Sniff, Swirl, And Sip: This Is What Goes On At A Single Malt Whisky Tasting
There’s no better way to discover and savor four distinct whiskies from The GlenDronach and BenRiach distilleries in Scotland
While the Philippine market has long been part of the global single malt trend these past 10 or so years, it has been the bigger, more well-known brands that have fueled this growth, encouraging spirits connoisseurs and aficionados alike to explore the many quality distilleries around Scotland.
One of those quality distilleries has been quietly making its presence felt in the Philippine market. The GlenDronach (not to be confused with its much bigger competitor, Glenfiddich), located in the East Highland hills deep in the Scottish Highlands, has been around since 1826 as one of the first licensed distilleries in Scotland. In 2016, The GlenDronach was acquired by Brown-Forman—the beverage giant most notably behind American whiskey behemoth Jack Daniel’s—together with the BenRiach and Glenglassaugh distilleries.
Brown-Forman National Brand Ambassador for Australia Grant Shearon recently swung by Manila to share his love for single malts with Manila-based whisky aficionados, whether experts or novices. He conducted a lively whisky tasting session held at Studio 28 in Uptown Parade, Bonifacio Global City.
It may surprise some that single malt whiskies didn’t used to be a “thing.” In the past, it was the blended whiskies that ruled the Scotch market, with distilleries selling their spirits to master blenders who combine them with whiskies from other distilleries to produce their signature blends. Single malts, on the other hand, are whiskies produced from one single distillery. According to Shearon, distillery owners have always made single malts, but traditionally just for their own consumption. That trend soon changed in the 1960s with Glenfiddich being the first distillery to actively promote single malts outside Scotland. Although The GlenDronach had always been producing single malts, it was only in 1968 when the distillery transformed into a single malt brand.
During The GlenDronach tasting at Studio 28, the South African-born Shearon seemed to have imbibed the Scottish spirit as he guided participants through a sampling of four whiskies with obvious relish. As participants took to each spirit, Shearon gave valuable pointers to facilitate the tasting. First, he encouraged them to raise their glasses to better appreciate the whisky’s golden color, which for the most part, can determine what kind of cask it is aged in—a stronger, deeper color for American casks, and a lighter hue for European casks. A swirl or two shows the whisky’s “legs,” the streaks left on the glass, a sign of how rich and syrupy it can come across, again determined by the type of cask used and the percentage of alcohol.
To get a whiff of the spirit’s aromas, Shearon advised to breathe through the mouth, place the nose over the glass, and sniff notes of fruit, spice, chocolate, or whatever distinct characteristics the whisky may have. When it was time to taste, Shearon had an interesting suggestion. First, taste the whisky on its own, then add a few drops of water to the glass, then taste again. The addition of water, according to Shearon, opens up the flavors a bit more.
With those pointers, participants were guided by Shearon through a tasting of three The GlenDronach whiskies and one BenRiach spirit.
Shearon described The GlenDronach Original Aged 12 Years, with 43% ABV (alcohol by volume), as “sherry bombs” with notes of ginger, apricot, peach, and even chocolate, coming from its ageing in both sherry Oloroso and Pedro Jimenez casks. Compared to the BenRiach, this spirit is creamier, more malty, and richer.
Shearon then brought out The GlenDronach Allardice Aged 18 Years which he named his “breakfast whisky” thanks to its “double espresso” color and rich coffee, chocolate, and stewed fruits flavors. Named in honor of James Allardice, the first owner of the distillery, this “big” 18-year-old was aged in Oloroso sherry casks and bottled at 46% ABV.
Shearon then let participants have a dram each of the ultimate GlenDronach Parliament Aged 21 Years. Strong and rich at 48% ABV, Shearon described it as an “absolute sherry feast” with classic sherry notes of light candied orange, lemon peel, and ginger.
The tasting wasn’t just about The GlenDronach whiskies as Shearon also offered a sampling of The BenRiach 10 Years Old from its sibling distillery. This single malt is finished in both bourbon and sherry casks, with Shearon describing its beautiful vanilla, toffee, and butterscotch notes.
With the tasting of these four whiskies, Shearon offered four very different expressions of single malt Scotch whisky, and deepened the knowledge and flavor experiences of participants as they ended the night with a few more sips of Scotland’s national drink.
The GlenDronach and BenRiach whiskies are available at S&R branches