GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 8 & GlenDronach Master Vintage 1993 Review

GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 8 – Distiller: GlenDronach. ABV: 61%. Age: 10 years. Region: Highland. Price: $95.

GlenDronach Master Vintage 1993 – Distiller: GlenDronach. ABV: 48.2% Age: 25 years. Region: Highland. Price: $350.

For sherry fans, GlenDronach is a must. It’s a mainstay for me when I’m in a (non-peated) sherry mood, along with Glenfarclas and Aberlour. (No shade to those who gravitate toward Tamdhu, Mortlach, or Macallan.)

The Glendronach Cask Strength is the most potent sherry punch the Highlands distillery offers–and as the new Batch 8 rings in at 61% ABV, it’s potent indeed. (The Batch 3, by comparison, was a “mere” 54.9%.)

Interestingly, the massive nose on the Batch 8 shows bourbon-like notes alongside the obvious sherry. (For the record, maturation was a mixture of Pedro Ximénez puncheons, quarter casks and Oloroso sherry butts, and the distillery offers an age statement of 10 years–a departure from the more common no-age-statement sherry bombs.)

At full strength, I got buttery caramel first, then pomegranate syrup. Strawberry jam. Watermelon. Caramel apple. The palate was very juicy, with strong apple again. Surprisingly sweet finish, with apple pie spices, then raspberry tea. Zero tannic edge.

That’s all at full strength. And let’s be honest: only the truly grizzled (*ahem*) are likely to drink it at full strength.

Even they shouldn’t. Because this dram really shows its stuff with a splash of water. Now the nose brings big hits of brown sugar and dark leather. The palate lights up with a new boldness–almost electricity–darkness, depth, fire, and spice. The now goes on forever, and the sweetness is balanced by just enough tannins. Toasted marshmallow mellows into soft leather, then just a hint of licorice.

The 25-year-old GlenDronach Master Vintage 1993 brings me back to…high school? Well, the vintage year does, but my tastes ran more to diner coffee and mozzarella sticks at the time. To be fair, the new make wasn’t at its best back then either.

Fast forward a quarter century, and you’ve got a very refined, very impressive dram.

The nose is quite dense, all sherry. (Interesting how much more intense it is than the far more potent Cask Strength–that’s what time in good wood does for you.) Fig. Milk chocolate. Black forest cake. There’s that pomegrate syrup again.

The mouthfeel has huge texture, but not at the cost of balance. I love it. The palate’s a little tight at first, but just a drop of water and it blooms exquisitely. Dense sherry fruits with restrained sweetness, rich oak, and vinous fresh berry notes. Leather and spice lead the transition to the finish. Heavy ginger and clove, and increasing dryness as the finish goes on. Black tea and sour cherry toward the end.

Two fine drams from ‘Dronach heading in to the holiday season. Any sherry lover would be lucky to have them.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy GlenDronach Cask Strength online at Mash + Grape

Benromach 50 Review

Distiller: Benromach. Region: Speyside. ABV: 44.6%. Age: 50 years. Price: $10,000.

Eagle-eyed Axis readers may notice that one of our trio has been missing for some time. As in the better part of a year. That’s me, Baldo.

Why? Life…family…work…the usual…but also, to be honest, I think I’d burnt out on whisky a bit. After a good four years of near-daily postings, reviews, photo sessions, tastings, interviews, club events, etc., I realized I’d hit something of a wall.

I went on a long wander through a forest of German beer. Then Belgian. Then Italian wines. Then orange wines. Still wandering, in many ways.

But something serendipitous happened last week when Thane alerted me to an offer from Benromach to try an unspecified new bottling.

An old fondness for the old-fashioned Speyside distillery, one of my favorites, stirred in me. I’d be happy to try, I said.

As fate would have it, the new bottling turned out to be a 50-year-old. I’d actually had the opportunity to try the stunning Benromach 35 a while back, and was quite sure it was the oldest Benromach I’d ever have.

Not so, not so. Quite an occasion for a comeback, I’d say.

The 50, unsurprisingly, is quite a limited item. 125 decanters available worldwide, at a jaw-dropping $10,000 apiece. Non chill-filtered (phew).

I gave this one lots of time in the glass–there’s a rule of thumb out there that a single malt should be given roughly 10 minutes to breathe for every decade of age, in order for all its nuances to emerge.

Said nuances, it will come as little surprise to hear, were quite special.

The nose had that particular unmistakable density–even at 44.6% ABV–that’s characteristic of well aged single malts. It’s sweet. Strong sherry influence after half a century in an ex-sherry hogshead. Dark. Raspberry jam. Turkish delight. Stewed prunes. Intensely rich, in that nuanced way that only comes from a good long time in good oak–a world away from the punch in the nose you get from the young, brash sherry bombs of today.

Palate sings like a great baritone. Dark but juicy. Drier than the nose. Comes alive with a drop of water. Peat, which has always been mild at Benromach, is barely a whisper, registering as texture rather than smoke. Blackberry compote. The oak strong but admirably contained, without a hint of bitterness. Faint hint of peanut brittle.

Finish is medium-long, with that lovely darkness again. Molasses. Baking cocoa. Dark sweets. Brown butter. Morello cherry. A touch more sweetness than on the palate.

What can one say in sum about such a bottling? It’s a stunner, but one only a few dozen people will ever get the chance to try.

Those that do will be awfully glad they did.

It’s good to be back, friends. Cheers! – BO

Benromach graciously shared a sample with us for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Balcones Brujeria & Hechiceros Review

Balcones Brujeria – Distillery: Balcones. ABV: 62.9%. Grain bill: 100% malted barley. No age statement. Price: $120.

Balcones Hechiceros – Distillery: Balcones. ABV: 61.5%. Grain bill: 100% malted barley. No age statement. Price: $90.

Longtime followers of The Axis know that I have what some have described as an “obsession” for American single malts – a relatively new category of American whiskey produced using 100% malted barley. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I was thrilled to receive an invitation to the Balcones 10th Anniversary party in Waco, Texas.

The highlight of the event was the release of two special single malts, this sherry cask finished Brujeria (Spanish for ‘witchcraft’) and the port cask finished Hechiceros (‘sorcerers’). I’ve been impressed with the classic Balcones “1” single malt for a long time now, but these cask finished releases offer an exciting new exploration into what is possible down in Texas.

The Brujeria (62.9% ABV, $120) has notes of dark fruits and earthiness mixed with a pleasant nuttiness. The Hechiceros (61.5% ABV, $90) is sweeter and lighter with notes of berries, dried fruits and a light spiciness. Both are built on a solid framework of Balcones’ distinct single malt DNA and the finishes add plenty of unique layers to unwrap. Although proudly Texan, these could hold their own against any sherry or port finished single malt from abroad.

Stay tuned for forthcoming reviews of the Balcones whiskeys that are not single malts, including their blue corn and rye whiskeys.

Cheers, friends! -JTR

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010 Review

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010 – Distillery: Bruichladdich. Region: Islay. ABV: 50%. No age statement. Price: $60-65.

When I realized my whisky cabinet was in a rare Bruichladdich-free state, I jumped on this new (to California) Islay Barley release to fix that.

It’s a 2010 vintage from Bruichladdich’s Islay Barley series, bottled in 2017. The series is meant to be a prime expression of the Islay distillery’s focus on provenance: the idea that a whisky can and should express the region it comes from–down to the farm where the barley is grown.

Many distillers source barley from all around the UK–and even beyond. Bruichladdich bucks this trend. This release is made with unpeated malt from eight clearly identified Islay family farms. (For those keeping score at home, they are Coull, Cruach, Dunlossit, Island, Mulindry, Rockside, Starchmill, and Sunderland.) The whisky was aged ex-bourbon casks and French wine casks for an undisclosed period (presumably 7 years).

Nose: super bright golden malt. Rice pudding dusted with cinnamon. Green banana, grilled pineapple. Touch of musty dry white wine cask, then white chocolate.

The palate is youthful but with admirable complexity. Fresh, grassy, coastal. Toasted rice in soy sauce. Smoky barrel char late on. The finish is long and peppery with lemon rind.

Very well made–an automatic daily dram for me. Bruichladdich, I’m glad to have you back.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Bruichladdich whisky online at Mash + Grape

Barrell Whiskey Infinite Barrel & Bourbon Batch 15 Reviews

Barrell Whiskey Infinite Barrel – Producer: Barrell Craft Spirits. ABV: 59.65%. No age statement. Price: $70-80.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 15 – Producer: Barrell Craft Spirits. ABV: 58.3%. Age: 5 years. Price: $70-80.

Every new Barrell Craft Spirits release is a cause for celebration around here. When it’s two at once, I have to pinch myself.

The company’s early single barrel releases showed founder Joe Beatrice‘s selection skills. These two latest releases show his blending prowess.

First, the Barrell Whiskey Infinite Barrel. It’s the inaugural release of what Joe calls the Infinite Barrel project, in which portions of previous Barrell releases (and a few wildcards) are blended into an ever-changing whole and periodically bottled.

barrell whiskey infinite barrel

This February 12, 2018 release has eight components, with everything from bourbon to Curacao-finished rye to Irish whiskey to single malt. It’s a hefty 59.65% ABV, and it’s really special. The nose is woody and pleasantly musty at first. Then come whiffs of ground ginger, candied grapefruit, mandarin peel, and Spanish peanuts. The palate is brighter than expected, with baking cocoa, espresso, cane sugar, and more ginger. The finish brings molasses and just the right hit of bitter birch bark.

Bewitching. And it’s going to be fascinating to see how it evolves in future releases.

Next is the Barrell Bourbon Batch 15, a blend of 9.5- to 11-year old bourbons from Tennessee and Kentucky, bottled at 53.8% ABV.

barrell bourbon batch 15

The nose is on the sweeter side, with green apple, cinnamon red hots, strong spice, and woodsy pine. The palate has dark sweets, cherry cola, a touch of varnish, and tons more spice. The restrained but satisfying finish follows the nose and palate. A great summer bourbon.

Keep the hits coming, Joe–and cheers, friends! – BO

The company graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Buy Barrell Craft Spirits online at Mash + Grape

Highland Park The Dark Review

Highland Park The Dark – Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Highlands/Islands. ABV: 52.9%. Age: 17 years. Price: $300.

Whisky is more than a drink. It’s the land that produces it, the clash of terrain and season against those who wrest greatness from oft-unforgiving landscapes. Whisky is the stories swirling around the glass. The tales of those long gone, the shouts of current aspirations, the hushed reverie of future dreams. It’s working yourself to a nub, then wrapping your hand around the glass and luxuriating in the pleasure of a job well done.

This, as much as the flavor, is what I love about whisky–and there’s not a distillery out there that does a better job of drawing all thee strands together than the classic Orkney distillery, Highland Park.

In recent years, the distillery has sought to celebrate is heritage through special limited releases. This year, HP is releasing The Dark, which hints at the violent autumn and winters seasons on the Isle, and The Light (due to be released later this year) which will symbolize spring and summer.

For The Dark, they’ve matured their malt in first-fill, sherry-seasoned European oak for 17 years. The experience brings to mind the end of those long walks in late fall or early winter when the biting cold and cold, fading light seem to give an otherworldly hue to the woods.

There’s a truly autumnal nose. Dried cranberries, dark, rich plum are layered among sage, rosemary, and a very faint roasted pork loin. Rich leather and loam round it out.

The palate becomes more wintry. Dried sage mingles with sherried plums. Espresso and peat come in strongly, reminiscent of mornings on the North Sea. Faint pipe tobacco. The finish recalls the end of March, when winter refuses to go. Bittersweet chocolate and black currant tea arrive, alongside light pekoe. It’s not a long finish, but it leaves you smiling.

I was greatly anticipating this, and it’s superb. There will only be 4,500 of these released stateside. The price point is high, but if you’re in a position to splurge this year, this very well might be the one.

Cheers, friends! – TM

Buy Highland Park whisky online at Mash + Grape

A company representative graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.