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Taste Test: Scotland’s Best Sherry Cask Single Malt Gets Even Better at Higher Proofs

Our whisky critic can't get enough of The GlenDronach.

The GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 11 John Paul

In the same way that older doesn’t necessarily mean better in the world of whisky, a higher proof isn’t always going to ensure a more flavorful tasting experience. Except, of course, when it does—as is the case with the new batch of The GlenDronach Cask Strength single malt scotch whisky.

I’ve covered the age statement myths here before, and many smart consumers recognize that a whisky matured for 25 years isn’t necessarily going to be better than one that is 15 years old. These same consumers might be looking for something higher proof than the minimum 80, and for good reason—the less water added to dilute the spirit down to proof, the more flavor there will be. But in the case of cask strength whiskies, sometimes too high is just too strong. And there have certainly been some hazmat whiskeys entering the market, although that’s mostly relegated to the world of American whiskey where the climate is much more conducive to extreme ABVs than the mild conditions in Scotland.

Still, there are single malts that are much improved at cask strength, which is especially relative and subjective when the whisky at hand is already very good. The GlenDronach is one of the best distilleries making sherry cask-matured whisky out there. Yes, The Macallan is a very good single malt, but there’s just something about The GlenDronach’s overall flavor profile that is especially intriguing. The core lineup ranges in age from 12 to 21 years, and the ABV starts at 43 percent (even slightly higher than 40 percent makes a big difference) to 48 percent. But the cask strength version, of which the 11th batch has just been released, usually hovers right around 60 percent which is strong but entirely enjoyable. And a few drops of water opens up the liquid in lovely ways.

Like much of The GlenDronach’s other whiskies, Batch 11 of the Cask Strength Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (SRP $100) is matured in a combination of Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez Spanish oak sherry casks. It’s bottled at 59.8 percent ABV with no color added (as is the case with all of the distillery’s whisky), and is a slow and decadent sipper. There is no age statement on this bottle, but presumably it’s a blend of ages with some on the younger and some on the older ends of the spectrum.

The nose is assertive but not strident with a whiff of alcohol and some intense grain and dark chocolate notes. The palate is, of course, where the fun really begins, with large servings of raisin, honeycomb, fig, coffee, maraschino cherry and blueberry jam making their presence known. There’s even a touch of salinity here, which is usually attributed to distilleries on the coast, whether you taste that note in those whiskies or not. But it’s here, and it’s welcome. While this is perfectly drinkable at its bottling proof, a splash of water softens the spice and brings these fruity notes to the forefront.

The proof of this cask strength whisky is no outlier, as the previous three releases have reached the height of 61 percent ABV and the low of 58.6 percent—all within the margin of error, except that this is no error. This is simply an elegant cask strength single malt scotch sherry bomb, and for some whisky fans it may even be an improvement on a classic.

Score: 95

What Our Score Means

  • 100: Worth trading your first born for
  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram 
  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this 

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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