Glen Dronach Scotch whisky

Glendronach whisky distillery, Scotland

I'm a sucker for a heavily sherried or
peated single malt whisky with lots of
character. The often subtle differences
between the hundreds of different
single malt whiskies from ex-bourbon
casks that are released every year
don't excite me quite as much as they
once did. So, after the take-over of the
Glendronach distillery by Pernod Ricard
it soon disappeared from my top 10.
However, after Billy Walker and his
gang took control of Glendronach, they
soon released three new standard OB's
that were all matured in sherry casks.
The release of these beauties brought
the Glendronach distillery right back in
my personal distillery top 10 - and on
one of the top positions. And as long as
they have sufficient stocks of ex-sherry
casks to keep releasing these sherried
whiskies at fairly fair prices, they could
very well stay on that top 10 forever...

Glendronach Scotch Whisky

Glendronach  (Pronounced: glenDRON-ak)
Speyside (Deveron)
57°29'4.8372 N, 2°37'46.47 W
Ardmore, Glen Garioch, Knockdhu
Active (re-opened in 2008)
Local sources
2 Wash stills, 2 Spirit stills
1,300,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
The Benriach Distillery Company Ltd. (since 2008)
Forgue near Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, UK
+441466 730202
Yes, plenty
Below, on Whiskyfun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor

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Glendronach location

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Glen Dronach Scotch whisky

Glendronach whisky

Glendronach distillery in the new millennium

2002 - After Glendronach was mothballed in 1996 by Allied Distillers, it was re-opened again on May 14, 2002.
2005 - Pernod Ricard / Chivas Brothers buys Allied Domecq and acquires the Glendronach distillery this way.
In the same year, Glendronach is the last malt whisky distillery in Scotland to be converted from direct coal firing to indirect steam heating. In the same year a new 33 years old official bottling is launched.
2008 - Billy Walker and partners (owners of the BenRiach distillery) acquire the Glendronach distillery.
2009 - The old core range of 12yo, 15yo and 18yo is relaunched, along with several single cask bottlings.
The release of these new Glendronach whiskies is very successful.
2012 - The owners of Benriach and Glendronach manage to get a loan of £27 million from Royal Bank of Scotland. This puts them in the same league as large corporate players like Diageo and Pernod Ricard - and forces them to realise the same kind of high profit margins to keep the investors happy. Ah, well - that's business I guess...
2013 - On March 22, Benriach sent a press release about their acquisition of the Glenglassaugh distillery.
Excellent news as far as I'm concerned - When Billy Walker & friends bought Benriach in 2004 they managed to
quickly re-establish the brand and build on that. Their acquisition of Glendronach was another success story.
So, I guess that Benriach put that capital they acquired in 2012 to good use. 

Glendronach malt whisky (1990's)
Glendronach whisky by Murray McDavid

Pernod Ricard isn't threatening Diageo's position as Scotland's largest
producer of malt whisky, but they managed to produce 2/3 of Diageo's
output with less than half the number of distilleries; 12 as opposed to 27.

But in that respect, the #3 malt whisky producer is doing an even better job.
With only three distilleries (Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Kininvie) William Grant manages to
produce roughly half of the malt whisky that Pernod Ricard makes with its dozen distilleries.

But now I'm getting side-tracked again - the topic was Glendronach...
The distillery has been on my purely personal distillery Top 10 for quite a few years,
thanks to the excellent yet affordable 15yo '100% Sherry' malt whisky that was
available in the 1990's. However, most official releases from the early noughties were
vattings of sherry and bourbon casks, that didn't tickle my fancy quite as vigourously.
Pernod Ricard has only used bourbon casks since they re-opened the distillery in 2005,
but fortunately Glendronach was purchased by The Benriach Distillery Company Ltd.
in 2008. Based on the great job they did when they put the Benriach distillery on the
map again, I had high hopes for the release of some exciting new bottlings after the
take-over - and I was right. In 2009 the new owners of the Glendronach distillery
released a new 'core range' of three different expressions; 12yo, 15yo and 18yo.

That was when the Glendronach distillery was mothballed for a few years by owners
Allied Distillers - formerly known as Allied Breweries and later as Allied Domecq. For-
tunately, the distillery went into full production again in 2002. Initially they resumed
the traditional coal firing of the stills, but in 2005 the distillery shut down for a few
months to be converted from direct coal firing to internal steam heating. So, one of
the very last coal fired distilleries that was operational in the third millennium didn't
actually use the technique for more than three years after the re-opening in 2002.
Just when the first of the '2002' spirit turned into whisky they abandoned coal.

Another significant change in the production process took place in 1996 when
the floor maltings at Glendronach were decommissioned. Because they used a
combination of peat and coal to dry the malted barley, spirit that was distilled
before the distillery was mothballed was relatively peaty for a Speyside whisky.
At a peating level of up to 14 PPM it wasn't a 'peat monster' like Laphroaig or
Lagavulin, but the whisky was a little more potent than the stuff they produced
at nearby distilleries like Knockdhu. Nowadays Glendronach buys unpeated malt.

2005 was an important year for Glendronch in another respect as well; its owners Allied Domecq
were acquired by Pernod Ricard who became Scotland's second largest whisky producer this way. 

Glendronach 33 years old Scotch Whisky

The Glendronach distillery was sold to William Teacher & Sons Ltd. - who themselves became part of
Allied in 1976. Teacher's expanded the number of stills from two to four In 1966 and '67. The (almost)
unique thing about those stills was the fact that they were all coal fired - as opposed to the 'indirect'
heating (often by steam) that is used at most other malt whisky distilleries. In fact, together with the
Glenfarclas and Springbank distilleries, Glendronach was one of the very last coal fired distilleries that
were operational in the third millennium. That's quite amazing, if you think about it - well at least to a
whisky nerd like myself. Until recently coal was used to dry the malted barley on Glendronach's own
floor maltings as well (along with peat), but those floors were decommissioned in 1996.

Glendronach whisky distillery, Scotland

The Glendronach distillery in the Deveron (Speyside) area of
Scotland was founded in 1826 by Glendronach Distillery Co.,
a partnership headed by one James Allardes (or Allardyce).

Just one decade after it was founded, Glendronach was
destroyed by a fire - a fate that was not that unusual for the
whisky distilleries at the time. After the disaster several people
from the whisky industry became involved, including Walter
Scott (from Teaninich), Alexander Ross and 'Captain' Charles
Grant (younger son of William Grant of Glenfiddich distillery).
Glendronach remained under control of that branch of the 
Grant family until 1960, when George Grey Grant sold it.

Glendronach distillery profileInteractive whisky distillery mapScotland - whisky distillery informationScotch whisky bottlersScotch malt whisky brandsNew distillery projects

Trivia about Glendronach

1) The wash stills at Glendronach are outfitted with heat exchangers to... eh... exchange heat I suppose.
2) When Billy Walker & friends bought Glendronach, 9,000 casks of maturing whisky were included in the deal.
3) In 2009 the new owners announced a total investment of 7 million GBP in the Glendronach distillery.
4) The Glendronach distillery aimed to produce over 1,000,000 litres of alcohol in 2010.
5) The Glendronach distillery uses six warehouses - three of the 'dunnage' and three of the 'racked' type.

Glendronach single malt whisky

Glendronach 21yo 'Parliament' (48%, OB, Oloroso & PX Casks, Bottled 2011)
Nose: Deep, rich and sherried. Red fruits. A lovely balanced yet complex profile. Quite sulphury though...
The proof seems perfect. After a minute the spicy element becomes more pronounced. Nutmeg? Cinnamon?
Palate: I love the nose (despite the sulphury note), but it's a little too harsh & rough for me on the palate.
Score: 84 points - my kind of profile in the nose, but the palate doesn't fit an upper 80's malt whisky.

Glendronach 14yo American Virgin Oak Finish (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: A little milky. Clean and quite sweet. A little spicy after a few minutes. Relatively restrained overall.
Taste: Sweet and round. It doesn't feel very sherried, but there are quite some tannins in the finish.
Score: 78 points - an above average whisky, but I must admit that I wouldn't actively recommend it.

Glendronach 18yo Allardice (46%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Casks, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Heavy, round and fruity with sweet and smoky notes in the background. Some meaty notes too.
It starts off great, but doesn't develop after that. It is revived and shows much more wood after some water.
Taste: Mostly woody. Loads of lovely tannins in the dry finish, but a fresh hint of mint as well. Tar & organics.
Score: 87 points - which means that I either underscored it last year, or this batch is better than 2009's.

Glendronach 31yo 'Grandeur Batch 001' (45.8%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Casks, 1013 Bts., Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Oh, WOW!!! Exquisitely woody with organics and some smoke. A touch of dark tea. Lovely profile.
I love the bouquet, but it doesn't evolve over time. Still, based on the nose alone it could earn 91/92 points.
Taste: Woody and loads of tannins right away. It's so extreme that it almost pulls the score from the 90's.
Score: 90 points - but I should add that the nose warrants a higher score. Just a tad harsh on the palate.

Glendronach 38yo 1972/2010 (49.5%, OB, Taïwan Import, Oloroso Sherry butt C#700, 241 Bts.)
Nose: Bloody hell! Fantastic! Woody and sweet with gunpowder, organics and oriental spices.
Taste: Sweet and smoky - what a LOVELY balanced combination. Salt, tar and some liquorice as well.
This has the unique smoky taste that I haven't found in whiskies that were distilled after +/- 1975.
Score: 94 points - this Glendronach really almost hits all the right buttons for me.

Glendronach 12yo 'Original' (43%, OB, matured in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Wow! Classic with coal smoke and a good dose of fruits & sherry. Something slightly farmy. Spices.
Loads of character; reminds me of a whisky made in the 1980's. Some candied fruits in the background.
Bubblegum? Diesel? Quite complex. Whiff of rubber in the background? Not extremely sherried though...
Turkish delight. The oriental spices and tertiary fruits grow stronger over time. Beer? Organics. Some oil?
Taste: Fruity and powerful with a touch of smoke in the finish. Feels slightly chalky & gritty in the end.
Just like the nose, it resembles an 'antique' style of malt whisky. The smoke leans in a rubbery direction.
A very nice fruity balance. My kind of style, but the mouth feel betrays the relatively young age.
Score: 84 points - up from an initial score of 83. Quite good whisky, considering the 45 Euro's price tag.
With a sweeter, 'fatter' finish this Glen Dronach could have easily reached the upper 80's.

Glendronach 15yo 'Revival' (46%, OB, matured in Oloroso casks, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: WOWEEE!!! Lovely fruits. Not unlike the 12yo when it comes to the 'classic' character. Sulphur?
Whiffs of rubber and mould - but in a good way. Sherry like the old 15yo, but less fruits & sweetness.
A serious sherried malt with loads of character. Quite complex too, revealing layer after layer. Meaty?
A faint whiff of lemon grass in the background. Tertiary fruits emerge after a few minutes. Soy Sauce.
Some spices in the background. Heavily sherried. Hints of horse radish and rubber? A hint of pepper, perhaps?
Taste: Rich and fruity; not overly sweet. Grows much woodier in the hot centre. Even a little smoky...
Like the 12yo this has a dry, chalky character. It has more 'body' than the 12yo though. Smoke?
Just like the nose, it shows a more serious side of sherry than the fruitier '100% sherry' predecessor.
Loads of tannins in the fairly dry, woody finish. Feels just a tad harsh though...
Score: 89 points - I think this is more complex than the earlier version ever was. Good job!
It needs some breathing to get there though - immediately after pouring I would have gone for 86/87.
At circa 60 Euro's this offers very good value - let's hope they will be able to keep it up...

Glendronach 18yo 'Allardice' (46%, OB, matured in Oloroso casks, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Polished. This seems a little sweeter and fruitier than the 12yo and 15yo. More old stocks?
Shows a strong grassy episode after a few minutes. A little sharper and not as expressive as the 15yo.
Sherried, fruity and quite well balanced. Hints of oil and perhaps sulphur? Great development over time.
Taste: Sweet. Woody and quite smoky - surprisingly so for a Speyside whisky. Smooth mouth feel at first.
Marmelade. Sublimated fruits; like candied oranges without the sweetness. Chalky, gritty finish.
Gentle, fruity start. More smoke, wood and sherry effect in the centre. Toffee too. Cool and quite harsh.
Score: 85 points - a good whisky, but I would personally invest in the Glendronach 15yo instead.
At circa 75 Euro's a bottle it's not hideously expensive, but not the best value malt available I think.

Glendronach 37yo 1972/2009 (53.3%, OB for LMdW, Oloroso Sherry Butt, Cask#705, 275 Bts.)
Nose: Wow!!! A whiff of cinnamon when I poured it. Heavy wood. The heavily sherried profile I usually like.
Very expressive; it jumps at you. I also like this, but it's just a tad too extreme to go for a score in the 90's.
Loads of 'antiquity'. The subtle spices in the background are almost overpowered. A brilliant malt whisky.
Taste: Starts off sweetish with evolved fruits and wood, growing much smokier in the centre.
Very strong Earl Grey tea. Quite extreme, but for me it stays on the right side of the tracks.
Lots of smoke in the finish, with a whiff or menthol and quite some tannins. Brilliant tannins, by the way!
Score: 88 points - a fabulous whisky, although I personally liked last year's 33yo OB even more...
Outside the harsh conditions of the Malt Maniacs Awards competition it might have reached the 90's.

Glendronach 33yo (40%, OB, Oloroso Sherry, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Big, smoky, woody and fruity. Raisins. Some lighter notes emerge over time, remaining in the background.
Comes very close to gold after fifteen minutes, but doesn't arrive during round 1. Also some antiquity.
Speculaas (a Dutch kind of cookie with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove. Dry sherry. Lovely complexity.
Taste: Fruits and smoke just like the nose suggests - just a tad harsh on the palate. Lapsang Souchong tea.
Strong woody notes. Good mouth feel, though - smooth despite the powerful notes. Really excellent stuff.
Touch of liquorice in the finish, in between the fruits, wood, tannins and smoke. A wonderful comeback!
Score: 89 points - one of the very best 'regular' bottles at the MM Awards 2008. And it became even better!
This one responds VERY well to breathing; after almost a year of oxidation it would have reached the 90's.

Glendronach 1990/2004 Port Finish (46%, Wilson & Morgan)
Nose: Grainy, veggy and a tad sour. Sorrel? There's something funky about this.
It sweetens out at first before it turns in an oilier, more coastal direction. Odd.
Second try: Hey, now it seems much sweeter in the nose. Old fruits and organics.
Dusty. Sorrel. Rhubarb? Mint. Herbs. Some smoke as well. Vegetables. Some subtle spices.
Weirdness isn't something I always appreciate, but in this case it works miraculously well.
Taste: Fairly weak at first. Bolder towards the centre, but not a pronounced taste.
Quite a renaissance on the palate as well; Big, sweet and fruity. Winey, woody finish.
Score: 84 points - this one did significantly better after some breathing. Good stuff.
The nose grows more complex; I'm not sure what to make of it, but it's a fun malt.
This is definitely a love-it or hate-it whisky, though - completely 'off the beaten track'.

Glendronach 13yo 1990/2003 (46%, Murray McDavid, MM579)
This came from a bourbon cask and once again the sample was provided by Olivier Humbrecht.
Nose: Very light and fruity at first - almost like a Lowlander. Oil? Very little character.
After some five minutes some faint organics emerge that (barely) lift it into the 70's.
Taste: Soft and dry at first, growing grittier. Very little to get really excited about in this Glendronach.
Score: 70 points - once again this 'MurMac' appeals more to French palates than to mine.
Serge & Olivier both gave it 87 points, which I think is a little excessive, even by their standards...
Do they design whiskies especially for 'wine lovers' at Murray McDavid and Bruichladdich?

Glendronach 26yo 1974/2001 (47.5%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask, 198 Btl.)
Nose: Sweet and grainy. Faint organics and a hint of smoke after a few seconds.
It's quite pleasant and mellow and grows more so over time, lifting it above average.
Taste: Chewy. Sweetish. Not a lot of substance at first. Hint of liquorice. Smoke?
Over time it grows quite dry and hot - a little bit too much so, if you ask me.
Score: 79 points - this 'bourbony' style of Glendronach doesn't really suit me.
Serge and Olivier were more impressed with scores in the mid-80's.

Glendronach 12yo 'Traditional' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1999)
Contrary to the 'old' 15yo I'll mention, this version is matured in both sherry and bourbon casks. This must have been one of my liquorist's more creative imports - the cork had a Cyrillic 'Oikonomicon' customs seal on it.
Nose: Not as powerful as the 15. Much less sherried, too. All in all OK.
Slightly spirity at first. Grows over time. Rotting hay? Hint of incense?
Taste: Pepper in the start? There's something I didn't expect!
Liquorice. A little peat. Dry finish, but not as extreme as the 15.
Score: 80 points - optimistically... It may improve after some breathing - the 15 certainly did.

Glendronach 15yo '100% Sherry Casks' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 1999, 100cl)
Nose: Stunningly rich! Very sherried. Big. Sweet & woody. A hint of smoke.
Oriental notes. A little spicy. Grows even wider and more complex over time.
Reminded me of Macallan - and the forest after an autumn shower.
Taste: Toffee and caramel. Very woody. Liquorice.
Liquorice in the finish as well, developing into very dry oak.
Interesting development but just too dry and woody towards the end.
Score: 86 points - the nose is right up there with the first bottles of 'old' Macallan 12 I tasted - maybe even slightly more complex. In a H2H, the GD15 managed to actually beat the Mac 12 currently on my top shelf on the nasal front. Sadly, it loses the extra points in the taste department.

Glendronach 12yo 'Original' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1997, later replaced by the 12yo 'Traditional')
Nose: Malty. Much easier on the fruits than the Traditional or even the 15yo.
Grassy. Hardly any sherry first - then it picks op with raisins, wood & sulphur.
A nicely composed whisky, but I miss the expressiveness of the other versions. 
Taste: Smooth and lightly sherried. Woody. Subtle fruity elements as well.
Tangerine? This is a good malt - just not quite sweet enough for my taste.
Score: 78 points - much more 'middle-of-the-road' than the Glendronach 12yo 'Traditional'.
Given the wide variety of single malts available, I personally prefer my malts to show a little more spunk...

Glendronach 25yo 1968/1993 (43%, OB, 100% Sherry)
Nose: Aaaaaah... This is MUCH more like it. Kiwi fruits. Deep sherry. Good wood. Unique.
It has a 'light' and subtle fruitiness, despite the fact that it's obviously from a sherry cask.
This is really something - it has a combination of features I never found in any other malt.
Taste: Surprisingly soft start, developing into something medicinal with smoke and liquorice.
You can taste the age. Pink bubblegum. Dry, woody and distinctively 'winey' finish.
That might have lost it some points if this Glendronach didn't keep surprising me at every corner.
Score: 97 points - it earns one or two extra points for uniqueness. Simply stunning.
That makes it the highest scoring malt at a 'normal' proof (40% or 43%) in my book.
Also, it's the highest scoring Speysider on the Whisky Hit List - this is a really amazing single malt.
But then again I guess I'm a sherry freak. This may be too much fun for some.

Glendronach 20yo 1970/1990 (56%, Signatory, C#513-518, Distilled 2/70, Bottled 7/90, 3800 Bottles)
Nose: Very rich with sherry, organics, furniture wax, leather, prunes, plums, gravy and bouillon.
Cow stable, Shezuan sweet & sour sauce and even some rock salt. An absolutely stunning Glendronach.
Taste: The palate wasn't quite as overwhelming, but after a relatively flat start it opened up.
Over time it developed into a long sherried centre. Woody finish. Great but not 'the greatest'.
Score: 91 points - but I should point out that I would have scored it a little higher if I tried it more recently.
When I tried it with some other maniacs in Scotland in 2003 I didn't fully realise how special it really was.

Glendronach 1959-1960/1986 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Royal Wedding of Andrew & Sarah)
Nose: Ah! Rich and surprisingly 'winey'. Definitely some 'old bottle effect here, lovely, lovely, lovely...
Very fragrant; the aroma jumps at you as soon as you pour the dram. Some 'OBE', but not too much.
Light Spring fruits and a touch of smoke. Brilliant evolution over time. Some subtle spices too. Hint of mint.
Taste: Surprisingly smoky. A surprisingly powerful centre - this is just wonderful. Lots of OBE here as well.
Cool wood in the finish with some tannins. Dry. Hey, and there's a touch of liquorice in the finish as well.
Score: 90 points - this really is an excellent example of the way single malt whiskies used to be.

And there's more to tell about Glendronach...

These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Glendronach Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Glendronach page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Glendronach expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.) 

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