Glencadam 15 & 21-year-old Single Malts

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A little history…

Glencadam distillery is owned by Angus Dundee Distillers. It is a sister distillery to Tomintoul in Speyside. However, unlike Tomintoul, which was established in the 1960s, Glencadam has a history dating back almost two centuries.

The distillery was founded by George Cooper in 1825 in the ancient city of Brechin. When Cooper sold the business in 1827, however, he kicked off a sustained period of unrest. The distillery passed through many hands before it was finally taken over by Gilmour Thompson in 1891. The Glasgow-based blender would remain at the helm for 50 years.

Production halted, as it did across much of Scotland, during the two World Wars. The distillery warehouses were even used to barrack troops at one point. Production resumed when the rationing of fuel and grain was ended and the owner sold to Hiram Walker in 1954. The Walkers played no small role in the illegal transportation of whisky to the United States during prohibition. Their location in Windsor, Ontario made them an ideal source for smugglers. Some claim that as much as 75% of the booze illegally smuggled into the States traversed the Detroit River between Ontario and Michigan. One of Hiram Walker’s best customers was none other than Al Capone. With the repeal of prohibition, Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd began to build an empire with the acquisition of several Scottish distilleries and blends. Ballantine’s, Glenburgie, Miltonduff, Pulteney and even Ardbeg all joined the company at one time.

With the industry downturn of the 1980s, Hiram Walker & Sons was absorbed by Allied Distillers, who failed to see any value in Glencadam. The distillery was mothballed and all remained silent until it was sold again, this time to Angus Dundee in 2003. By 2005, the new owners had launched a single malt of 15 years. It was a bold step to take with a whisky more commonly found contributing to blends like Ballantine’s and Stewart’s Cream of the Barley. Later, a 10-year-old version was added and since then, the distillery has unveiled a full range of age-stated single malts.

The Whisky

*Full disclosure: The samples featured in this review were sent to me free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the drams and the value for money they represent.

Glencadam 15-year-old (46%)

The official Glencadam website really could do with a wee bit of updating. Rather than give any really useful information about this whisky, it chooses instead to tell us about Jim Murray and how much he liked it. I’m not sure Mr Murray’s opinions are the best way to sell whisky any more but that’s neither here nor there. Some practical information about the individual expressions would be most welcome.

Glencadam 15-year-old is bottled at 46% and retails for around £55.

Smell: Malty nose. Grassy. Straw. Heather honey. Fresh and light. Almost summery. Floral meadows. Buttery shortbread. Wee touch of new oak. Pencil shavings. Slight solvent note. Then a burst of fruits: apple, lemon, pineapple. There isn’t anything particularly unusual going on but it’s nicely balanced and really quite pleasant.

Taste: Fruity. Pineapple. Lemon curd. Lime, building in intensity as moves along the tongue. Beyond the lime there’s a strong malty character. Muesli. Condensed milk. Some woody spice towards the back. Light-bodied. Drowned a little with the addition of water.

Thoughts: Bottling at 46% has, I’m sure, been a help. I dread to think what this might have been like had it been chill-filtered and reduced to 40%. I generally prefer my whisky with a wee splash of water these days but a few drips from my trusty jug almost killed this whisky stone dead. It was much better beforehand. The water rounded off the spiciness, which could be seen as a good thing, but it also dulled the vibrancy and intensity of the fruit notes. Prior to that I found it an enjoyable enough dram that perhaps lacked a little bit of depth that would have elevated it to a higher level.

Value for money: It’s not the best £50 whisky I’ve come across but there aren’t too many 15-year-old malts at this cost anymore so credit to Angus Dundee for the sensible pricing. If you like your whisky to be boldly flavoured, you’d probably be better looking elsewhere but if you enjoy the gentler side of Scotch, you could do worse than this mild Highland malt.

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Glencadam 21-year-old (46%)

As with the 15, there’s very little information offered with regards to the make-up of the whisky. I would presume bourbon, possibly with a small proportion of sherry in there as well.

It’s bottled at 46% and retails around £100.

Smell: Even at 21 years, there’s a noticeable malty quality but the oak has clearly had more of an impact than in the 15. There’s vanilla, coconut, cinnamon. Honey. Vanilla fudge. Varnished oak. Wood stain. There’s aromas of fresh baking… bread… baking spices. Madeira cake. Currants.

Taste: A satisfyingly big arrival with honey, toffee and caramel. Even feels more robust on the palate than the lighter 15. Some gingery spice gives a nice warmth. Subtle dried fruits. Marmalade. Walnuts. A drop of water brought some oiliness to the mouthfeel though the subtle heat remained. If anything, the spice intensified.

Thoughts: This whisky is quite a drastic step up from the 15-year-old. There’s just so much more going on in the glass. More oak, more complexity, more flavour. Being older, it’s obviously more mature but the oak hasn’t been allowed to dominate. The spirit character that can be found in the 10 and 15 is still on show in the 21. Balance is the key word. I think I can say it’s the best of the official bottlings of Glencadam I’ve thus far come across. Still not the most unusual or unique of drams but a solid and dependable offering.

Value for money: At £100 a bottle it certainly isn’t what you’d call affordable. It is, however, one of the cheapest 21-year-old malts on the market. I enjoyed it but I’m not sure I liked it enough to pay that kind of money. I don’t spend £100 on a bottle too often but it’s something I have done and no doubt will do again. I just don’t feel Glencadam offers enough of what I look for in a whisky at that price. That may, however, be an issue of personal taste (I like ’em big and bold) rather than one of quality.

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For more on Glencadam visit here

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