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 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.
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 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 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.
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 a bit 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.
Because I was wanting to conduct as accurate a comparison as possible, I poured another 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 less 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 acknowledge 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.
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.
All Photos – Authors Own