The new “What’s on the Shelf?” series of posts are normally reserved for items which I’ve seen in retail settings and wanted to comment on, even though I didn’t purchase them; I’m making an exception in this case. I purchased a bottle of Glendronach 12 year last week which I may not open anytime soon, but I wanted to mention it here now, as time is of the essence.
The current bottlings of Glendronach’s flagship 12 year old mark the end of an era. Historically, the vast majority of the pot stills used by Scotland’s malt whisky industry were coal fired. Most of them converted over to indirect steam heating (via internal steam coils) in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Today, there are four distilleries that continue to use direct heat with a live flame under at least some of their stills; Macallan, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich and Springbank. But each of those four switched over from coal to either natural gas of fuel oil decades ago. Glendronach was the last holdout in Scotland to continue the tradition of making malt whisky with coal fired pot stills; until 2005 when they converted to steam.
Since 2016 is rapidly coming to a close I decided I should pick up a bottle of Glendronach 12 while I could still be assured that it was distilled no later than 2004. Of course, older bottlings of Glendronach that were distilled in the coal fired stills will be available for many years to come. Also, When I got this bottle home, took it out of the canister and gave it a good looking over I was happy to see that the bottling date was clearly printed on the glass, The year was even there with all four numerals and the date wasn’t embed in a complex bottling code that I’d have to figure out how to decipher. It was, however, in the slightly unconventional format of year/month/day; 2014/02/18.
Yes, that is correct; this one was bottled nearly three years ago. I guess there may be opportunities to buy Glendronach 12 which was distilled prior to 2005 for some time to come; as long as you are willing to take the bottle out of the packaging while you’re in the store and hold it up to the light to look for that date.
If you wanted to hunt for a bottle of Glendronach that was even more rare and special, you’d be on the lookout for something that was distilled prior to 1996. That’s the year that the distillery decommissioned its floor maltings. I’m not sure if they were supplementing with commercial malt back then, but they had been using local peat in the kiln to dry the malt they made themselves. In those days the average peating level ran up as high as 14 ppm. Most of the malt they buy today is unpeated, but they did come out with a lightly peated bottling last year. It is non-age stated and aged primarily in Bourbon barrels rather than the full Sherry cask maturation that Glendronach is known for. I’d much rather search out one of the older bottlings.
My intention is to sit on this bottle of 12 year for a while, until I can get another example that was distilled after the conversion to steam heat to see how they compare. We’ll see if I can hold out that long.