Grandfathers are influential people; they can set you on a trajectory that could make or break a life depending on how you let them. I grew up with only one living grandfather; who could be both great fun and a difficult old bastard. But through a childhood that was confusing and at times lonely; he was consistent. He loved America and I did too. We spent nights at the speedway over summer, ankle deep in pit mud and the smell of brake oil and grease. Long weekends and school holidays were spent rambling through his house and workshop and I remember 5 o’clock sherry, the awful, cheap, puckering kind. In the lounge room of his house with half-completed wallpaper and an old boxset television, he would pour a glass of sherry from the sideboard . And then he’d look sideways at me, at all of twelve years old and say, ‘Want a little?’
I would smile from ear to ear and nod furiously, a wicked treat that somehow meant approval, acceptance into this adult world I so longed to be part of. This was a step up from half a scull of Lion Red on a summer’s day. Fine cut glass, I remember, deep amber rose liquor that was both syrupy and stringent on the tongue. I gazed at it and considered the weight of the vessel in my hand, my all-too-clumsy, We would sit there, side by side, Poppa in his lazy-boy and I, in mine, smile at each other and say, ‘Cheers’. I remember flying home from Christchurch, to attend and speak on behalf of my sisters and I at his funeral. He had passed while I was away from home. I thought long and hard about what to say, which memories to include and which ones to leave out.
Sherry with Poppa at 5 o’clock has always been mine til now, mine alone. But I sat with The GlenDronach in double sherry-casked glory and it came flooding back to me. That woody, dry, rich, fruit and nut undertone that I love so much in every sherry-cask I try. I remembered where I first tasted it, the unmistakeable imprint of sherry and oak on spirit.
The GlenDronach Distillery is one of the oldest in Scotland, established in 1826. Since then, it’s changed hands more than a few times – and some of those hands have been quite notable, ye olde Walter Scott and then Charles Grant (Jr.) of Glenfiddich among them. It’s even been mothballed in recent history but now rests safely in the hands of BenRiach, one of an increasingly smaller number of independently owned distillery companies, after passing through nearly everyone else. I like old things and old things with history are even better. GlenDronach was one of the last to continue using coal fires for heating, they run their own malting floor and the buildings are heritage-listed. Respect for tradition with a few to the future, because everything GlenDronach do is sherry cask aged.
So let’s talk tasting, shall we? The cask strength is everything we love – aged in a combination of sherry casks (Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez), non-chill filtered and released in batches. The Oloroso should produce dry, nutty and almost creamy notes around it’s core fruit characters, while the PX is going to bring sticky sweetness to the party. This is Batch 4, bottled at 54.7% abv. It looks like dark gleaming amber, or molten Kauri gum in the bottle.
Nose: Hello cinnamon, stewed apples, booze-soaked raisins. Ginger spices start to pop and zing around more typical sweet berry fruit, cherries and nuts. The nose is so big you could almost drown in it, or imagine yourself waking up to fresh baked cinnamon fruit toast.
Palate: Biscuity and sweet, with cinnamon and fruit in the middle. Slowly the spices start to come back to play – ginger and pepper get bigger and bigger, which is nice after the big sweet hit. It’s chewable, this whisky and the oak qualities present themselves almost tannic like. I added water to about 47% and felt pretty happy about that. Too much more and the whisky would have felt out of balance, the sweetness of the fruit to overpowering for the spice. This is where the interplay of Oloroso and PX is so lovely – the dryness of those Oloroso spices but the warm, round mouthfeel coming from the nuttiness of it.
Finish: It leads you perfectly into a finish that is soft and fruity, the lingering PX dessert wine quality without being too cloying. The ginger stays with you til the very end, with a hint of coffee bean character. I can imagine finishing a piece of gingerbread and a cup of coffee with the paper.