Whisky Review: Glendronach 21-Year-Old Parliament

, | October 7, 2016

Glendronach 21-Year-Old Parliament

Glendronach 21-Year-Old Parliament (image via Whisky Kirk/The Whiskey Wash)

Glendronach is one of those distilleries that’s always seemed to have had “deep pockets” when it comes to a wide range of casks in its warehouses – from young to old. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that nothing lasts forever. Times change.

Case in point: Last summer, the distillery announced that it would suspend 15 Year Old Revival releases for the next three years. Yes, it’s true that the 18-Year-Old and 21-Year-Old core offerings are not being affected by this announcement – yet. Considering how much demand for single malt Scotch whisky has increased over the past five years, it’s probably worth buying a “safety” or two for your bunker.

The Market Giveth, and Taketh Away

Theologians, who stay close to the scrolls and pages of scripture, tend to lump whisky collecting and buying under the general moniker of “mammon.” In this analogy, the free market, particularly for spirits, takes on a rather sinister connotation. Ah, well. C’est la vie. It’s also true that theologians make money from pointing out such things, and many of them appreciate a good dram of whisky, just like the rest of us.

Supply and demand economics, in our material world, is a fairly basic model to comprehend. Most people intuitively grasp it, without consciously identifying the particulars. When supply of a product goes up, the price for that product goes down, and demand can rise because it costs less than before. However, as is the case in Glendronach whiskies, when demand goes up, not only will the price go up, but supplies tend to go down. Whiskies are unique in that the aging process delays the ability of distilleries to gauge how many barrel to fill.

Back in the 1990’s, whisky sales underwent a slump. This decrease in demand was particularly hard on Scotch whiskies sales. As a result, some distilleries closed, while others scaled back production. Glendronach obviously did not scale back all that much, since it has warehouses with quite a bit of single malt Scotch that is presently in its late teens and early twenties. Today, the distillery finds itself in a position not unlike that of Ardbeg fifteen years ago. It has more old stock (18-20 years old) than middle aged stock (14-16 years old).

As a result, the distillery was forced to bottle quite a bit of older stock in its 15 Year Old Revival offering. This means that if you buy a bottle of 15-Year-Old Revival, which was bottled in 2015, you will be getting quite a bit of older whisky in with the middle aged whisky. That’s good news because 15-year-old whisky is greatly complimented by older whisky in the bottle, which increases the depth and complexity of the nose and palate.

Likewise, back in the early to mid-2000’s, Ardbeg was putting much older whisky in its bottles than the 10 Year Old label stated. For me, this was the “Golden Age of Ardbeg,” and I sincerely rue its passing. If only I’d stocked a few more bottles. Ah, well. Them’s the breaks. Time marches on its back when collectors open bottles from their bunkers that were bought at ridiculously low prices, and which have risen almost as dramatically. As Benjamin Netan-Franklin once said, “a bottle saved, is a bottle earned.”

Come Buy, Come Buy…

Now, let’s talk about the whisky under consideration: namely, Glendronach 21-Year-Old Parliament, which is indeed “sweet to tongue and sound to eye,” as Christina Rossetti once wrote in a poem called Goblin Market. The scent of this broth is captivating, the palate is more than worthy of appreciation, and the color is spectacular.

So, yes: I do feel that now is the time to buy. The whisky is still fairly reasonably priced, and there’s no guarantee that supplies will last in the warehouses. Even though newspapers like The Telegraph, The Guardian, and The Wall Street Journal reported slumps, which were somewhere in the range of 2.5%-7% in 2015 (depending upon the source), I tend to be fairly bullish on the whisky market in the near future, which is at least partially driven by newfound enthusiasm for Scotch in Asian markets with lots of nouveau riche buyers that love to stockpile commodities.

Yes, that’s right, Scotch whisky is indeed a commodity, especially considering how long bottles last if stored properly. It’s quite probable that Glendronach 21-Year-Old Parliament will double in price over the next few years, especially if supplies dwindle, or if the distillery eventually decides to suspend offering the whisky in its core line-up.

Producers have been known to deliberately withhold supply in order to raise the price later, when the product is offered again. Ironically, this rather cruel-seeming act can send prices soaring if demand remains high. The down-side to this strategy concerns the possibility that demand can plummet if dwindling supplies create a specialty market, while the vast majority of buyers move on to greener pastures, and become interested in some other form of spirit.

Tasting Notes: Glendronach 21-Year-Old Parliament

Vital stats: 48% ABV (96 proof); 21 years old; 100% malted barley.

Appearance: African mahogany. I could gaze upon this “splendor in the glass” for hours.

Nose: Dark rum-soaked stone fruits like plums, peaches, and apricots. In time, the sherry presence dominates. Even though this whisky has been aged in both oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks, I get more of a sweet profile that’s native to the PX. The wood lends itself to a bit of white pepper, and cashews, along with Brazil nuts.

There’s a dollop of flan, graham cracker pie crust…honey-glazed ham, as well. An odd-sounding combination of impressions, I know, but the flavors are in there. Wow, this nose is complex. I’m also detecting cloves, with a gun-powdery tang. This said, the sulfur is not offensive; it’s lower in the mix than with some other Glendronachs I’ve tasted in the past, including Parliaments.

Palate: Mexican chocolate; hot pepper; watercress; oloroso sherry gains the upper hand; a fatty red meat note hangs back, as of beef brisket; wet ash; furniture polish; ginger snaps; black strap rum; menthol (at an acceptable level); vanilla bean; dry oaky tanins that turn bitter, along with anise. As Yoda says, “Complex, this one is!”

Finish: Quite long with peppery oak, Abuelita chocolate powder, and a drying sherry note that ends with a drawn-out ashy death, which is not at all morbid or depressing. No, this kind of “ash” is a good thing. It mingles with tannins to help round out the almost sickly-sweet palate.

Call it the cycle of life – from a cherubic candy-coated nose, to a middle-aged palate, to a delightfully denture-puckering finish. One thing is certain: time in the glass does help to brighten the corners of this whisky. Don’t pour any if you are in a hurry!    

Final Thoughts

As time marches on, Glendronach 21-Year-Old Parliament will gain more of a following, just as the single cask Glendronachs did late last year. Call me a “prepper,” if you like, but I really do think that the Parliament is a great deal if it can be had for $150 or lower. My rating might seem low, given my die-hard praise of this bottling; however, the rating cannot take into consideration the future value of such a venerable old whisky from a great distillery, and it really can’t adjust to future values, or future tastes, because I rate based upon how it tastes today–not tomorrow, or next year, or a decade from now. A few years ago, the reviews were far lower than mine. Then again, there was more sulfur in Parliament a few years ago…

When  bottlings like this swansong are gone, they shall join the trappings of history – flapping their pixelated wings like rare birds in Internet auctions – the province of well-heeled buyers, collectors, and fowlers’ snares. Happy bunkering!


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Whisky Kirk

Kirk discovered the brilliance of Scottish whisky in 1987 while vacationing in Edinburgh. Over the course of three and a half decades that followed, he's built upon a knowledge of distilleries and the industry, as well as world whisky. Kirk prides himself on speaking honestly while avoiding the usual flattery...