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The glendronach

How to Develop Your Whisky Palate

In Partnership with The GlenDronach

More than an indulgence, whisky is a gateway into a deeper experience of adulthood. If the idea of sampling a complex single malt over the course of the afternoon sounds ideal, but you have no experience drinking anything beyond an entry-level blended drop mixed with cola, there’s room to grow. While the single malt variety might be an intimidating start for the novice, a great single malt is the true reflection of whisky excellence, and what better time to experiment with Father’s Day around the corner.

Grab a bottle for yourself and one for your Dad, sit back, relax and enjoy learning more about your single malt journey.

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The Cask of Choice

When it comes to premium whisky, even the slightest of changes make a major difference. Scotch has a tailored history of tradition handed down over many years, and as such, finding ways to expand and develop upon the existing flavour profiles can be challenging, but as many a distiller has learned, it comes down to the casks, and rightfully so.

Between 40-70 per cent of the character of a malt whisky develops during the ageing process, with the type of cask used playing a significant role. Will it take on sweet characteristics? Earthy notes? Vanilla flavours? Despite what you may think, the vast majority of a whisky’s flavour profile is developing from the cask, not the distillation process itself.

On one hand, bourbon barrels like those used by Benriach generally add vanilla, honey and fruit to the dram, finishing with a light, dry sweetness, while sherry casks, like the ones used by Highland Scotch producers such as The GlenDronach contribute richer sweetness with vanilla and dried fruit notes including raisins and prunes. These differences may be subtle to the novice, but to distilleries that birth these releases, cask selection is key.

For The GlenDronach, in particular, the art of sherried cask whisky is core to the distillery’s identity. For close to 200 years, the Scottish icon has carried forth the tradition of founder James Allardice, maturing its whisky in the finest Spanish Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks from Andalucía. The combination allows the brand to dabble in different worlds, with the Pedro Ximenez casks offering sweet fruity flavours, while the Oloroso casks provide dry and nutty notes. Throw that change of profile in with the complexity of Highlands Style whisky and it’s little wonder the dram has remained a fan favourite for close to two centuries.

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Highlands Style

The Scottish Highlands gave birth to the legends like Rob Roy and William Wallace, as well as a long history of classic whisky distilleries. There is an exciting history to the single malt that encompasses the Gaelic people and their clans.

To the east of the northern highlands boundary line, The GlenDronach distillery in Aberdeenshire has established a reputation for its delicious range of sherried single malts since 1826.

The GlenDronach whisky maker James Allardice inherited the Boynsmill Estate in 1800, paired with his chemist nephew Robert Davidson, and expanded their yeast sales interests into whisky distilling.

Within several years they were doing a brisk face-to-face business, and establishing their reputation as a new face in the whisky business.  The master distillers used a traditional floor malting process when drying malted barley until the mid-1990’s, adding smoke to the rich dark chocolate and fruit flavours imparted by The GlenDronach’s signature Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry oak casks.

Changing hands over the last twenty years, The GlenDronach distillery under new ownership is currently producing a devilish, deliciously spicy and sweet range of single malt whisky. Their GlenDronach Original 12 Years Old is a great place for the single malt enthusiast to get started, and an ideal present for your dad on Father’s Day.

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The Glass

First thing is first, you’re going to need something beyond a shot glass if you’re really going to savour a neat single malt whisky. There are a few options, but generally you’re going to want a lower volume glass. For instance, a highball wouldn’t make sense when you’re trying to really smell and taste the contents of the whisky. Here are some examples to consider:

  • A tulip glass, aka the ‘copita-style’ glass, is ideal for drinking the single malt, as the tighter neck of the glass concentrates the taste and smell (or the ‘nose’) of the whisky.
  • A standard lowball, or old fashioned glass, a brandy balloon or ‘snifter’, or purpose-built whisky glasses like the NEAT glass and the Glencairn Crystal are also ideal.
  • The NEAT or Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology glass has a wide-set mouth, resembling a shorter, fatter science beaker. The result of a misfire during production, the wide glass helps to spread the alcohol in a single malt whisky’s nose, making it more palatable.
  • The Glencairn Crystal Whisky Glass is purpose-fired solely for drinking whisky. It has a beautiful tapered neck, comes in a pair and retails for about eleven dollars, so you and your dad can have a drink together or via social media during this pandemic-affected Father’s Day.

If you’re feeling particularly extra and need a goblet, the premium version is cut crystal embossed with Scottish tartan, and cost around one hundred dollars.  Whatever you choose, you’ll be able to find your ideal glass to order online.

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How to Develop Your Whisky Palate

Like many things in life, there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy whisky, and the key to developing your whisky palate is simple – Try a lot of whiskies. By creating a reference point for what you do and don’t like, you’ll better understand how to articulate your preferences and slowly over time, you’ll identify flavour profiles. But aside from simply diving into dram after dram, there are a few terms every whisky drinker should be aware of.

Rich vs Light

Perhaps the most straightforward of tasting notes, rich and light refer to the depth of flavour in a whisky. Specifically, rich whiskies tend to evoke a strong flavour characterised by the wood it has been aged in.These whiskies will have deep flavour notes, such as spice and vanilla, where light whiskies will be very much the opposite. The lighter the whisky, the more likely you are to taste fruits and fresh flavours, from the outset and throughout.

Delicate vs Bold

It’s often hard to understand how one could refer to a 40% Scotch as delicate, but it’s not so much about strength and flavours. Delicate whiskies tend to exhibit more grounded tastes such as barley, whereas bold flavours might refer to peat, smoke and robustness. It can take some time to get your head around these terms, but knowing the difference between them can safeguard you from buying a dud dram.

Tasting Notes

If you’ve bought a bottle of whisky, you would have no doubt stumbled across the funny descriptions written on the back. These tasting notes refer to the stages of the flavour profile and can be extremely helpful in determining a whisky’s taste. These include:

  • The Nose – The flavour profile distinguished by a whisky’s scent or aroma. To properly ‘nose’ a whisky, swill your glass to release the aromas, gently take a waft by holding the glass about 20cm from your nose and breathe in through both your nose and mouth.
  • The Palate – The initial taste flavours. Now, the tongue is divided into four main areas: the tip for sweet, either side for sour or salty, and the middle for bitter. Let the whisky linger in your mouth for a while, hitting all points  of reference. Try to wade past the burn and unearth the more complex flavours.
  • The Finish – Once you taste the whisky, the finish is the lasting imprint it leaves on your mouth. A short finish refers to a flavour that quickly dissipates after swallowing, whereas a long finish can sit in your mouth well after the dram is done.

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The Dram Itself

Ah yes, the whisky itself. Now that you have your glass and know what you’re talking about, it’s finally time to drink! The GlenDronach whisky range offers a novel experience of the single malt variety, and the best place to start is their flagship GlenDronach Original 12 Year Old.

With all the robust flavours of the Highlands, The GlenDronach has a fruity, drinkable quality that isn’t overly smokey, making the Original 12 Year Old expression a great first drop for a new fan.  When trying the whisky, open your mouth as well as your nose to the drink, breathing it in before you take your first sip. With practice you’ll identify the various scents and flavours present – sherry, oak, fruit like ripe apples and pears, and of course the deliciously complex spice of the alcohol.

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Part of that fantastic taste comes from the masterful process of sherry cask maturation, which marries robust Highland whisky with the sweetness and spiciness of Spanish oak. The rich flavour imparted by famous Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry oak casks contains hints of nuts, dried fruits and dark chocolate with a medium length ‘finish’ or lingering note, a quality found across The GlenDronach range.

The GlenDronach is very well-regarded in the Scotch Whisky community, a hidden gem that is emerging as a competitive first drop for new whisky fans. Whether you’re developing your personal palate, or sharing a dram with dad this Father’s Day, The GlenDronach Original 12 Year Old is a complex and affordable start to your single malt collection.

Buy it here