SMWS 96.16 ‘The Merchant of Alsace’ (GlenDronach)

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GlenDronach distillery was founded in 1826 by the enigmatic James Allardice, on land he acquired with the purchase of Boynsmill House. As well as the distillery, Allardice commissioned housing for the workers, including residencies for the manager, brewer, distiller, excise-man and all of their families.

After a devastating fire almost destroyed the distillery in 1837 however, Allardice fell on hard times. In 1842 he was declared bankrupt and the company went into administration. The site soon fell into neglect but was thankfully saved from ruin by one Walter Scott, who purchased the site in 1852 and ordered the complete rebuilding of the distillery.

By 1920, GlenDronach had changed hands twice more, but the distillery was to find a degree of stability when it was purchased by Captain Charles Grant, fifth and youngest son of William Grant of Glenfiddich. Charles, it seems, was the black sheep of the Grant family and after working as a brewer at the family business, he decided his destiny lay elsewhere and set out to become a distiller in his own right.



GlenDronach stayed in the Captain’s family until its sale in 1960 to William Teacher & Sons who oversaw significant expansion, doubling the stills from two to four. It was during this ‘Teacher’ era that GlenDronach first appeared on the market as a single malt, taking advantage of a surge in interest in the malt whisky category.

More recently the distillery enjoyed a new lease of life when it was purchased in 2008 by the Billy Walker-led BenRiach Distillery Co.. In the years that followed the sale, the GlenDronach malt gained a worldwide reputation as the go-to brand for lovers of sherry matured scotch. Further change was still to come however, and in 2016 the entire BenRiach company was bought by the Brown-Forman corporation of America.

While GlenDronach may be renowned for its harmonious relationship with ex-sherry casks, at least some of the spirit finds its way into bourbon barrels and it is one of these that the Scotch Malt Whisky Society has bottled here. Aged in a second fill barrel for a total of 11 years, it is bottled at 55.2% and offers a rather unique take on the GlenDronach spirit…

*Full Disclosure: I am part of an affiliate programme with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. As such, I can be paid commission should any of my readers choose to become members. That said, this bottle was purchased using my own money and I will, as always, strive to remain as impartial as possible in my review.

Smell: Vanilla, Malt, Shortbread Biscuit, Fresh Fruit, Honey, Sponge Cake and Orange Marmalade.

Taste: More flavour than promised by a relatively pedestrian nose. Honey, Caramel, Toffee, Butterscotch, Malt, Lemon, Shortbread and Chili powder.

Value for Money: Another intriguing single cask from the SMWS. Completely unlike anything you’d find in an official GlenDronach bottling and affordably priced at £55.

Scores: 43.5 / 50. About the Scores…

It’s often said that independent bottlers offer a chance to see the hidden side of a single malt by giving a platform to casks that don’t suit the house style. Certainly there is at least some truth to that and this GlenDronach is a good example. Even the finest blind taster would, I suspect, have difficulty in identifying its origin.

Of course, a consumer picking up this bottle in the hopes of owning a traditional GlenDronach may be sorely disappointed with what they find, but that is the beauty of the SMWS – there’s no distillery name on the label. Instead, we are given a flavour category and some tasting notes, from which to make our decision. There is no adhering to brand identity here, there is simply natural presentation of cask strength, single cask whisky based on flavour – not reputation.

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The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a unique members only whisky club which releases an array of new single cask bottlings each month. Members not only gain access to this monthly out turn, but also to the purpose built members rooms in Society venues in Edinburgh and London.

For more information on joining the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, click here.

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