Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Whiskies Worth the Hype: Bladnoch & GlenDronach from K&L

Sometimes it seems like whisky quality is inversely proportional to the hype surrounding it. I can no longer count the amount of times I've been let down by highly touted special releases. On the other hand, obscure indy bottlings or even budget daily pours are sometimes unpublicized gems. During the holiday season, the whisky hype can get totally out of the control, which is why it is especially refreshing to find some bottles that meet if not exceed the hype.

Earlier this year I wrote about K&L's exclusive barrel series in which the spirit buying Davids of K&L went to Scotland to select their own barrels from both distilleries and independent bottlers. The Davids took up a fair amount of bandwidth talking about how great these barrels were, so expectations were pretty high. Now the bottles are in the store, and I've been able to taste a handful of them, I must say that I agree that, at least with regard to the ones I've tasted, they are some pretty special bottles. Here is a review of two of my favorite so far.

Bladnoch 1992, 18 years old (Chieftain’s), Cask 4195, 270 bottles, 55.3% abv (K&L exclusive $89.99).

A Lowland distillery that was mothballed for much of the '90s and doesn't send its distillery bottlings to the US, Bladnoch is not easy to find. Even finding independent bottlings can be a challenge. The nose on this Chieftain's bottling is of pure, rich malt with a pinch of dried fruit in the back. The palate is also malt forward with sweet grassy notes, fruit cocktail syrup, and perhaps just a touch of a sherry-like quality. The finish is sweet and malty with fruit. This reminds me of some of the best Lowlanders I've had, thick, rich, malty and syrupy (but not at all light, which is the stereotype for Lowlanders that really only applies to Auchentoshan). Good stuff and a very good price for what it is.

GlenDronach 1994, 16 years old, Cask 3186, 56% abv (K&L exclusive $116).

This is the other side of the spectrum from the Bladnoch, a huge sherry monster of a whisky. This whisky consists of two bourbon cask aged malts which were combined and finished in a Pedro Ximenez sherry cask for a short time (around six months). It was bottled by the distillery for K&L. The nose is a full on sherry assault with candied fruit and maybe even a bit of cinnamon. The palate kicks in very sweet; that dissipates a bit s you go, but it stays pretty sweet throughout. You don't get any malt flavors until the finish when the malt really kicks in. Drinking this neat is too sweet for my tastes, but water really does wonders for it, bringing out the malty flavor that's hinted at in the finish. A few drops of water cuts the sweetness and gives it a balance that was lacking when neat.

These are two dramatically different but very good whiskies. The entire list of K&L exclusive bottlings can be found on the right hand column of the K&L Spirits Blog.


Anonymous said...

It was my understanding (based on their blog and podcast comments) that K&L's 1994 Glendronach is the result of two bourbon casks which had been combined into a single PX cask for finishing.

sku said...

You are correct Anon. Thanks. I will change the text to reflect that.

BMc said...

I'm really interested in the GlenDronach, but so little info is available on it, it's as frustrating as getting tasting notes on the Willett bourbons/ryes. Would you agree about the complexity of the malt, like the guys at K&L describe? They really went bananas in their tasting notes

sku said...

BMc, you don't get many reviews of private label bottlings because the are limited and the big reviewers often overlook them.

The GlenDronach is a great whisky. I gave it a B+ on the LA Whiskey Society site which is defined as "Great, Definitely Want to Own." If you are a fan of sherried malts, I'd say it's for you.

Anonymous said...

IMHO K&L's 1994 GlenDronach is pretty great. I think they best described (paraphrasing) their single barrel as a hulked-up mutant of GlenDronach 12. I'd second that and recommend the reluctant/curious/frugal give GlenDronach 12 a go (if they haven't already).

BMc said...

Yum yum, thanks Sku and Mr. or Ms. Anonymous - I am missing a big, sweet whiskey in my collection and sometimes it's just unbearable :) This oughta fill that yawing void. It's a slippery slope with that website, I swear... the 13 year Springbank also looks like a must-have.

sku said...

Sounds like this one's for you BMc. I actually like this one better than any of the standard GlenDronach line: 12, 15 or 18.

Anonymous said...

I also picked up the two Springbank single casks but haven't had an opportunity to taste them since I have so much open at the moment.

Florin said...

I'm in London for a few days and I swung by The Whiskey Exchange. They had me taste this single cask GlenDronach 15 from 1995, UK market only:
The bottle is very similar to the K&L, with same wording on the label, except that cask number is 4681. Super delicious, and I bought it on the spot. It must be very similar to the K&L! Identical proof too, 56.2% (What does "cask strength" mean, anyway? The proof of the particular single cask, or "really high proof"? Hard to believe that two different casks -- from different years -- would end up with same proof at same time). However, comparing with your assessment Sku, I did not find the 15yo too sweet, and what struck me was exactly how balanced the flavors were. In contrast, the standard 15yo (Revival) is much darker and sweeter -- the typical sherry bruiser. And so are, say, Glenfarclas 15, or Aberlour A'bunadh.

The flavors of the single cask were very vibrant and well integrated, and the cask proof brought them all to the fore. It was the most exciting whisky I had in a while! It would be fun to swap samples and taste them side by side!

The bottle comes with a little tag with the following tasting notes -- did the K&L too?
Nose: Chocolate orange segments with a hearty helping of stewed plums and forest fruit compote.
Appearance: Cherry wood with a russet mahogany-like appearance. Subtle antique gold elements.
Palate: Chocolate and toffee qualities reveal a bold mix of dried, spiced fruits including figs, rasins, and dates. Full-bodied with a dry, stylish finish.

The notes are spot-on based on my limited sampling.

It seems that this is a yearly limited release, and not a one-off thing, which is very good news!

sku said...

Florin, sounds like you have a similar cask but the K&L is a 1994 bottled at 16 years.

The strength on the K&L Glendronach is 62.0% so it's not quite the same. Cask strength is supposed to mean the strength at which it came out of the cask, but I don't believe the term is defined by the SWA or Scottish law, and there is some controversy over whether some distillers add a bit of water to mass releases to standardize them, though in a single barrel that is probably less likely.

The distiller notes on the K&L cask are:

Nose: Toffee, butterscotch and sugar syrup revolving around a fruit laden hearj of figs, dates and alochol-infused prunes.
Appearance: Deep autumnal gold with fier orange influence.
Palate: Creamy and full. Baked apples drizzled with date syrup. Mellow toasted oak encased in abitter chocolate shell. Long and well structured.

Frankly, I don't pay much attention to distillery notes, since they tend to be overly flowery and never say anything that could be construed as negative.

Anonymous said...

K&L's 1994 Glendronach is 56.0%