March 1, 2013

Review: Glendronach Revival 15 Year - Yes It's Real, and It's Spectacular

Drunk and Hot Girls

Glen House
Glendronach was founded in 1826 by James Allardes, aka Allardice.  James was a simple man.  He liked to hang out in his Georgian mansion in the Scottish Highlands, the aptly named "Glen House", which was haunted by a spicy female Spaniard who traveled to Scotland in a sherry cask.  James' good friend was the 5th Duke of Gordon, who basically legalized whisky-making and created the entire scotch industry (thanks Duke!) by enacting the Excise Act of 1823 which permitted the licensing of distilleries by the Queen for an annual fee of ten pounds. James was one of the first individuals to procure such a license.  Our story begins.

James produces his first commercially legitimate barrel of whisky, saddles up the horse-drawn carriage, and heads to Edinburgh to unload his proud hooch to the local pubs.  Evidently more of a debonair gentleman than a hard-nosed retailer, James quickly finds that all the pubs have already purchased their whisky for the season.  He doesn't sell a single bottle.  

Returning to his hotel, with tired horses pulling a still-full barrel of beautiful sherry-aged malt, James is approached by two "ladies of the night" (wink wink, say no more).  They ask if he wants to buy them a drink.  Well replies James, I don't have to buy you a drink, I came to town riding on a barrel of Glendronach!  He marches back into the hotel with a hooker on each arm and an army of servants rolling a full barrel of whisky up to his room.  If he's not going to make a profit on his beloved barrel, at least he can get some action out of the trip!

As legend has it, the next morning there is a line of Scottish working girls outside the hotel waiting to get their hands on some of this lovely dram.  Over the next several days, while James remains holed up in the hotel suite with his new acquaintances on a world class bender (are we starting to see Mr. Allardice as the Charley Sheen of the nineteenth century?), the entire prostitute population of Edinburgh shares his whisky with their Johns.  Low and behold gentlemen start asking for Glendronach by name in the pubs.  A world class brand is born.

Hey, if your marketing department is a volunteer legion of drunk Scottish hookers, you know you're onto something.

Make it Classy

We love dark.  Dark means wood.  Dark means flavor.  Dark means age.  

You see, whisky universally leaves the still very light in color.  It gets it's beautiful pigment from a decade-long romance with oak.  Out of the pots and into the barrels, the love affair begins.  After ten to twenty years, the wood and the whisky have aged together.  They share their deepest secrets.  The wood becomes flavored with the hooch, and the hooch takes on the taste and the color of the wood.  The whisky also leaves behind more and more of its harshness over time, resulting in a smooth and drinkable flavor even at higher alcohol content.

Raw and Charred Oak Barrels
(courtesy of Jack Daniels)
Charred oak is the predominant choice for whisky barrels.  Charring the oak caramelizes the wood, bringing out sugars and phenol that are perfectly suited to lend sweet and smoky flavors to the whisky.  Bourbon, by law, is aged exclusively in first-run charred oak barrels, but scotch has no such regulations and can push the envelope when it comes to barrel aging.  The most common, almost ubiquitous, approach is to import pre-used "refill cask" bourbon barrels and begin the aging process in them.  Already charred and weathered through the blazing summers and harsh winters on Kentucky, this wood is primed and perfect for retirement by the Scottish sea.

Sherry Barrels in Spanish Vineyard
(more Euro-looking, same general idea)
Taking barrel-aging to the next level, many distilleries use more exotic casks to bring additional flavors to the whisky.  Desert wines are very popular, since the sweetness of the wine imparts a rich and smooth character to the scotch.  Sherry and port casks are the most common.  Scotland has been importing Ximenez, Fino, Amoroso, and Madeira casks for decades to take advantage of their special effect on whisky.  We've reviewed several different desert wine cask aged scotches, most of which have been impressive.  Port and sherry casks also lend a very dark and beautiful color.  Glendronach has flipped the scheme and actually does their primary aging in sherry casks and then finishes the process in bourbon casks.

And here is the punchline: generally the darker the whisky, the more wonderful wood flavors, the more gentle years of mellow smoothness, and the more character from the scotch.

Pure evil:  E150
Now here's the rub.  Distilleries have caught on to this and there's a big controversy around using artificial coloring to alter the appearance of scotch.  An apparently evil and sinister chemical called E-150 is a caramel additive that is used to color scotch whisky.  Major producers have admitted to using E-150, though they claim to use it only to ensure consistency between different runs, not to substantially alter the fundamental color.  We have our doubts, and have tasted some dark scotch that completely lacks the flavor profile that we'd expect.

Ok, thank you for your patience.  And we know that we've been down this road before, rest assured this is going somewhere.  Somewhere new and uncharted.  Somewhere glorious.  Because the first thing we noticed on the box before we opened our Glendronach Revival was a nonchalant phase towards the bottom of the tube.  "Natural Colour".

You see what they did there?  They set the bar.  And they set it high.  Because Glendronach is one of the darkest, most beautiful scotches we've ever seen.  Those two words "Natural Colour" are mannered, cultured, distillery-speak for "Yeah we're dark, and we're natural, and all you fakers can go screw!"  It's a seriously classy move.  All scotch should follow suit, ditch the caramel, and come clean.  Glendronach has given us untold joy in being able to again celebrate the appearance of a beautiful, natural aged beast in all its glory.  Here it is in the glass.  Soak it in.  In the words of Jerry Seinfeld: yes, it's real, and it's spectacular.

Ok, enough mystery and intrigue, let's have a sip!

Hubby's Tasting Notes

Appearance:  I think we've covered that.

Nose:  It smells remarkably like Swedish Fish.  There's an undercut of smoke and an overtone of freshly cut grass.  But overwhelmingly Swedish Fish.

Body:  Wow a straight punch of sherry right to the nose.  The welcome undercurrent of smoke continues and gives a great base foundation to the taste.  Then after the initial sherry blast, the flavor opens up with sugar cane, some rich spices (rosemary & sage?), and wood - deep almost bourbon-like rich whisky goodness.  This is a very unique taste.

Finish:  Wow again, still surprising on the finish.  A fiery warmness through the chest, smoke lingering on the tongue, a fruity sweet aftertaste, and absolutely no burn.  Totally divine finish.  A little hint of the candy again at the end, Swedish Fish on the breath.  At 46%, didn't even consider a splash of water or chaser.

Wifey's Tasting Notes
Appearance:  It’s kind of hard to believe the color that’s achieved with this scotch is all-natural. It’s such a gorgeous, rich amber color that set’s your expectations very high even before the first sip.

Nose:  I’m not sure where he got that Swedish fish thing.  The sherry aspect is unmistakable.  Almost like you just finished dinner and you’re about to sip a dessert wine.  All I need now is a cigar, and I’d be golden.

Body: I get a little black pepper and spice in the first taste, with that hint of sweet in the background.  It’s very smooth, not extravagant, no gimmicks, and just plain awesome.  Exactly what you’d want in a scotch.

Finish:  It takes me some time to get to the finish because I just keep going back for more.  Once I slow down, I get the sweetness (maybe now I get the Swedish fish thing?), and the spice.  Almost like something you might expect from a good rum.  Still has a little bit of a burn, but that’s just there to remind you who’s boss.

The Review
Glendronach Revival is an experience.  As the first scotch we've reviewed that does primary aging in sherry casks it's a completely different flavor profile from traditional oak-aged whiskies that either finish in sherry casks or mix in other barrels for flavor and color.  It's got a wonderful sweetness that isn't cloying and doesn't diminish the flavor of the whisky.  If we weren't such devoted fans of the smoke and peat, this could be a new favorite.  It's definitely earned a spot in our collection and we're looking forward to reviewing more from this distillery.  Luckily they make a huge line of variations, going from 12 to 33 years and various other finishes like Sauternes, Moscatel, and tawny port.  Glendronach is so unique and off-the-beaten-path that it is a great dram to break out for friends to try something new, especially if they're not huge peat-heads.  The Revival is available at KLWines for $75.99.  It's a tremendous value at this price, outclassing many more expensive bottles.  It earns a SmokyBeast "A-".  It was close to a straight A, and was absolutely there on quality, but you know us - we love the smoke, baby!

Glendronach was a new discovery for us and we can't say enough good things about it.  A straight up classy beauty, a debaucherous history almost as rich as the whisky itself, and such an enjoyable pleasure to share.  Pick up a bottle and let us know what you think.  /SmokyBeast


  1. Utterly awesome detailed posts of one of my favorite drams. I'm pouring this tonight at a chocolate whisky pairing event. It's a killer pairing with high end ultra dark chocolate. It's just a wonderful sherried dram period - after it's been allowed to air a good long time.

  2. Thanks Josh. What a great idea, this would go perfectly with some nice dark chocolate! Sorry we'll miss it, but can't wait to drink with you soon.

  3. (adding gourmet dark chocolate bar to weekend shopping list)

  4. (Olives, more Glendronach, dark chocolate) check!

  5. Love this post. I'd never heard the story of Glendronach's origins...And you know, the Swedish fish observation isn't as crazy as it sounds...There's definitely a hyper-fruity, sweet berry note on the nose that stands out even among sherried drams.

    1. Thanks! Swedish Fish or Nibs or some very sweet very red candy...

  6. Not had the pleasure of tasting this but what a colour!