When I looked to set up this website, all those days ago, I went searching for pieces of drinks writing I’d done over the years to pad the site out a bit – to avoid launching with a single article and nothing else. Some of them, like the ‘Fear and Loathing in Lagavulin’ pieces, were not exactly what I would write now, but I was still happy to include them again with some minimal changes. Others, like this review of Glendronach 15 from about five or six years ago, I was not. It’s written with a lot of intense metaphor and classic whisky imagery that I clearly thought was the way to talk about whisky back then. And while I may have affected this style vaguely effectively, it’s not part of a whisky discourse that I think is relevant going forward. However, my biggest mistake in that article is not the style it’s in but what it omits. I left out the fact that Glendronach 15, perhaps foremost of any whiskies I’ve ever drunk, connects me to innumerable friends and experiences all over the world. I completely ignored the ability of whisky to bring people together.
When I was about 19 I moved (in a round about way) from the East Coast of Australia to the West Coast of Scotland. I started working in The George Hotel, Inveraray, and was immediately out of my shallows – but the important thing here is very early on I was introduced to Glendronach 12. I’d drunk whisky along the way, and liked it, but this was likely the first time I’d been exposed to anything that had even touched a sherry cask, let alone been a full maturation. It floored me; I was hooked. I continued my whisky journey, learning about different distilleries and regions (which were still the ultimate form of classification then), and eventually found myself in a position to influence what malts would be on the back bar. Having walked over the road to Loch Fyne Whiskies one day, I had more or less the following exchange with Stevie, who worked there for years:
Stevie: ‘Have you tried the 15 year old Glendronach?’
Me: ‘There’s a 15!?’ (This was essentially a carbon copy of Pippin’s ‘It comes in pints?!’ reaction at The Green Dragon).
The fifteen doubled down on the richness of the twelve, giving the notes you expect from sherry maturation in spades – sweet spices, juicy fruit and an indulgent mouthfeel. It was very much what I would later learn was referred to as a ‘Sherry Bomb’. As you can imagine it made it’s way onto the The George’s gantry, and it became a firm favourite. I can’t count how many staff, newly arrived in Scotland from all over the world, I introduced to whisky via Glendronach 15. And I would continue, along with those staff, to convert a lot of customers to whisky by introducing them to its rich sherried notes. Countless folk had their first dram of the 15 in The George, and left Inveraray with a bottle of it from that whisky shop across the road.
Even when I went back to Australia for a couple of years and started working in a whisky bar on the Gold Coast, I introduced the owner and team there to Glendronach. People don’t believe me, but I honestly had no idea it was such a well known and sought after malt for a long time. It felt like our little secret – mine and those who’d enjoyed it with me. When I started to be exposed to other people who were familiar with it down in Sydney, maybe six years after I’d first tried it, it became something we bonded over. Still now it’s the first dram I would reach for when catching up with almost any friend I have that I connected with through the whisky or drinks industries.
Of those in Sydney I found a mutual connection with, one person, Ben Marshall, went on to be MC at my wedding last year – after which he and I took a road trip up to Speyside (my wife and I had our honeymoon planned for this year…). Though this was an obvious choice for many whisky drinkers, the main reason was to make the pilgrimage to Glendronach, one I had bizarrely never made in all those years. Glendronach is a Highland distillery, historically specialising (and now almost exclusively releasing) sherry cask matured whisky. We received a private tour of the beautiful distillery (all of which but the still house is original), and our guide spent two and a half hours showing us around in utmost detail, followed by a phenomenal single cask tasting. It will always be an incredible memory. By the way, I walked in to Loch Fyne Whiskies to get a bottle of whisky for my wedding – and over a decade later Stevie said ‘You’re a Glendronach man aren’t you?’. Every guest at our wedding had a miniature of Glendronach at their place setting.
With all of this waffling and frankly self indulgent context, you can hopefully see why when I returned to that old review it was a bit disappointing to see I’d wasted all those words talking about leather fucking armchairs. Glendronach was for me, even then, a case study of the connections that you can make through whisky. I hasten to add that I am not a Glendronach fanatic (I don’t have 78 unopened single casks bottlings), and these connections could be formed over any whisky; the liquid is almost superfluous. You can connect with people over supermarket blends, old fashioneds, peated whisky, Sauternes casks or any distillery you like. Mine just happens to be Glendronach, and especially the 15. And it is these connections that transcend any whisky wankery, geekery or posturing in my enjoyment of whisky. Most people I know in the whisky industry have forgotten more about it than I will ever know. I will however be forever grateful for the experiences it has given me.
So, what about the whisky? May as well at least mention it. I have in time found that this dram is far from my little secret. It is deservedly lauded in all corners of the whisky drinking world. The fifteen is likely still the best pound for pound sherry bomb on the market consistently. There are obviously many great sherried releases that crop up with regularity – independent bottlings especially. Glendronach themselves have had some stock issues over the last ten years, meaning that it couldn’t always be the go to – and with it’s return to the market there was the usual reaction from whisky drinkers: ‘it’s not as good as the old one’. I would refute this. Over the years, even with the time away from the market, the flavour in Glendronach has maintained consistency. Although at times, due to an increase in the average age of the composite whisky, it has presented with a longer finish and an increase in depth, I prefer to see these as one time bonuses as opposed to letting it detract from the still impressive flavour of the current. The upshot – on any given day, if you wanted to walk into a whisky shop (and please, when it is safe to do so, I urge you to), I’d be willing to bet the best bottle in the sherried category under £100 will be Glendronach 15.
Though this article is dripping with bias, it is all personal. The Glendronach 15 I paid full retail for. I have, of course, got to know people who work for Glendronach and its parent companies over the years, but I haven’t any commercial connection with them.
Distillery/Brand: Glendronach 15 ‘The Revival’
Age: 15 years
Cask: Sherry (PX and Oloroso)
Non-Chill Filtered: Y
Natural Colour: Y
Price: Approx £60-£65