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The New Hielan Era Of GlenDronach: How Does It Stack Up?

In the past five years, Scottish distillery GlenDronach has established itself as one of the premier sherry-cask maturation producers in the Scotch whisky industry.

(If you don’t care about ramblings and muses on the state of GlenDronach in 2016 and only care about what the whisky tastes like – skip these next few paragraphs. The whisky is below…)

Taking a few people by surprise, their regular 12 and -15-year-old expressions came in and captured the imagination of drinkers who love the rich, thick Christmas pudding aromas of top quality sherry cask whiskies. And at the price points they were offering they easily undercut the likes of Glenfarclas and Macallan, whose equivalent age statements (if they had statements at all) were more expensive and utilised less and less sherry.

To make a long distillery history short, GlenDronach was closed in 1996 and re-opened in 2001. In 2008 current owners the Benriach Distillery Company purchased the business and its stocks and went about developing the expressions we’ve come to love. The popularity of the 15-year-old, in particular, has been immense but that cessation of production between ’96 and ’01 caused issues. Any 15 year old whisky distilled after the mothballed period could only be ready by 2016 – so that means that anything labelled as a 15-year-old we’ve drunk was distilled prior to 1996. In 2015 that was a 19-year-old whisky.

Persevering with the age statements that they’d originally developed meant the distillery had a consistent product on shelves, but it also meant that they’d run out eventually (the influx of single-cask sherry cask releases didn’t help the 15-year-old’s stocks either). Last year, it did run out. Available through retailers who haven’t sold out yet (or who’ve raised the prices) the 15 will return in 2018 and who knows what it’ll taste like then.

That’s not the only thing, in Australia particularly, the 18-year-old and 21-year-old are becoming sparse in quantities. The 21 appears once or twice a year, the 18 maybe three or four times. There’s even whispers about the stocks of the staple sub-$100 12-year-old – will it still be here this time next year?

IMG_4911It’s been an astonishing few years but the future is now. Last year the distillery announced the new 8-year-old Hielan, a whisky with a higher bourbon-cask percentage in the mix than the others (the 12-year-old has some bourbon, the 15-year-old was pure sherry cask). Expected to arrive in Australia officially in March, Dram Club acquired a bottle late last year.

After sitting with it for a few months, we’ve decided to put it to the (taste) test formally. We’ve put it alongside the standard 12-year-old, which is now the most available expression, and another 8-year-old special edition, the Octarine. Never released in Australia, it too is a vatting of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry and is plucked from Yvette’s personal collection.

Note: GlenDronach is Yvette’s favourite distillery and she has arguably one of the most diverse collections of GlenDronach in Australia. Her love began with the 15-year-old, as seen in the artwork above, commissioned specifically from Monique of Whisky-Arts. Scott is also a GlenDronach fan, but tends to enjoy the roughness of the 12-year-old.

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GlenDronach ‘Hielan’ 8-Year-Old

Single malt, 46%

A vatting of both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. Pronounced ‘High-lan’ or “highland: without the “d”. On the bottle it says “Matured And Married In A Combination Of The Finest Bourbon & Sherry Casks”. Natural colour, non chill filtered.

Nose:  Sultanas, brown sugar, spice, vanilla essence, toffee, oranges, old oak.
Palate:  Oily, spicy, Christmas cake, caramel, really dark chocolate, jaffas, subtle oak.
Nose: Nutmeg, fresh butter.

Scott: Didn’t really get the oiliness Yvette was finding, but it’s quite creamy for me – really well rounded. Vanilla is abundant but the sherry casks certainly not anonymous. If it comes in at a good price it’s another great GlenDronach bang-for-buck.

Yvette: Quite spicy on the nose, as if you’ve sniffed a jar of ground allspice powder. Has all the hallmark fruitcake notes we’ve come to love from GlenDronach, just a bit more subtle. Great mouthfeel though, oily.

Price: We wait with bated breath.
Where To Get: Indie bottle stores, hopefully from March.

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GlenDronach ‘Octarine’ 8-Year-Old

Single malt, 46%

Another vatting of bourbon and sherry casks – in fact, the tin and bottle have the exactly the same wording as the Hielan. Natural colour, non chill filtered.

Nose: Raisins, butter, milk chocolate, plums, lemon-scented wood polish, mandarin peel, kumquat.
Palate:  Vanilla, boiled lollies, Christmas cake (as opposed to Christmas pudding), butterscotch, oak. 
Finish:
 Oak, malt, marmalade.

Scott: Much deeper nose, you almost fall into it, and then the citrus is quite surprising. Dry finish, which doesn’t really have the same intrigue as the nose and palate.

Yvette:  Doesn’t have the spice on the nose that the Hielan has, more marzipan. With time in the glass there’s a citrus sweetness that comes out, which is quite a unique experience for me with GlenDronach. It’s got a long finish, but none of that Christmas pudding trademark. This has the same DNA, but more removed than the standard ranges. Wasn’t expecting to, but I prefer the Heilan –  more ‘typical GlenDronach’.

Price: Was only a limited run for the French market, going for about 45 Euro or so. You’ll pay a lot more these days though.
Where To Get: Auction sites, private collectors

GlenDronach ‘Original’ 12-Year-Old

Single malt, 43%

Combination of Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks, but the bottles doesn’t have ‘exclusively’ like the 15-year-old did/does so we can assume there’s a touch of bourbon. Natural colour, non chill filtered.

Nose:  Figs, dried fruits, oranges, brandy over fruitcake, vanilla essence.
Palate: Singed orange slices, Christmas pudding, wood polish.
Finish:  Very aromatic, slight oak, stewed apricots, musk, currents.

Scott:  Jumps up in to your nose, has a great body and a lingering finish that’s not all that delicate. Really love this whisky. Funnily enough, it’s a bit rougher and more brutish than the Helian.

Yvette:  I have a fear that the new 8 is better than the 12, so I’m going to go back to it after this is done. The 12 has never been my star of the GlenDronach line-up and to be honest I’ve always chosen the 15 over the 12. The 12 is definitely dirtier.

So after all that, we went back to the Hielan (didn’t take much convincing) to see how we liked it with our palates now in full-GlenDronach mode…

Scott:  Going back, by far the most rounded. The warming sensation in the mouth is really attractive. If I had to choose though, the comparative rough and tumble of the 12 would do it for me.

Yvette:  Still has that spice, like putting your nose into a jar of allspice. I think it’s my pick of the three, even now that I’ve gone back. This is a really good whisky.

Price: $80-$90
Where To Get: Whisky specialists

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Official Dram Club ambassador Willa guarding some of the GlenDronachs. Apparently this photo is posted on the office wall at the distillery.

UPCOMING WHISKY TASTINGS

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