Douglas Cook is the Head of Global Brand Advocacy for The GlenDronach, Benriach and Glenglassaugh. He joined the team at GlenDronach almost 10 years ago initially as a Regional Export Manager managing the distribution of their portfolio in over twenty markets. Throughout his time at GlenDronach he also managed the development of The GlenDronach cask bottlings and creations of limited editions. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to Douglas today and find out a little bit more about the distillery, production and some of their incredible releases.
So Douglas, how did you get involved in the whisky industry?
Growing up in Edinburgh, it was at school that I developed a keen interest for foreign languages. I subsequently studied Marketing and Modern Languages at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.
After living and working in Central Spain and in Northern Germany, I discovered the culture, heritage and regional identity attached to the wines and beers produced in the regions in which I lived. This inspired me to learn more about the industry, history and heritage of my own country’s national drink, Scotch whisky. Upon returning to Scotland I joined the team of visitor assistants welcoming and educating international visitors at the Scotch Whisky Experience (formerly known as The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre) on Castlehill in Edinburgh. It was here that I developed my knowledge and a keen interest for Scotch whisky, fascinated by the diversity of styles of whisky but also by the geography, history, chemistry, engineering, architecture and alchemy, not to mention the wonderful story-telling.
The GlenDronach distillery has a long history that, like many distilleries, has been punctuated by temporary closure and changes in ownership. Can you tell us about the core principles by which The GlenDronach whisky is made that have lasted throughout and are still evident today?
The GlenDronach’s values of dedication and integrity have remained constant, passed down through the generations. As one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, steeped in history, little has changed in our traditional whisky-making methods. We have carried forth the tradition and time-honoured methods of our founder James Allardice since 1826, maturing our robust Highland spirit in the finest Spanish oak Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks from Andalucía in Spain. From the germination of the barley to the characterful and robust new make spirit, every step in The GlenDronach journey is taken with meticulous care and immaculate timing. Time really does slow down in the quiet Valley of Forgue, located deep in the East Highland hills. Our craftspeople work by sight, sound and smell, using traditional wooden wash backs, a copper mash tun and our distinctive saxophone-shaped stills, to create The GlenDronach’s rich, elegant character.
Could you tell us more about The GlenDronach’s relationship with the sherry cask? How do you source these casks? How do you assess their quality? How does this dedication to sourcing and selecting the very finest sherry casks impact the whisky?
The GlenDronach is an exceptional marriage of robust Highland spirit and exquisite, richly-sherried elegance. Our expressions are recognised for their deep colour and complex flavour profiles, which range from the sweet fruity flavours of the Pedro Ximénez casks, to the dry and nutty notes of our Oloroso casks. Every year, The GlenDronach Master Blender, Dr Rachel Barrie, spends time visiting the world famous sherry region of Andalucía in Spain, before carefully selecting the perfect, rare Spanish oak casks that finely craft each expression’s signature character from a marriage of both types of cask. We have increased supply of the highest quality Spanish oak sherry casks, a huge investment for the business, as Spanish oak contributes higher tannins and has a more porous wood, which is perfectly suited to slow maturation in the cool Scottish climate. Our dedication to sourcing and selecting the very finest sherry casks is reflected in all of our expressions. They work in synergy to create the complex depth of flavour for which The GlenDronach is so well known.
So many of your expressions carry impressive age statements, how does The GlenDronach liquid change as it matures? Your warehouses must be exciting places to explore, do you know what the oldest stock you currently hold is?
Indeed, we are fortunate that the distillery’s inventory of casks allows us to experience The GlenDronach’s depth of flavour and texture after different periods of maturation in sherry casks. When the heart of the run is collected from The GlenDronach’s saxophone shaped copper pot stills, the top notes and bass notes come together and remind me of the fruitiness of dark berry fruits and the creaminess of barley malt syrup. As the viscous spirit matures, its qualities are intensified and this shapes into the signature GlenDronach character. After about 8 - 10 years, The GlenDronach displays notes of orange peel, brambles and barley sugar. By 12 years old, more spiced raisins, honey and ginger notes develop. The natural colour evolves from a deep gold to burnished copper hue. Around 15 years old, the flavour is defined by deeper notes of cherries, dark honey and treacle toffee, with more oak spice and a cherry wood appearance. As The GlenDronach ages further in sherry casks, the dark chocolate, cherry and prune notes intensify, with the tannins from the European oak imparting drier notes and aromas of roasted coffee beans, and sweet cigars, while the colour evolves into a deep bronze and often dark mahogany hue.
Our oldest whisky was distilled in 1968 and it is still maturing at the distillery, deep down in the Valley of Forgue. I believe the fertile Valley of Forgue is one of the key ingredients of The GlenDronach.
The GlenDronach Single Cask releases are an incredible range of whiskies. How are casks chosen to be included within the yearly batch release?
The cask bottling release is meticulously personally selected by Master Blender, Dr Rachel Barrie, with each cask specially chosen for its exceptional character, to celebrate and share some of the finest examples of The GlenDronach’s richly-sherried Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Each expression within the cask bottling release is bottled from a single cask and offers the richly deep colour, full-bodied complexity and long, satisfying finish for which The GlenDronach is known.
Are there any bottlings from the Single Cask release series that are particularly significant or standout for any reason?
Within the most recent cask bottling collection you can find a rich selection of the distillery’s signature Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks from Andalucía in Spain, as well as two Port pipes from the Douro Valley in Portugal and a number of rare expressions. Including a rare cask from 1995, one of the last remaining casks at the distillery from this vintage. I’m particularly excited for connoisseurs to see what's coming up later this year...
The Grandeur series is a beautiful range of whisky, how did this series come about and what are the defining characteristics of these bottlings?
The GlenDronach Grandeur was first launched over 10 years ago in March 2010 as a super-premium, small batch bottling. At that time, The GlenDronach profile had started to spark intrigue, surprise and delight amongst whisky connoisseurs around the world. The liquid, specially selected from some of the oldest and most unique Oloroso casks at GlenDronach, is a rewarding, memorable and captivating expression for a very special occasion. It was created to preserve and perpetuate the tradition of The GlenDronach as a rich, elegant, sherried Highland malt whisky. Each batch of The GlenDronach Grandeur incorporates both Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez butts and puncheons. The GlenDronach has released 10 small batches, varying in age from 24 - 31 years and celebrates The GlenDronach Distillery’s mastery of long maturation in sherry casks.
How do the Grandeur bottlings sit within the wider The GlenDronach range?
The GlenDronach core range of 12, 15, 18 and 21 year old expressions is the embodiment of distillery character, sharing consistently exceptional quality. The GlenDronach Grandeur is an annual, premium small-batch limited release, which offers an even more luxurious and rewarding Single Malt experience.. Each Grandeur edition showcases different nuances and facets of the East Highland distillery’s spirit and inventory, at a higher age statement. At the heart of Grandeur is a tremendous concentration of blackberries, dark chocolate, black truffle and treacle with a long, lingering and satisfying finish.
What do you love about sharing The GlenDronach with the world?
I love witnessing the moment that individuals of diverse cultures discover and recognise the premium quality of the distillery’s rich & elegant, sherried Highland malt whisky. That moment is, for many, the beginning of a journey of appreciation and passion for a Single Malt that unites the finest Spanish sherry casks and robust East Highland spirit, and almost 200 hundred years of whisky-making mastery and craftsmanship. I love being a part of The GlenDronach’s past, present and future and remind myself that, today, I am a link in a long chain of the distillery’s custodians spanning almost two hundred years.
If you could only drink one bottle of The GlenDronach for the rest of your life what would it be?
I was born in 1975 and it was around then that The GlenDronach, distilled in 1963, was bottled at 12 years old. Today we have an outstanding 12 Years Old expression, which is the result of years of investment and maturation in the finest Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso Sherry casks and I absolutely love its flavour and mouth-feel. For that reason, I think I would have to say The GlenDronach 12 Years Old, which I recently saw described so beautifully as herbaceous, creamy, stewed fruit sweetness.