After spending some time in Speyside, it’s back to the Highlands with GlenDronach. Their carton is quite informative and they stake their claim straight out: they use “the finest Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks from Spain” and declare not only is this spirit non-chill filtered but also has “natural cask-emparted colour.” That throws down a marker: no monkey business with colorants. Add the 43% abv and these choices point towards a ‘craft’ oriented production, reinforced with the notation that the spirit is “Distilled, matured and bottled by the proprietors.” (Some whiskies are matured off premises). They even give the address of the distiller, in Forgue on Huntley, Aberdeenshire, with no mention of a large corporation as ultimate owners.
Their commitment to sherry maturation is reinforced on their website, where they tout their “no compromise” approach to selecting casks. I have high hopes for this whisky. Their focus site on the 12-year shows they have won a series of gold and silver medals in the late 2010s. To reinforce their craft focus they mention the use of “the same iron mash tun, wooden washbacks and saxophone copper pot stills as their forefathers.” Pretty cool, and at 1.3M liter a a year capacity, they are indeed a small operation. Their previous owners tripled the number of stills in the 1960s so they have seen some development, but still have their own malting floor (Wikipedia).
Is GlenDronach an independent? Not quite. The distillery has passed through many hands, and was shut down from late nineties to 2008. The current owners are Brown-Forman, which also owns Scotch distillers Glenglassaugh and BenRiach as well as mass-market bourbon brand Jack Daniels, among other global brands. Brown-Forman is 70% family owned, so one can hope they take their stewardship of the Scottish distilleries seriously. We shall see as we review their three holdings (I have Glengassaugh and BenRiach reviews coming).
How about the whisky? The color is quite nice as you can see from the photo above—similar to Bunnahabhain, one of my favorite sherried whiskies. This is a true sherry monster though, matured solely in Oloroso and Pedro Ximinez casks, and just upon pouring I got a big whiff of sherry. I’m thinking this is the real deal. The closest comparison I can make with the current cabinet is the Edradour 10, which is also solely sherry casked (Bunna uses some bourbon). The Edradour is a couple shades darker and has a nose far denser in thick sherry notes. On the palate the Edradour just ekes out a win, though, with a little more sherry and less bitter, but well balanced oak. But the Edradour sells for $75 (vs. $60 for GlenDronach), a big step up from the GlenDronach, so you expect more mojo there.
GlenDronach, Highland Single Malt, 43% ABV
Nose: A big aromatic sherry nose, resplendent with pink lady apple, plum and mince pie (American mincemeat, which has no meat in it…).
Palate: Crisp and well balanced sweetness, a bit chewy but not as unctuous as I expected from the nose. Lots of sherry mid-palate. Tannins are a bit bitter but well matched to the sweet palate. A little harsh.
Finish: Better than the palate, the sherry maintaining its pleasant character for quite a long time. Tannins are gentle and it maintains the crispness of the palate—no clinging sweetness.
Bottom Line: GlenDronach does not quite hold up against Edradour and Bunnahabhain, but both of those sell at a 25% premium. My memory of the Glenfarclas 12 is that the GlenDronach would compare well. In short, at about $60, the GlenDronach represents a solid entry in the all-sherry field, giving the sherry bomb lover a fairly valued, solid performer.