Glendronach 12 Year: 43% abv
Background: Well this is an exciting review to do for us. If you’re from Michigan, this is not something you can normally grab a hold of, and that goes for us too. It is also not common to find that many cheap, sherried whiskies of relatively good quality. To add to that, Glendronach Distillery, a Highland Malt producer, has recently just been reopened. The distillery was mothballed (mothballing is temporarily ceasing production, despite still having capability to produce) in 1996, and was reopened in 2001. What makes that so exciting is that we are seeing resurgence in their whisky’s popularity, and that extra life might keep their good quality whiskies on the market. You can’t actually get Glendronach in Michigan, but we made the trek to find it. The 12 Year standard offering by Glendronach is aged in exclusively sherry casks, being a mixture of PX casks and Oloroso casks. The Pedro Ximinez (PX) grape makes for a very rich, syrupy, sweet sherry, while the Oloroso is more nutty, tart, and balanced. You can tell that this is a dark whisky from the look of it, and that’s not coloring. Sherry casks add a lot of red color to Scotch. It should also be noted that as well as being 43% abv, the label will tell you that this single malt is non-chill filtered and natural color. Those are both pluses. Let us see how this turns out.
Nose: You might expect what I’m about to say, but it is no surprise that you get a blast of malted barley and sherry right in the beginning of this whisky. There is a large prominence of stewed apple flavor in the nose. The sherry flavor can be broken down to the smell of brandy, the fortified part of the wine coming through. There is a sense of new make spirit here, so there should be no surprise that this is a young spirit, at only 12 years. Since sherry casks can tend to be larger, they also leave the freshness of the spirit in tact fairly well at older ages. This is still prominent among this 12 Year, almost to a fault. It isn’t quite mature enough from the nose. You do get some clove and cinnamon spiciness in the nose, followed by a small residual chocolate, fudgy richness finishing off the aroma. There is some smoothness contribution from vanilla in the nose, which only compliments the raison-like quality to the sherry nose. It also gives a hint of confectionary quality.
Arrival: The sweetness in the arrival is immediate and fairly consistent. It is certainly what you would expect from the sherry. But my lord is it a pleasant taste. There is a little bit of spicy tang that come in the arrival. The apple fruitiness, along with some cinnamon and custard, make a pleasant flavor contribution to the arrival. In contrast, there is still some hints of rough, young spirit that can be pulled through the arrival, in particular. This is not enough to turn one off, but it certainly is noticeable. There is also a suggestion of vanilla and chocolate that come through at the end of the arrival, and lead into the body.
Body: When you get into the body, the Oloroso taste takes over, with some definite citrus tartness to compliment the rich raison texture at the forefront. This balance is a pleasant contrast, and amplifies the fresh, vegetal quality of the malted barley flavors. There is a fond nuttiness that can be picked from the body, and it complimented by a dry, floral flavor. The body has no shortage of personality, but there is a salty, briny flavor that can, depending on the swallow, become almost overbearing on the palate and ruin the finish.
Finish: The finish is dominated mostly by hot, spicy flavor with some peppery notes and some small acidity. There is a significant nuttiness that you’ll find right in the finish, and it is also noticeably dry and somewhat leathery. As noted before, there is a salty quality to the whisky that only comes out when agitated the right way. It can be a little bit overwhelming to the finish and mask the sweet, beautiful sherry notes. There is a note of the apple coming through again in the finish, with a minor earthiness that compliments the sweetness.
Nose: After adding some water, we start to see a maturity in the flavor, with the sherry backing off and being less of a stage hog. The nose becomes more balanced with spiciness, vegetal notes and much more grain character to it. There is more of a heather honey smell coming through, which balances nicely with the compressed spiciness. It smells more refined, less adolescent, and truly complex. Don’t be mistaken, though. There is still plenty of sherry involved. Another interesting evolution of this nose is the prominence of oaky wood character coming through.
Arrival: The arrival doesn’t hit you like a train this time. The sherry and spice creep up from afar, and then come in strong once you realize they’re on their way. There is a unique blend of caramel, fruitiness, spice and cereal grain coming through on the arrival. This is truly what a good arrival should be like. This is much livelier than without water, and it lasts.
Body: The body seems to be quite similar to before, with the addition of just a bit more tartness, almost akin to sour green apples now, and with some pear-like flavor contribution involved. The body doesn’t remain to be a very significant part of this malt, but it is still very much a player. The changes, although tangible, are small and don’t really highlight the potential of Glendronach.
Finish: This finish is also better with just a bit of water. It seems to reside longer, makes for a more engaging experience. The pear flavor dominates here, and the malt and grain character doesn’t shy away at this point. This is a memorable finis, and it really is worth savoring. The water also starts to amplify the confectionary notes more. It starts to make sense with some of the floral, modestly bitter notes that creep in at the end, how this is truly more complex than when you first start drinking it.
Final Comments: At first, you might describe this as a classic sherried Scotch. Certainly it is just that from some perspective. You might say this competes almost exclusively from price and flavor to Macallan 12 Year. It is hard to compare the two from quality, because they’re both pretty respectable whiskies, although it can be noted that Macallan 12 TASTES a little older than Glendronach 12. That being said, Macallan 12 does age in bourbon barrels as well, and subsequently doesn’t give you as much of the sherry complexity that you get from the ‘dronach. The addition of water balances and amplifies the complexity of the whisky, and it is very much suggested. We tend to like it a little bit more this way, but in either case it is good. I think that is what makes this bottling of Glendronach shine. That being said, I don’t think this whisky has reached its maturity, and would truly benefit from more time in the casks. Surely enough, that bottle of Glendronach does exist; Glendronach 15 Year Revival is a statement to Glendronach’s “revival” from mothballing, and we have a bottle sitting dormant for a review in the future.
Why you’d buy it: You like sherried Scotch and don’t want to support stupid marketing by Macallan, plus this is a good, complex bottling of Scotch
Why you wouldn’t: You like stupid marketing and want an Oakley-designed flask…idiot.