The snow is back today. Despite snowfall in April (in Morayshire) being far from unusual it nevertheless felt a bit of a backward step after the last week or so of nice warm Spring sunshine. The agreed response to the retrograde weather was to have lunch then head off to our nearest distillery for the afternoon. This isn’t a usual course of events I hasten to add, merely one prompted by the imminent Spirit of Speyside festival. Normally it would just be another log on the stove and yet more tea.
GlenDronach (not Glen<space>Dronach) nestles in the hills on the back road from Huntly to Turriff, what the roads department calls the B9001. It’s perhaps not one of the more famous distilleries as evidenced by the relatively tiny car park outside the Visitor Centre (there’s more space around the corner to be fair). This afternoon there were just six of us in total for the last tour which made for a much better experience in my view; we could actually hear what was being said over the hum of the machinery for a start.
But I’m rushing ahead. When we arrived the freezing cold Arctic (Met Office said so) wind was more than offset by the warmth of the reception inside. There were more staff than visitors but no sense that somehow we were an irritation or inconvenience; strangely I do notice that at some visitor attractions. Not here though – welcomed in and a tasting tour swiftly paid for.
The distillery is small – four stills – so don’t expect the tour to be long. However it is informative and we benefited both from having a tour guide who is a genuine well-read whisky enthusiast plus also good questions from the other customers on the tour. So for example I learned today that the black discolouration common to pretty much all the distilleries around here is due to a fungus which feeds upon the alcohol lost to the atmosphere, the so-called ‘angel’s share’. Well there you go, free-loading fungus. Did you know that? I’d put it down to historical soot from the days of coal-fired stills.
I also gleaned a detail about warehouse temperatures and barrel stacking height in relation to evaporation loss (i.e. depriving those angels) plus some nuances about the importance of the yeast and barley relative to the water chemistry and still design. You’ll need to take the tour yourself to find out.
And of course, there were all the scents familiar to anyone who has toured a distillery before. Fragrant toffee and sweet malt and the myriad of variants depending upon where in the process the batch is at the time of visiting. If only those scents and flavours could be bottled. Oh, hang on…
So to the tasting.
There is a very good range of different tours available for a small distillery; in truth in most cases the actual tour is the same with the difference coming at the end in terms of the whiskies available to taste. The highest-end tours do however have more detail or offer a different experience so best to refer to the website and check for yourself. I had taken the £15 Tasting Tour which entitled me to taste the 8, 12 and 18 year old products which I considered the product spread that best represented my pocket. It turned out to be a good choice.
Every palate is different of course but for once the official tasting notes weren’t entirely fanciful, mostly in terms of spice and fruit. For me, the 8yr old had a wonderful nose very similar to the Balvenie Signature and Doublewood. It was good enough in the mouth to begin with but the promise from the nose wasn’t quite delivered. The finish was too young for me, too much of a rough edge.
The 12yr old has for me a fruitier nose but without the richness suggested by the 8yr old; it is far more lively in the mouth however and very fruity. It has a nice smooth finish however as a 12yr old should – no jagged edges here. The 18yr old is predictably the smoothest of all at the finish and is even spicier in the mouth; it brought back memories of licking out the Christmas cake mixing bowl – mixed spice, candied peel and dried fruit.
All in all if you’ve never tried GlenDronach but enjoy a Balvenie or the Glenlivet 15yr old French Oak Reserve (or the 16yr old Glen Grant if you can find it) then you’re on safe ground here.
Well worth a visit.