There are several types of whisky drinkers you will encounter on your whisky adventure. A dozen variations on each, but there are a few core characteristics that emerge again and again. The Big Man, The Brand-lover, The Brand-geek, The Booze Head, The Booze Bargainer, and The Big Spender. You can read more about those later, but not a one of these stereotypes was worthy this week.
But by chance or orchestration, I was.
By many definitions (most of them humanitarian), I am a wealthy woman. But not in the world of whisky. I choose my bottles for home carefully, I drink to a budget – most of the time. Some of the most extravagant and delicious treats I’ve enjoyed through the generosity of a kind friend. But sometimes, you know something precious is within your grasp so you make a plan to have it. I am the determined type of girl that usually finds a way to achieve the goal. So since I learned there was a bottle in the hands of my local bar, I’ve been making a plan to taste a once-in-a-lifetime whisky and hoped to be … worthy of it.
The Once In A Lifetime Unicorn Whiskies.
Not everyone has the same definition of once in a lifetime. Nor do they have the same requirements for a unicorn (so rare or hard to find it may not exist or come close to your hand during your lifetime) whisky. You probably know by now, how much I love the sherry cask. And the PX sherry cask is the favourite of them all. I’m drawn to those initials like a child in starlight, eyes wide and hopeful. I also love Speyside whiskies and I especially love unusual techniques and experiments. So drinking from the cask at Bruichladdich or tasting a rare, old malt in a hotel pub with the proprietor, these are experiences I treasure. My unicorn experiences and then, there are the unicorn bottles.
A Port Ellen 1979.
An original Octomore.
A Mortlach 25 year old single malt.
And a GlenDronach 1972.
GlenDronach is on the edge of the Speyside and Highlands region. Distilled on the 28th of February, 1972 and put to bed in a Pedro Ximenez Sherry Butt for 43 years, before being bottled in August 2015. Bottle 171 of 414. The oldest bottling in the 12th batch of single cask releases. It was bottled at 51.1% ABV.
Until Wednesday, GlenDronach was part of the BenRiach Distillery Company, which also owns Glengassaugh. Under the watchful eye of Billy Walker, they have produced fascinating wine finishes and explored new territories. Wednesday night, it was announced that BenRiach will be purchased for a large sum by Brown-Forman. You may not know Brown-Forman by name, but you will know it’s cornerstone brands; Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve.
This whisky by virtue of its heritage, age, cask and region was always going to be delicious. I’ve read of previous cask releases and it was going to push up my vertical understanding of what GlenDronach is all about.
There is plenty of chat in the whisky world right now about what will happen to these distilleries. Of course I’m curious about the old remaining stock – but for now, here’s what I tasted, on the night GlenDronach’s future changed again.
Nose: Tobacco, herbs, spice and warm chocolate, on a base of soft plum and raisins.
Palate: Buttery fruit cake with deep, rich raisins, graced with smoky orange notes and gentle round hazelnuts with that chocolate hint again.
Finish: The oak emerges from a deep, sweet cream finish and the tobacco returns gently.
The Jefferson announced the bottle was ready to be sold, so then it was just a matter of timing. This cask is sold out worldwide, at a regular bottle price of £780 thereabouts. You can imagine the dram price and enquire at the bar if you need t0.
To indulge, I needed to find myself worthy of it first, so achieving a wee personal milestone was an internal mark. Then the moment needed to be right – I, at peace, and the price set aside having earned it literally and figuratively. In the end, all it took was a little provocation. The right set of witnesses (I do love an audience) and the appropriate mood.
What is worthy? To understand the value of this whisky is not the price. Not the admiration or disbelief of the observers, or the approval of the owner, who had to retrieve it from safe-keeping. Although, momentarily I wondered if he would allow me the pleasure. ‘Are you sure?’, he asked several times.
Yes, I’m sure. Certain that the small, slow rotation of opening that bottle will stay with me like every other small triumph. I had hoped the fates would align that I could claim my taste of the GlenDronach before it sold out. Turns out, I was the first and then in quick succession they sold four more pours.
I want to say ‘Of course, because I made magic in the air with my desire and knowing of it. Of course, they were drawn to taste it too.’
It was probably coincidence.
Those tasting notes are just flavours. To me, it was magic under the guise of a regular Wednesday night. My secret desire of that molten paradise, taste of indulgence, the thrill of earning this pleasure and having it mine alone for a moment. The certainty and cementing of a recent lesson learnt with the aroma and taste of something magical on my tongue. That is worthy. The realisation of my intention and sheer celebration of something beautiful, fleeting and momentarily mine.
The bottle is now open at The Jefferson. Go be worthy and enjoy some magic, too. It won’t last long.