If whisky is the “water of life” as its Gaelic original name “usquebaugh” suggests, drinking a few drams of the $800 bottle of the new GlenDronach Grandeur Batch 11 at a media dinner last night at The Chastain in Atlanta is the definition of living large. Kids, this is what a journalism degree can get you—although, you might want to think about investment banking if you ever want to taste more than a few drams.
The GlenDronach distillery was founded in 1826 in Aberdeenshire, at the site where barley was already being milled by a waterwheel—the nexus of the only two ingredients in single-malt scotch (besides yeast), barley and water. But there’s a third element from farther away that gives GlenDronach its distinctive flavor, and that’s Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks from Spain.
Despite the limited ingredients in single-malt whisky, the three scotches I tasted from GlenDronach could not have been more varied. We started with the distillery’s flagship 12-year-old, which retails in the $50 to $70 range. Bright and smooth, this is a good introduction for new scotch drinkers with little of the overpowering peaty flavors that can scare some drinkers away. This is a fruit-forward whisky whose heat comes gently and pleasantly like the wind over those Aberdeenshire hills. It’s also a surprisingly easy-drinking scotch, with just the right amount of those sweet sherry flavors blended from the Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso casks by Master Distiller Rachel Barrie.
Our second dram was the Cask Strength Batch 10, with a retail price in the $70 to $90 range. Our chief spirits writer Jim Vorel has written about GlenDronach’s single cask bottle series before, but this is a blending of casks released at a whopping 117 proof. If the 12 was light on the smoke, this one is pure fire. To me, it needed more than a couple tear drops of water to open up some of the deep earthy and nutty flavors hidden by the heat.
The Grandeur Batch 11, on the other hand, was quite unlike any scotch I’ve tasted before. Limited to 3,181 bottles and retailing for $800, this batch was blended solely from whisky aged for 28 years in Oloroso sherry casks, and released at 97.8 proof. Time has smoothed the edges off this scotch, allowing for every note in its complex symphony to be heard. The smoke hits you on the front of the palate, but is quickly quenched by notes of dark cherries, stone fruit and roasted coffee flavors. Somehow the easiest drinking of the three, it was a struggle to slow down my sipping—each taste had me wanting to revisit the array of flavors and try to sear them all into memory. If any of you investment bankers crack open a bottle of this and want a drinking buddy, you know where to find me.
Josh Jackson is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @joshjackson.