When I visited GlenDronach in July 2014, I’d already been on a number of distillery tours in the preceding days. That very morning, I’d been to sister distillery Glenglassaugh and was eagerly anticipating learning more about the place that makes one of the most consistent and consistently delicious single malts I’ve had. So it was just another tick in GlenDronach’s favor when I arrived and my guide appeared to be a) old as the hills and b) a wee bit steamin’. This is not to say he wasn’t a good guide. He was in fact one of the most interesting and engaging guides I’ve ever met at a distillery, with loads of knowledge about the site and history and plenty of patience with my questions and photo-taking. It’s just that I couldn’t fact check everything he told me. Although I’m trying to write about only what other sources can back up, if anything here isn’t totally true, forgive—and correct!—me.
So GlenDronach, like Glenglassaugh, is owned by Billy Walker/The BenRiach Distillery Co., who bought it in 2008. It was legally founded in 1825 or 1826 by James Allardice, though he was likely distilling before actually licensing. Eventually, Walter Scott (no, not the author) acquired the distillery in 1881, followed by Charles Grant (son of Glenfiddich founder William Grant) in 1920. His son sold it to William Teacher & Sons in 1960, since GlenDronach had been part of the Teacher’s blend for awhile at that point. Teacher added two stills—for a total of four—in 1966/67, but 30 years later the whole thing was mothballed. (Teacher was then part of Allied Distillers/Allied Domecq.) In 2002, operations resumed under Pernod Ricard/Allied but they quickly sold it on to Walker et al.
One of the niftiest things at GlenDronach are the old floor maltings that now contain various historical paraphernalia relating to distilling—for example, a bushel and strake used to measure barley. The bushel is a volume measurement, but barley was bought by weight, and there was also a scale close by for this purpose.
Also, peep these shoes with soles made of woven reeds or fiber, which the maltmen wore so as not to crush the barley as they turned it over on the malting floor.
GlenDronach (“dronach” means brambles or blackberries) ceased doing its own maltings in 1996, when it was mothballed. It retains a 101-year-old malt mill and some of the prettiest fittings of any distillery I’ve visited, like this shiny sweet under back.
The distillery has a teeny weeny mash tun and itty bitty stills to boot. The stills were coal-fired until about ten years ago, but of course the UK’s Health and Safety Executive put a stop to this.
GlenDronach’s washbacks are made of Scottish larch, which is apparently traditional, although it was the first time I’d run into them. (Seems like most places have either stainless steel, Douglas fir or Oregon pine.) Fermentation lasts 50 to 60 hours.
The distillery has a five-day production schedule and makes about 1.2 million liters of spirit annually. GlenDronach uses almost exclusively sherry casks to age its malt, and the result is a rich, dessert-y whisky. It’s consistently superb.
But let’s be clear: The GlenDronach 12 year old that’s gone into the bottle from 2008 up to 2014—and the older GlenDronachs—have all been the result of spirit distilled no later than 1996, since there was that six-year silent period. Nowadays, GlenDronach 12 year old is likely much younger than what was being bottled two years ago, and eventually its older brethren will also “decrease” in real age. I haven’t had a recently-bottled GlenDronach 12 and can’t do a comparison to the earlier stuff, but I welcome comments from those who can.
In any case, I trust Walker to do right by the whisky and I believe that GlenDronach will remain a delicious—and hopefully affordable—sherried Speyside single malt. If you get a chance to visit the distillery, don’t miss the sweet Highland cattle (“hairy coos”) in the pasture as you drive in.
Also, enjoy these photos of aging barrels, because I was on the last tour that got to enter the warehouses. My guide encouraged me to take as many pictures as I could—so, barrel porn lovers, these are for you.