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Sunday, 9 July 2017

Glendronach 18 'Allardice' Whisky Review!

An 18-year old whisky, that usually isn't actually 18 years old! It's great value for money too, and is one of my favourites.

Hang on, what do I mean it isn't actually 18 years old? Are Glendronach ripping us off? No, not at all, of course not. Quite the opposite actually! There has been plenty of chatter around about the actual ages of the standard Glendronach releases being quite a bit older than the labels state, basically thanks to timing. For example, the 18-year old age statement on the bottle I'm reviewing tonight is at least a year short.

What am I on about? Glendronach was closed ('mothballed' in distillery speak) in 1996, and remained so until 2002. No distillation occurred during those 6 or so years, but there was still plenty of whisky maturing quietly in the distillery's warehouses. So for example any Glendronach whisky bottled in 2016 with an age statement of 15 years or more is actually significantly older than that, because the distillery wasn't producing spirit in 2001, so that whisky must have been distilled in 1996. Age statements must of course reflect the minimum / lowest age of the bottle's contents, and obviously no whisky that is younger than the chosen age statement can be included in the recipe.

My current bottle of Glendronach 18-year old 'Allardice' was bottled in August of 2015 (the bottling date is printed on the back of the bottle itself), which would normally mean it was distilled in, or prior to, July 1997. But the distillery had been closed for approximately 15 months at that stage, which means the contents of this particular bottle is actually a minimum of 19-20 years of age. So you can understand why the much-loved 15-year old 'Revival' was put on hiatus, since if bottled in 2016 it would actually be around 19-20 years of age, and why there isn't (in my opinion) much of a quality gap between it and the Allardice I'm reviewing here. The distillery is waiting for the spirit that was distilled after the re-opening to come of age, which means it should return sometime in 2017-2018, assuming that no plans have changed since the recent purchase of Glendronach and its sister distilleries by Brown-Forman. All seems to be business-as-usual so far, so let's just keep our fingers crossed.

It's also important to note that prior to the distillery closure, Glendronach were using direct-fired stills, and floor-malted barley, and were also using a small amount of peat in the malting process. The malting floors were decommissioned on the distillery's closure in 1996, while the stills were converted to indirect heating prior in 2005. So again if your bottle of 16+ year old Glendronach was bottled this year, it was at least partially made from the floor-malted barley. Any younger than that, and it was wholly made from externally-sourced barley. And if your bottle is 11-12+ years old, it was made using the direct-fired stills. Any younger than that, and it was made using the current steam heated stills.

In my opinion the distillery closure and the gap in production is also part of the reasoning behind Glendronach's large and impressive range of single cask releases, because doing so enables the distillery to sell the cask at its actual age, rather than having to blend it in with younger or older casks in a standard or regular bottling. This certainly isn't a bad thing though, the single cask releases are usually excellent, although the recent batches have been very expensive. On that point, I've tasted a very, very good 20 year old single cask that was distilled in 1995, and also a very, very good 11 year old single cask that was distilled in 2004. So things are looking good for the future!

So, back to the whisky at hand! The name 'Allardice' refers to James Allardice, who founded the distillery in 1826. It's bottled at 46%, is non-chill filtered and naturally (and beautifully) coloured, and is exclusively and fully-matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks. No finishing here! The Allardice sells for around $150 in Australia, which is very good value for the age and quality you're getting, if you ask me.
Glendronach 18 'Allardice', 46%. Highlands, Scotland.
Fully matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Dark rust-red.

Nose: Sweet, warm & rich. Sweet raisins in syrup, rich dark treacle toffee, some cherry & plum jams. Some sweeter stone fruits, apricot & peach, and some red apple. A little flaky buttery dessert pastry as well. 

Texture: Lovely. Syrupy, sweet & lightly spiced. No heat at all. 

Taste: Rich & spicy, considerably drier than the nose though. More of that stone fruit and dessert pastry, plus the raisins and plum jam, but not sweetened now. Some burnt coffee grounds and spicy, soft oak.

Finish: Medium length. Still spicy oak, with cinnamon, clove and a little ginger. Then the treacle and raisins return, plus some more buttery pastry, a dry, rich sherry, bitter dark chocolate and light tannins. 

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Lovely dram! Plenty of sherry influence of course, but it's not overwhelming, there's still plenty of complexity. Lovely richness of flavour and just excellent quality. Definitely great value for money at current prices. In fact, I'm struggling to think of a better sherry bomb with a similar price tag. I know that's a big call, but I stand by it. Readily available, dependable, and very, very delicious. This is a winner.   

I've always actually preferred this 18-year old to the much-loved and on-hiatus 15-year old 'Revival'. I think I'm in the minority there, but I love the big, rich spicy sherry and slightly 'darker' feel of the Allardice. If you're yet to try it and you're pining for the 15-year old, which is now selling for at least double its original price (and I'm sorry, it's just not worth it), I suggest you give this one a go!