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Whisky Tasting Debrief: Brown Forman


For our November tasting we welcomed back Matt Chambers to take us through the spectrum of the Brown-Forman range; the holy trinity of Glenglassaugh, GlenDronach and BenRiach. Although the company has been around a while – they can trace their roots back to 1870 – there have been a few changes in the products of late and Matt was keen to tell us all about it. It appeared that a lot of the innovation happening at the moment was encouraged by their most recent master blender, the intriguing Rachel Barrie.


We began the tasting gently, with two Glenglassaughs.

Our first whisky was the aptly named ‘Revival’, from Glenglassaugh. The alcohol by volume was sat at that magic number, 46%. New beginnings seemed to be the theme of the night as Matt commented that the distillery was founded at Sandend Bay in 1875 but that the building ‘…doesn’t really look like its from 1875, or 18-anything’. Glenglassaugh was updated in the 1960s and in a very contemporary style – so even the distillery has had its own revival! Nevertheless, Matt said he was fond of the architecture and recommended a visit to the distillery.

The whisky itself was a great opening act; sweet, fresh and soft. A lot of sharp pear on the nose and a sweeter and smoother taste on the palate. After adding some drops of water, the aromas really opened up into mellow sweetness and honey; on the palate, Revival became icing-sugar sweet. The lighter side of the whisky can be traced back to production with Matt commenting on the distillery’s tall stills. An undercurrent of spice was evident, which I think may have been down to the wood it was matured it. Overall it was a bit more complex than anticipated; sweet with an earthy or winter-spiced depth.

glenglassaugh distillery 2Glenglassaugh, via Whisky Wash

Next, we all sipped on the slightly peated sister expression of Revival, Torfa. Well-seasoned tasting patrons may raise their eyebrows at this. It is unusual to sample a peaty whisky so close to the start of a tasting because they tend to coat the palate and change how any whisky you try afterwards is perceived, giving it a smoky taint. Yet, unlike other famous peaty whiskies, the peat used to dry the barley for Torfa is sourced from the Highlands which leads to a softer, sweeter and almost floral peaty aroma. On the nose this dram was surprisingly different to Revival with a much more rounded sweetness and, of course, that peated edge to it. The peat was perhaps emphasised by its strength as this whisky is 50% ABV. Although it was heavier and oiler on the palate than Revival it was by no means a heavy-bodied dram with a short and gentle finish. You weren’t going to be tasting this for weeks after one sip. Matt let us know that there had only been a short run of Torfa so any fans of the lightly peated whisky would be wise to get their hands on it wherever they find it. He also mentioned that the distribution for Glenglassaugh generally is quite small and that bottles of this whisky can only be found in a select number of stores – so perfect if you want to buy someone something a little bit special.

Next, we moved onto the famously Christmassy dram, GlenDronach.

Ever the rebel Matt went from an early-tour peated whisky to a mid-tour CASK STRENGTH DRAM. What a guy.

Our third whisky of the night was GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 8 which stood up to the GlenDronach legacy of the rich, Christmas-spiced dram. Continuing the theme of new beginnings this expression was released in the autumn of this year. The Cask Strength is 61% ABV and matured in both Oloroso and PX casks leading to a very full, rich and sweet flavour indeed. Finding a whisky finished in one sherry cask is exciting enough, but two made for a mesmerising sherry bomb. Matt himself described GlenDronach as ‘drinking liquid raisins with a blob of treacle in it.’ GlenDronach Cask Strength is also limited with only 6,000 bottles released. Matt let us in on some family history, this heavy sherry influence in GlenDronach could be traced back to their predecessor’s love of wine. James Allardice who founded the distillery had been a wine connoisseur who then travelled around Europe on a quest to find the greatest barrels. Matt told us that he spent a lot of time in the south of Europe so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine him strolling the streets of Jerez in Spain, where sherry is made. This interest in wine and fine wood has evolved and culminated in the GlenDronach we find today, with its lashings of oak and raisin.

GlenDronach DistilleryGlenDronach Distillery, via Scotch

For our fourth whisky we were treated to the GlenDronach 18, which sits at 46% ABV. This is the smallest batch of the whole core range, confirmed by Matt as a firm favourite and I believe much coveted by people in the know. The master blender, now Rachel Barrie, selects 4/5 barrels at a time, producing just over 1,000 bottles. So, it would make for another excellent hard-to-find gift. Matt summarised this as ‘a core product, carefully managed.’ If you ask me, GlenDronach 18 is a strong contender for the definitive Christmas-in-a-glass whisky; exclusively matured in Oloroso, notes of orange and musky cinnamon on the nose with a rich almost dry taste on the tongue. GlenDronach is in many ways diametrically opposed to Glenglassaugh with short, fat stills creating a rich, heavy dram. These differences made for a nice variety in the tasting.

Our penultimate whisky was, for me, the most surprising of the night, BenRiach Sherry Wood 12 (46% ABV). Continuing with the rich, raisin-y theme this is the only BenRiach to be completely matured in sherry casks. This expression is also finished in Oloroso and PX – result! BenRiach is quite a light, fresh-fruit whisky but this expression changed the game. The 12 is nutty on the nose and big on the palate; its full-bodied and rich without being overly sweet. I got loads of mature fruits and a beautiful, musty, oaky flavour. Thinking back on new beginnings, this is a great moment for BenRiach have been going through some changes. Rachel Barrie’s influence is perhaps the most apparent here; she has streamlined their range and used her flavour-wisdom to create some cracking drams. BenRiach was always a quirky distillery with a lot of different expressions; Matt was telling us that the warehouses had housed a chaotic smorgasbord of casks perhaps resulting in the huge spectrum of previous releases. He also let us know that this interesting distillery will soon be open to the public.

BenRiach DistilleryBenRiach Distillery, via The Drinks Business

We finished up with the oldest dram of the night, BenRiach 21 Temporis (46%). Released last year this also can be credited to the creative energy of Rachel Barrie who may have taken inspiration from that busy warehouse as its matured in virgin oak, PX casks, red wine as well as traditional bourbon casks. In addition to the range of flavours created through the wood this is a peated expression, using the same peat as Glenglassaugh’s Torfa but to a higher PPM. Overall the 21 was a surprisingly subtle dram, equal parts floral smoke and fruity sweetness. After the rich whiskies of the night it was great to end on a complex and refined expression.

Tickets for the January Whisky Tasting with Isle Of Arran Distillers is now live! Purchase your tickets now... 

Keep an eye out for February and March whisky tastings over next few weeks!