Saturday 30 September 2023

Women in Whisky, GlenDronach Tasting with Dr Rachel Barrie, inc GlenDronach Grandeur Batch 12 [Tasted #651]

In the world of whisky, few names resonate as powerfully as that of Dr. Rachel Barrie. With a career spanning over 28 years, she has left an indelible mark on the industry. Trained as a bio-chemist, Dr. Rachel Barrie began her journey under the mentorship of the legendary whisky figure, Dr. Jim Swan.

Before joining Brown Forman in 2017 as a master blender, she honed her skills at renowned distilleries such as Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, and Bowmore. At Brown Forman, she has been instrumental in crafting the unique identities of The GlenDronach, Benriach, and Glenglassaugh’s Single Malt Scotch whiskies.

One of her most significant contributions to date is the relaunch of Benriach’s entire core range as well as the recent Glenglassaugh Coastal series which we had reviewed earlier this year. This ambitious project is widely regarded as a testament to her vision and authority as a master blender.

Dr. Rachel Barrie’s influence extends beyond blending exceptional whiskies. She has played a pivotal role in shaping the future of each distillery through bespoke, considered maturation in quality oak casks. Her efforts have helped attract a more diverse audience to the world of whisky than ever before.

Often referred to as Scotch Whisky’s First Lady, Dr. Rachel Barrie’s contributions have not gone unnoticed. She is a proud member of Whisky Magazine’s illustrious Hall of Fame, a fitting recognition for a woman who continues to inspire many in the industry.

So when I found out she was making her way to Australia, I was excited. As often happens with Master Blenders, they get whizzed around the country to host a number of events and dinners while they are in town. Time for Whisky was extended the opportunity (thanks to Brown Forman and We Are Different PR) to join the Women in Whisky event with Dr. Rachel Barrie and given her superb contributions over the years, I knew this was a special panel.

The event featured a panel, hosted by Carmen Hartwich, Queensland-based Brand Ambassador for Brown Forman and featured Dr Rachel Barrie, Kathleen Davies, of Nip of Courage and Emily Cason, co-founder and director of The Whisky Club.  

Kathleen, as most would know, has over 30 years of experience in the industry, having founded Nip of Courage, Aussie Tipple Company and more importantly Women of Australian Distilling. Emily Cason, one of the co-founders of The Whisky Club has a background in the global drinks trade and publishing and has successfully founded The Whisky Club which has now grown far and wide to serve distinct whisky releases to the masses.

The panel discussion noted the progress and the importance of fostering diversity and inclusion within the whisky industry. A noteworthy trend is the increasing participation and leadership of women across various roles. Emily added that there has also been an ongoing evolution of the drinking culture, especially among younger generations, who are now exploring and developing an enhanced appreciation for quality whisky. Emily explained that over 65% of The Whisky Club's membership base consists of individuals under the age of 35. Furthermore, data underscores a distinct shift toward quality over quantity, with younger members willingly investing in premium, higher-quality whiskies.

The profound influence of female leaders like Dr. Rachel Barrie, Kathleen, Emily and Carmen cannot be understated. Their pioneering contributions have not only left an indelible mark on the industry but have also served as a wellspring of inspiration, nurturing the next generation of female whiskey lovers and enthusiasts. This past decade has witnessed a transformation in the whisky landscape, making it more accessible and enjoyable. This paradigm shift has effectively shattered stereotypes, rendering the industry more inclusive and inviting to individuals of diverse backgrounds, regardless of gender.

A number of highlights from the panel discussion:

Over my 30 years in the industry, it is encouraging to see the growth of diversity and inclusion in the whisky industry for women particularly. In 2021, we recruited Kirsten Ainslie into the role of assistant blender, so it’s been fantastic working and mentoring her, seeing the long term commitment to investing into and growing our single malts. 
- Dr Rachel Barrie, Master Blender at The GlenDronach, Glenglassaugh and Benriach 
“It's truly wonderful to witness the passion and enthusiasm that's drawing more people into the whisky category. The modern whisky drinker can’t be stereotyped by gender, affluence or age. What brings us all together is our shared passion for whisky, which transcends any basic demographic data or industry cliches.” 
- Emily Cason, The Whisky Club 
“My mission, as well as the mission of the board and our team, is to encourage these women to step forward, apply for positions they may not feel they are qualified for, and give them opportunities like speaking at events, which they often aren't invited to participate in. When I first started my career, I was one of 13 females amongst a pool of 500 men, and even though it was tough, I kept going and pushing forward. We are committed to encouraging these women to take the leap, improve themselves, and serve as a supportive cheerleading squad for them.” 
- Kathleen Davies, Women of Australian Distilling 
“It's about having a passion, curiosity, and the courage to put yourself forward. It's about continuously learning something new every day and just going for it. My approach is to ‘nurture the best nature’ of each distillery, fully understanding how each environment influences them. I’m always looking to raise the bar, raise expectations. 
- Dr Rachel Barrie, Master Blender at The GlenDronach, Glenglassaugh and Benriach

Following the panel discussion, Dr Rachel Barrie then hosted a tasting of three Glendronachs;

  • GlenDronach 18yo, also known as Allardice; named after the renowned founder of the distillery, James Allardice.
  • GlenDronach 21yo, aka the Parliament, aptly named after the 'parliament (colony)' of rooks that have been nesting in the trees that overlook the GlenDronach distillery for almost 200 years; and
  • GlenDronach 28yo 1994 single cask #1769
As a GlenDronach fan, the tasting was phenomenal as expected and it was great to have also gone through the tasting with Dr. Rachel Barrie, indulging in the very fine thing that she has spent day and night creating. To cap off the night, we were all given a mystery dram which was later revealed to be the 2023 GlenDronach Grandeur (Batch 12) Personally, I have never tasted the Grandeur prior so I knew this was special.

The GlenDronach Grandeur is a limited edition release and was originally released as a special edition whisky in association with the Kingsman movie franchise. The original release was known as The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage and was created in collaboration with Matthew Vaughn, the director of the Kingsman film franchise. The original release was produced from a selection of six casks distilled in 1989, matured in Oloroso sherry casks and finished in PX casks. There was also a subsequent release, the GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1991, a 25yo.

The 2023 edition of the GlenDronach Grandeur, also known as Batch 12, is a 29yo, matured for almost 30 years in Oloroso casks and bottled at 49.2% ABV. 

GlenDronach Grandeur 29yo Batch 12 (49.2% ABV, Highland, Scotland, A$TBC)


A rich and opulent GlenDronach that has all the typical hallmarks of full-bodied sherried GlenDronach mixed with velvety elegance. As Dr Rachel Barrie described, the Grandeur series is rather “rich, indulgent, exuberant and full-bodied sherry cask style”. 

Nose: Velvety, the nose is filled with sticky date pudding with remnants of dates, creme brulee, rich custard, and a hint of vanilla slice. The nose is rich, sweet and opulent.

Palate: The palate is rather interesting, while there is the sweetness that follows from the nose, the initial palate is salty, salted caramel, espresso mixed with milk chocolate. It is a bit dry on the mouth but has a mixture of raisins and white pepper.

Finish: The finish is long, drying, and leaves nutty and mild spices on the palate

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy)

Thanks to Dr Rachel Barrie, Brown Forman and We Are Different PR for having us at the Women in Whisky special event. 


Tuesday 19 September 2023

Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1949 from Glenlivet Distillery 74 Year Old [Tasted #650]

It seems like only yesterday I posted a trio of incredible whiskies from Gordon & MacPhail (because it was, admittedly a little late on my part), but evidently time and new releases wait for no-one, because today I'm back to taste G&M's latest - which just happens to be the second oldest whisky I've ever tried!

Glenlivet & Glen Grant seem to both be whiskies that can take incredible age, so it's no surprise this whisky hails from the former. Distilled on New Year's Day 1949 and bottled 6th March 2023, the whisky slumbered for an incredible 74 years in a single refill Sherry butt under the care of G&M, who were able to produce 192 bottles at a very respectable 49.3% ABV.

Drinking whisky distilled before I was born is a rare treat these days. Drinking whisky distilled before my parents were born though? I honestly didn't know if I'd get the chance again...and yet here we are.

Dave Broom said of the whisky:
"To find a whisky of this age is absolutely extraordinary. What comes across immediately is the fruit - there’s richness and there’s depth. You have this wonderful interplay of distillery character, of oak and oxygen. It’s a gift that keeps on giving." let's see how I felt about it!
Gordon & MacPhail 1949 from Glenlivet Distillery 74yo Private Collection (49.3% ABV, 74yo, Refill Sherry Butt #11, Speyside, Scotland, One of 192 bottles, £35,000)

Distilled on 1 January 1949(!) and bottled 74 years later on 6 March 2023, this incredible whisky has matured over a longer period of time than most people spend on this earth! It also happens to be the last cask of 1949 Glenlivet from Gordon & MacPhail.

Colour: Copper gold

Nose: Waxy oranges, dunnage warehouse and clean, sweet sherry to start with. Then comes ginger, toffee, the slightest hint of leather polish, cinnamon spice, and with some air, peach and stone fruit compote.

Palate: Big and rich, it flits back and forth between spicy sherry and zesty fruity/citrus notes, with mandarin peel, flamed orange peel, a slight meatiness and dusty oak. A second sip shows some chocolate - both milk and dark, more oranges (whole this time), Christmas cake, and an emerging herbaceousness - mint, or is that tea tree? It's a beautifully complex palate. Dave Broom referred to its layers and complexity, and he's spot on. There's tonnes going on here, all working in harmony. The oak spice is an underlying theme, but considering this whisky spent 74 years in oak, it retains impressive balance.

Finish: Long, orange chocolate with a soft residual oak undertone.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Martin).
Generally speaking, a whisky shouldn't normally make it to 74 years old and still be good. How G&M manage to consistently put out whiskies of 60, 70, 80 years old that aren't just "good", but "incredible" never ceases to amaze me.

For the past 19 days, the whisky has been available for purchase at Dubai International Airport. Launched in partnership with Le Clos on Friday 1st September, the Dubai airport store had an exclusivity period, but the whisky is now available worldwide as of today, priced at £35,000. 


Monday 18 September 2023

Gordon & MacPhail Recollection Series #2: 1981 Port Ellen, 1973 Glen Mhor & 1976 Banff [Tasted #647 - 649]

It's been a few months since we tried an incredibly-aged release from Gordon & MacPhail (the Mr George Legacy 3rd Edition, if you're wondering) and thanks to the good folk at G&M, today we have not one, not two, but three more new releases - this time from "The Recollection Series #2".

As the name suggests, the annual Recollection series (first launched in 2022) celebrates closed distilleries, this time across both Private Collection and Conoisseurs Choice ranges. Consisting of 18 expressions from 15 distilleries, the full series includes:

  • Port Ellen 1981 – RRP £10,000
  • Glen Mhor 1973 – RRP £6,000
  • Banff 1976 – RRP £4,300
  • Caperdonich 1979 – RRP £3,500
  • Dallas Dhu 1979 – RRP £3,500
  • Glen Albyn 1979 – RRP £3,500
  • Glenlochy 1979 – RRP £3,500
  • Imperial 1979 – RRP £4,000
  • Lochside 1981 – RRP £3,750
  • Linlithgow 1982 – RRP £3,000
  • Glen Esk 1984 – RRP £2,200
  • Inverleven 1985 – RRP £2,000
  • Littlemill 1991 – RRP £1,600
  • Lochside 1991 – RRP £1,600
  • Rosebank 1991 – RRP £2,000
  • Pittyvaich 1992 – RRP £1,200
  • Imperial 1997 – RRP £380
  • Imperial 1998 – RRP £360

Tasting any of these would've been a treat, but luckily the first three (in bold) above are global releases, and it's those we're tasting today. It's not every day you get to try a 42 year old Port Ellen, so let's get into it...

Gordon & MacPhail "The Recollection Series #2" Port Ellen 1981 42yo (52.5% ABV, 42yo, Refill Sherry Butt #290, Islay, Scotland, One of 181 bottles, £10,000)

Distilled on 28 Jan 1981 and bottled 6 Feb 2023, and hailing from arguably the most famous closed Scotch malt whisky distillery, the whisky was distilled just two years before Port Ellen shut its doors in 1983. They won't stay shut forever though, as the distillery is set to re-open this year.

Colour: Copper-brown mahogany

Nose: Subtle bonfire notes with rum & raisin, BBQ'd pork, cherry smoke and hints of cinnamon. Already a lot going on (all of it good), right from the outset.

Palate: Red cherries, cigar box, with the faintest whiff of residual smoke. There's some oak (not too much), baked apple pie crust, some pepper spice, and some sweeter rich Christmas cake notes. Very complex, very clean, very robust.

Finish: Long, with poached pears, dried cherries and a dusty residual smoke. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Martin).
There's a LOT going on here and it's all very well-integrated. An impeccable dram.

Gordon & MacPhail "The Recollection Series #2" Glen Mhor 1973 49yo (57.2% ABV, 49yo, Refill Sherry Hogshead #85026801, Highland, Scotland, One of 170 bottles, £6,000)

Distilled on 30 April 1973 and bottled 10 Jan 2023, this whisky hails from Glen Mhor which may not be well-known by the average whisky drinker, but certainly rewards those who come across it.

Colour: Golden copper-brown

Nose: Funky cola chews (I love finding this note in well-aged sherried whiskies, rare though it is), citrus zest, BBQ rub, then smoked paprika, za'atar, with an underlying juiciness. Very strong competitor for nose of 2023 so far. Just incredible.

Palate: Less zest and juiciness than the nose, more rounded and mature, with mature oak more noticeable. BBQ meat follows, with a slightly earthy / vegetal note (mint / Eucalyptus even?), some overripe oranges, pecan pie & rich toffee.

Finish: LONG, with a soft lingering oak spice and hints of chocolate mint slice.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Martin).
Absolutely incredible nose (one of those drams I could happily nose for an hour), with a very strong palate and finish. Complex like few other drams - take your time with this one, you'll be rewarded.

Gordon & MacPhail "The Recollection Series #2" Banff 1976 46yo (50.4% ABV, 46yo, Refill Sherry Butt #2887, Highland, Scotland, One of 109 bottles, £4,300)

Distilled on 26 Oct 1976 and bottled 3 Feb 2023. Banff is sometimes called "Scotland's unluckiest distillery", having been destroyed in a fire (twice), and bombed by the Luftwaffe during WWII. Like Port Ellen, Banff closed in 1983, but unlike Port Ellen there are no plans to re-open it.

Colour: Yellow golden sunset

Nose: Immediately, one of those "incredibly old and complex light style sherry" noses. Not dissimilar to this G&M 70yo Glen Grant from 2019. There's a yellow / stone fruitiness - pears, grapefruit, peach, followed by wafts of light smoke (earthy, not peated) & dunnage warehouse. After a decent airing, some slightly funky notes (the pleasant kind) emerge.

Palate: Follows the nose well, adding a touch of oak, more peach and strawberry, vanilla cream, baked peach pie & ginger. An elegant, well-aged, balanced palate.

Finish: Long, with ginger and hints of residual grapefruit.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Martin).
I had high hopes for this and it exceeded even them. For me, on par with the Port Ellen, yet a very different style of dram.

Thanks as always to G&M for the samples.