Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
When you pop open your next bottle of whisky, ask yourself what was it that drew you to the particular bottle. Was it the brand name? The age statement? The promise of heavy peat or rich sherry finish? I can bet with almost 100% certainty (those of you out there which don’t fall into this category know who you are) you didn’t think to yourself, “I’m glad I bought this bottle because the master blender is awesome.”
As you open your next bottle, I would encourage you to think along these lines. There are just 12 people in the world who hold the title of master whisky blender and are responsible for the vast majority of Scotch whisky on the market. Unlike master distillers (those responsible for the distilling and aging of a whisky product), a master blender is responsible for choosing different barrels from a warehouse and blending them to create a specific flavor profile (they can also be involved in the distilling and aging).
Think the glass of GlenDronach 12 year or Balvenie 14 isn’t a blend? Think again. Almost all whiskies are blends at some level, unless they specifically state they are from a single cask or barrel.
One such master blender, who has created single malts from eight different Scotch distilleries including GlenDronach, is Dr. Rachel Barrie. “There is no formal qualification required to be a master blender,” says Dr. Barrie. “It’s a title based on recognition … [y]ou achieve it through experience—I’ve nosed around 100,000 casks. I’ve got to know all the distilleries in Scotland very well.” It is thus my privilege that Dr. Barrie’s GlenDronach Cask Strength series is the first time I try to identify what a master blender is curating through a series.
Here at The Whiskey Wash, we received a sample of The GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 12, which Dr. Barrie notes “offers connoisseurs a deep insight into the distillery’s signature character, by bottling at the whisky’s natural cask strength, as was the custom before the turn of the 20th Century.” The whisky is richly sherried after aging in Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks, and though there is no age statement, my previous experience with The GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 11 lead me to expect the dram to be smooth, in defiance of the blistering 58.2% ABV concentration.
Where I thought Batch 11 was phenomenal, Dr. Barrie truly hit it out of the park with Batch 12. A darker expression than Batch 11, the dram pulls flavors of cacao, cigar box, and malt along with the rich blackberry pie from the sherry aging. I’m grabbing one, and I’d advise you to do as well.
Tasting Notes: The GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 12
Vital Stats: No age statement. Matured in Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks. 116.4 proof (58.2 ABV). $104.99/700ml
Appearance: Pale orange with a red hue.
Nose: Mince pie overlays thick coffee and iodine. Dark notes of cacao flutter in between buttery oils that float off the glass.
Palate: A muted start is earthy with bitter cacao which leads quickly to dark blackberry mixed with allspice and iodine. The whisky continues to flourish for quite some time, revealing wood flavors of cigar box without losing dried fig notes. The finish emphasizes the bitter cacao again but this time with a touch of honey and cream.