – Authors Own

Good things can come from bad.

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.


GlenDronach 18 Allardice 5CL

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.

Details

Region – Highland; Age – 18 years old; Strength – 46% ABV; ColourTawny. 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.


The dram

Conclusions

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.


70cl Bottle

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,

Scotty

Index of tastings here

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Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

Glendronach 18 Allardice 70CL BottleWhisky World.

All Other Photos – Authors Own

Rockin’ All Over The World

Taste Review #50 – GlenAllachie 15

At the time of writing this, I’m in Poland visiting family, and God knows where I’ll be when this eventually gets published, which by my reckoning will be somewhere around March. And being in Poland at this time of year takes me back to this time last year when I was in Krakow and decided to start Scotty’s Drams. The only thing that bums me out is that I don’t have a sample of the dram I was drinking when I decided to go for an amateur career in whisky blogging. Suffice to say I haven’t reviewed it yet, but its time will come!

GlenAllachie has already been reviewed this past 12 months, but it was the 12 year old I tried, and that has a solid thumbs up! It was when on my journey of whisky geekery in early October last year that I obtained a sample of the recently released 15 year old after making a purchase from one of my preferred friendly whisky shops. Since it has been in my possession, it has travelled around a bit within Scotland but I’ve never had the chance to sit down and try it. Now my daughter is in bed, I am now free to imbibe this drample.

I’m not going to write much more about the distillery, as I did that in review #16 which you can see here – GlenAllachie 12. There is a bit more about the distillery there.

What I can say is, that even in the short time that Billy Walker has been at GlenAllachie, he has built up an impressive reputation in what was an anonymous blend fodder distillery for Chivas Brothers. The 15 year old slots into the GlenAllachie core range with the 10 (CS), 12, 18 and 25 year old releases.

Anyway, less reading, more sipping! Let’s get down to the tasting.

Travel Veteran Dram. Finally got time to taste it!

Region

Speyside

Age

15 years

Strength

46% abv

Colour

Golden Mahogany

Nose

Vanilla, raisins, banana, honey, a dairy note of plain yoghurt or sour cream. Nutmeg.

Palate

Ohh. A strong tobacco note on first taste. On second taste a noted sourness develops, grapefruit. Leather, spicy wood, caramel, almost gingery. The sourness disappeared with the addition of water, and much more sweetness came out, with more dried fruits and a creamy toffee.

Finish

Medium to long. Quite peppery, as though I’ve just chewed a pink peppercorn, with the resultant fruity flavours. The sourness continues and it fades into sweetness. I’m getting cinnamon and ginger, almost like Irn Bru. Very eventful finish indeed.

The Dram

Conclusion

Well, the purpose of free samples is to try and get you to buy more, and in this case I’ll say it has worked. I did really like this whisky, and I will be buying one once I have finished with the 12 year old GlenAllachie I currently have open. I have to say that compared to the 12, this one was not so instantly enjoyable and it took me 3 or four sips to start recognising flavours. The sourness was a surprise, as this has been finished in a combination of Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks. PX is a sweet sherry and Oloroso is a fruity sherry, and I think that I just picked up the Oloroso first. The addition of water really smoothed things out.

Applying the ABCD, this scores 4/4, as it is non chill filtered, no colouring, 46% and has an age statement. A great sherry bomb whisky which I can fully recommend.

RRP on this bottle is £62.99, but you can pick it up cheaper online. Don’t forget though you will have P&P to add though, so do what I did and go to a friendly local specialist whisky shop. You may get a wee sample while there to light your way to a new discovery!

Thanks to Kat at The Whisky Shop Dufftown for my sample. You were right, it was lovely! Pop in see their selection, or browse and shop online at www.whiskyshopdufftown.com.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

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Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo credits

All Photos – Authors own