It’s Worth a Trip to the Sunset Strip to Try This Scotch
Master Blender Rachel Barrie shares the secrets of GlenDronach, which you can (and should) try at Tesse
Scotch remains a mystery to plenty of American drinkers. Whiskey is familiar, but Scotch, or “whisky,” if you will, remains an acquired taste for many, when it’s acquired at all.
To find best-in-class whiskies that can convert just about anyone, it’s prudent to consider under-the-radar distilleries in Scotland — a category that definitely includes GlenDronach, the country’s second-oldest licensed whisky distiller. The single malt Scotch brand is powered by Dr. Rachel Barrie, who was the only woman in the role of master blender when she attained it back in 2003 at Glenmorangie.
Barrie now handles all the blending for not just GlenDronach but sister brands Benriach and Glenglassaugh. One of her responsibilities is helping people understand the complexities of her spirit of choice.
“There are some very varied expectations (and myths) of what Scotch tastes like,” Barrie tells InsideHook. “Some might associate Scotch with a light blended Scotch whisky style, while at the other extreme, some might describe it as smoky and strong. It might be a surprise for people to discover that only a small percentage of Scotch whiskies are distinctively smoky. This character is derived from the days when peat, anthracite and coal were added to the fire to dry the barley in the malting process.”
Nowadays, most distilleries have moved over from the coal-fired stills to steam heat. GlenDronach made the switch in 2005 — the last Scottish distiller to do so. The addition of coal, peat and anthracite to the still fire is where a lot of the smoky flavor initially came from. Another element that’s a huge part of the flavor profile of a Scotch whisky is the cask-aging technique, which Barrie notes that wine drinkers will be more familiar with because it’s similar to barrel aging.
“Much like wine, as people discover a diverse range of distilleries, their eyes are opened to the world of flavor from each individual distillery, carefully nurtured through maturation in different oak casks,” Barrie says. “Sherry is a fortified wine that was imported into the United Kingdom for bottling in the early 19th century, around the time when the GlenDronach distillery was first established. Since 1826, after the sherry was decanted from oak, the empty sherry casks were sent to the distillery to fill with the spirit off the still.”
GlenDronach uses sherry casks for aging all of their alcohol. The distillery imports casks into Scotland from the Jerez wine region in Andalusia, Spain, using only high-quality Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks. Barrie says that each of these casks imbues a different set of characteristics into the Scotch: Ximénez aging helps develop “dried dark fruit, chocolate and treacle sweetness,” while Oloroso contributes “acidity and nutty/spicy character.” It takes quite some time for these flavors to imbue, so the baseline for an original bottle of GlenDronach is 12 years. Higher levels in their core range include 15-, 18- and 21-year bottles, and they’ve also developed a Cask Bottling line to bring some of the choicest Scotch to drinkers across the world.
The brand just released their 19th batch from the Cask Bottling collection, all bottled from a total of 12 casks selected by Barrie. Distilled between 1990 and 1994, the batch was distributed across different regions, and the 1992 Cask 6052 was selected for California. Barrie describes this one as “a sumptuous ripe berry fruit, cocoa and honeyed sweetness” — a Scotch with “a more flamboyant personality [that’s] richly expressive with bramble and plum dark fruits, and a texture like a swathe of silk-velvet.”
While GlenDronach isn’t available at every neighborhood bar, Tesse, a French restaurant on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, does carry Barrie’s work. Tesse’s beverage director, Heidi Wittekind, noted that carrying GlenDronach helps them expand the average drinker’s understanding of the spirit, while supporting a talented woman leading the way in the spirit space.
“As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I love to promote women doing great things,” Wittekind says. “Dr. Rachel Barrie’s GlenDronach line, fully matured in ex-sherry casks, is a great way to tie our spirits program into our extensive wine program, and showcases the wide breadth of scotch. Not everything is a smoke bomb!”
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