“OK Matthew, I am going to buy one bottle of whisky from you, what should it be?” A risky question to ask the manger of any shop but I had had such fun tasting and sharing whisky thoughts with Matthew of The Good Spirits Company in Glasgow that I wanted a bottle from the shelves of his recommendation to take with me. His choice was GlenDronach's 15yo The Revival, and so began my fascination with this leading modern Speyside distillery. You can read more about The Revival in this very early whisky blog.
I have tried most of the mainstream expressions from GlenDronach over the last 18 months but as my bottle of The Parliament was so close to empty I thought it should be my first video review from the distillery - before it was too late! The bottle was bought on a happy afternoon at AD Rattray's Whisky Experience in the small town of Kirkoswald, near Royal Troon - I can't bring myself to give the golf course, venue for the 2016 British Open, it's new name which includes that of its owner... Mr Moon bought The Parliament for me as a present as I had been raving about the dram since tasting it at The Whisky Exchange show in London a few weeks previously - some whiskies make big impressions.
GlenDronach is near the town of Huntly in the south of Speyside, a town that I know as the home of Dean's the shortbread makers. Two amazing gastro businesses in one place! All GlenDronach whiskies are sherry cask matured which gives a sweetness and character to the whisky which, in a world where terroir matters, means they marry well with the aforementioned biscuits.
And so to this big, voluptuous whisky. It's 48% abv which tells you instantly that it is packed with flavour and full on. Complex, rich, fruity and sweet: it's all there on the nose but the longer the whisky is poured the more alluring and sniffable - if that is a whisky word - it becomes. The sherry barrel maturation makes the nose redolent of fruit and the age of the whisky makes it elegant, lived in and mature. Fascinating.
In the mouth, sip after sip reveals a whisky that is complete in itself. You could say well crafted, but I am talking about a most perfectly balanced dram. Like a plated meal where every ingredient has been included because it supports and complements the other flavours. The Parliament serves time in both Olorosso and Pedro Ximinez casks but the latter does not dominate as it does in so many whiskies - it simply seasons the whisky, adding an extra depth of fruit and richness which is further emphasised by the high notes of spice on the finish.
The finish is long and lingering. I don't think this is a whisky for food. Maybe it would work with a rich dark chocolate but I think it's more a cigar whisky, or to accompany an aged Java coffee. Or simply a whisky for contemplation and relishing.
I usually do add a drop or two of water to my whiskies but occasionally there comes a dram which is better straight, and this is one of them in my opinion. Yes, the nose is easier with a little water, more balanced and gentle, but the water really does seem to diminish the dram. When reviewing whiskies I usually look for a few specific flavours to help you to form an opinion as to whether the whisky might be to your liking. That just isn't relevant here. Elegant, rich, sophisticated, complex, fruity. Like good couture, it's a whisky that makes you feel better yourself and the world. The following are simply thoughts and do not diminish how much I have enjoyed The Parliament.
GlenDronach is part of The BenRiach Distillery Company, along with Glenglassaugh. Under the ownership of the entrepreneur Billy Walker the company has achieved almost cult status for many of its whiskies, and Billy Walker was named Entrepreneur of the Year in the 2016 Scotland Food & Drink Awards. I feel enormously sad that he has now sold these leading brands to Brown-Forman, the US drinks giant. I think the three brands are too big to be titled craft distilleries but they have, for me, given a fresh perspective on Speyside whiskies. I have been around in food too long to think that acquisition changes nothing: Green & Blacks chocolate is not what it was when bought by Cadbury and it certainly has changed more in the ownership of Nestle. Let's hope that the triumvirate that was The BenRiach DIstillery Company will continue to flourish. Remaining small is a calling: you might like to read this blog by Rob Hopkins of The Transition Movement on craft breweries. Craft whisky distilling is currently where craft breweries and CAMRA were about 20 years or so ago. We all hold our breath to see what will happen to Bruichladdich under the ownership of Remy Cointreau UK Ltd, and GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh under Brown-Forman. Fingers crossed.