Glendronach are undoubtedly the kings of all-things sherried at the moment, and in my opinion only Aberlour's A'Bunadh comes close to challenging them for the title. But things may be changing. Glendronach put their extremely popular 15-year old on 'temporary hiatus' due to stock shortages, and is now very hard to find, and subsequently often over priced. Temporary hiatus may not sound too dire, but the distillery (and it's parent company and sister distilleries) has since been purchased by Brown-Forman, a large American-owned corporation, and to my knowledge there are no official guarantees the 15yo is still coming back. I'm also concerned for the future of the single cask releases, but maybe I'm being pessimistic. Large corporate ownership isn't necessarily a bad thing (look at Bruichladdich, for example), so let's try to stay optimistic!
Glendronach have also started using bourbon casks in some of their newer expressions, which is a big departure from their modus-operandi thus far, but I imagine that is largely due to the rising prices and demand for good sherry casks in the current environment. This isn't necessarily a terrible thing, and there have been a few independent bottlings of bourbon-matured Glendronachs in the past which were well-received. But it's not what Glendronach is known for, and perhaps not why we love them so much!
But all is not lost, the excellent 18-year old and single cask releases can still be found, albeit with a little difficulty and expense for us in Australia. The NAS Cask Strength bottlings are still relatively easy to find, at least in the newer batches, and the pricing has remained relatively steady at around $160-180 in Australia. That's expensive compared to the afore-mentioned A'bunadh, but these are quite different beasts and aren't really directly comparable if you ask me. This review is of a sample from batch 3, but I've also tasted batches 4 & 5, and while there is some variation, all are very good. All follow the same recipe: a mix of ex-Oloroso and ex-PX Sherry casks, no age statements, non-chill filtered and naturally coloured, and are bottled at a cask strength of 54-56%. Let's get to it!
Glendronach Cask Strength, NAS, 54.9%. Highlands, Scotland.
Batch 3, released 2013. A mix of Oloroso and PX sherry casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.
Nose: Lovely. Not the typical sherry bomb you might expect, though. Dark chocolate mousse, crystallised ginger, raisins & cherries in syrup. Dried zesty orange, a little fresh spicy oak, black forest cake, and a hint of something meaty in the background - bonox beef extract, but only subtle.
Texture: Medium-heavy weight, syrupy and rich, very little and very slow movement in the glass. A little heat, but not much considering the strength and relatively young age.
Taste: Rich & spicy, more chocolate and ginger, a little less sweet than it was on the nose. Dried orange, spicy fresh oak again, and a little sweet cream.
Finish: Medium length, a little peppery heat here, but fades quickly leaving more chocolate, but more of a cocoa powder now, and ginger, but powdered now. Creamy again, with more cherry, orange and a little apricot.
Score: 3.5 out of 5.
Notes: Very good stuff, as we should expect from Glendronach. But it's not the cask-heavy sherry bomb we might expect from the distillery, I feel there's more spirit character here, which is very enjoyable. There is a little heat on the finish but like I said, considering the strength and of course relatively young age, it's not unpleasant or off-putting by any means. Very complex on the nose as well, a good balance of fruit, spice and chocolate which works very well.
With the Glendronach single cask releases going ballistic in terms of price lately, in Australia at least, I think these often-overlooked NAS cask strength releases might be the next best thing. Plenty of flavour and punch, pretty good value for money, and a more balanced and slightly less sherried take on this distillery's great work. If you haven't given one of these a go yet, get on it pronto, since we don't really know what the future holds for our beloved bottles of Glendronach at the moment. But again, let's try to stay optimistic!