Spirits production is nothing if not a balancing act. On top of crafting the spirit itself, there’s the question of branding, which plays a bigger role than some might realize. Everything from bottle and label design to advertising (or lack thereof) and even public relations can be looked at as a type of branding. I’d like to emphasize that last part, because how a brand responds to certain comments (criticism) will naturally contribute to their ongoing identity. Do they respond at all? If they respond, are they professional? Is their response sensical? Do people seem any happier after the fact?
I bring this up because GlenDronach landed themselves into a bit of hot water last year. Essentially, folks found more recent bottles of their whisky missing the words “non-chill filtered.” When asked for clarification, GlenDronach said it was to provide “flexibility” in their whisky production process. The topic of non-chill filtration is often divisive, with some feeling it provides no tangible difference while proponents swear by it for a variety of reasons. Be that as it may, the response to the aforementioned discovery has left a sour taste in the mouths of many drinkers, and not strictly because of the filtration itself.
Esteemed reviewer Ralfy put out a video on the topic when people caught on. I highly recommend watching it if you haven’t already, since he goes into the implications this seemingly small change can ultimately have (he also did a couple follow-ups communicating his exchanges with the GlenDronach team). Furthermore, he put into perspective the frustrations of “online, proactive whisky customers” while acknowledging and accrediting the responses he got from GlenDronach.
Some may regard this as a big stink over nothing, and to a degree, I totally get it. My fellow bourbon fans are likely aware of the recent spark in interest over the travel-exclusive Wild Turkey Rare Breed bottlings that are non-chill filtered. Reviewers and channels who’ve put it side-by-side against the more widely distributed Rare Breed ultimately found the two were nearly indistinguishable. This is cask strength bourbon versus watered down scotch, mind you, but still worth bearing in mind.
Tax season was well in swing around the time I heard about GlenDronach forgoing non-chill filtered whisky, which I remembered while visiting my favorite local-ish liquor store when I saw a bottle of it. Impulse got the best of me and now, almost a year later, supply is running low. Did the 12-Year leave a strong impression in its previous state? Let’s find out.
Nose: Fruitcake-like. A bright blend of slightly dried berries, raisins, and honey. Traces of caramel and vanilla weave between the moderately strong fruit notes. Hints of tobacco creep in over time, along with red grapes and a mild orange spice.
Palate: Light-medium mouthfeel. Fruitcake and mild spice. Honey, vanilla, and raisins offset by light oak with some accompanying spice. Caramel and a lightly fruity syrup essence grip the mid-palate while soft oak and tobacco accent the dried fruit notes on the back.
Finish: Just a hair shorter than I’d like. Gentle but discernible breeze of raisins, apricot, honey, and pepper. Some oak builds after multiple sips.
I’ve generally had a hard time warming up to scotch, and despite becoming more acquainted as of recent, GlenDronach 12-Year ultimately presents itself as yet another example of why. I do like what’s on offer here; the fruity profile and ever so mild spice component are pleasant and easy to relax with. The overall experience rides a line that might normally be a snoozefest for me, but possesses just enough personality to avoid becoming one. Does the since-abandoned non-chill filtration play a tangible part in this enjoyment? In a vacuum, I’m inclined to say no. What I’m more inclined to say is that a slightly higher ABV could do this whisky some serious favors. However, that’s a common critique I have with many widely distributed scotches.
If anything hinders my chances at reaching for GlenDronach with any sort of consistency, it almost certainly won’t be the use of chill filtration. That designation goes to, wait for it, cost. Where I live the 12-Year runs $70, which puts it in the same bracket as entry-level bottlings from The Macallan. And what do I think of The Macallan, based on those expressions? Good whisky; just overpriced. Something tells me that isn’t far removed from other people’s opinions. I’ve served GlenDronach 12-Year to some more casual drinkers, and all of them were pleased by it, so there’s absolutely an audience for this whisky. Whether these individuals feel it’s worth the asking price is another discussion.