Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Review / Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 9

This new single malt is the latest bottling in the highly anticipated Cask Strength series from the east Highland distillery of Glendronach, which is normally released annually. The Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 9 has been slightly delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and each batch is made to be different and have its own personal character. Batch 9 has seen whiskies matured in both ex-Oloroso and ex-Pedro Ximénez sherry casks of differing sizes (both puncheons and butts are included). These have been selected at different ages  before being married together by Dr. Rachel Barrie, the Master Blender for Glendronach.

The Glendronach distillery was founded in 1826 by James Allardice and is located in the Aberdeenshire countryside close to Huntly. The majority of the present buildings date from 1850 when the distillery was rebuilt following a devastating fire and it was the last in Scotland to use stills directly fired by coal - this practice only finished in 2005. The distillery is known for its use of high quality ex-sherry casks and is currently owned by Brown-Forman, who took control in 2016. The annual production is around 1.3 million litres.

The stillhouse at Glendronach was built in the 1960s.

The Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 9 is released at the natural strength of 59.4% ABV and is both non chill-filtered and of natural colour. Numbers are limited although the exact figure is not revealed. It is available now in specialist retailers in selected markets worldwide with a separate launch in the USA in June. The cost is £72/ $99 US/ €82 per bottle.

Our tasting notes

The colour is deep amber and the nose is rich and full bodied. Initial aromas of dried nuts (think of walnuts and toasted hazelnuts), black treacle and molasses lead the way and are backed up by further aromas of burnt orange, cocoa powder and a heavy pinch of baking spice (especially cinnamon and clove). A hint of marzipan and rum soaked raisins also develop in the glass.

On the palate this whisky is big, bold and rich. The high ABV gives an immediate peppery hit but this slowly fades to reveal a malt of incredible depth and complexity. Dark dried fruits such as raisin, sultana and dates mingle with heavy notes of brown sugar, black treacle and molasses. These are livened up and prevented from becoming too heavy by a distinct note of orange oil, a hint of fresh pineapple and some wood and baking spices - think of toasted oak plus cinnamon stick, clove, liquorice root and a decent pinch of all-spice. Underneath are further notes that have a more savoury edge - these include suggestions of cigar leaf, ristretto coffee and old leather.

The finish is long and complex. Each of the layers of flavour has its turn - first it is the sweet treacle-like and dried fruit notes, then the nuts and spices, and finally the savoury characteristics. The combination is delicious.

What's the verdict?

The Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 9 sees a return to the big sherry bomb style of the earlier bottlings in the series. Batches 7 and 8 were both delicious but had more of a butterscotch and toffee feel. This is heavier, richer and more imposing and should keep even the staunchest of Glendronach fans happy. 

There are obviously different ages of whisky at play here and they give a superb level of depth - the older whiskies add complexity and structure with the younger whiskies giving freshness, vibrancy and punch. They have been expertly married together to give a whisky that impresses.

Apart from an initial pepperyness there is little indication of the cask strength high ABV of Batch 9. It is very well balanced and dangerously drinkable. It opens up exquisitely with a couple of drops of water with the pepper and toasted spices dampening to give the whisky a lovely creamy and softer feel. Excellent.

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