The Whisk(e)y That Binds Us: Brown-Forman's Scotch Whisky Arm - The Whiskey Wash

The Whisk(e)y That Binds Us: Brown-Forman’s Scotch Whisky Arm

Editor’s Note: The Whisk(e)y That Binds Us is a series designed to highlight the common themes that exist around the whisk(e)y world, no matter where one may be. This week we explore Brown-Forman’s three Scotch distilleries: The Glendronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh. While all expenses were covered during our visit to these distilleries, editorial control of these articles remains with The Whiskey Wash.

Brown-Forman is, first and foremost, an American whiskey company. Known primarily for brands such as Jack Daniel’s, Old Forester and Woodford Reserve, what is perhaps slightly less known about them is their movements in other sectors of the whisk(e)y world. Back in 2016, for example, they acquired the The GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh distilleries from previous owner The BenRiach Distillery Company Limited for the hefty sum of around $415 million.

Though Brown-Forman had previous experience in the Scottish whisky market as a minority shareholder in Glenmorangie, it was not immediately clear how such a bourbon focused company would successfully manage three such diversely different single malt distilleries. The GlenDronach is known for its aggressive sherry cask whisky aging program. BenRiach is a bit all over the map with its styles. Glenglassaugh has a strong maritime influence given its coastal location.

The answer became clear to this question a little less then a year later when Brown-Forman lured away highly regarded master blender Rachel Barrie from Morrison Bowmore Distillers. Barrie, working with the distillery teams at each of the three distilleries, was given wide latitude to nurse these programs along, delving deep into their inventories and processes in an effort to continue building upon the storied histories and varied expressions of these operations.

Some display barrels at The Glendronach (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

Since we had the chance earlier this year to interview Barrie in-depth about The GlenDronach, we were looking forward to meeting her on our recent media trip to Scotland. She did not disappoint in her passion and depth of knowledge in understanding the many whisky casks she had under her care, and it became quickly apparent as we visited each location that Barrie and those working at each distillery truly got the idea of what it takes to craft high quality Scotch single malt whisky.

To further highlight the unique differences between each of the three Brown-Forman distilleries, we present to you below some facts unique to each of them based on fact sheets provided to us by Brown-Forman’s media team, interspersed with some photos we took during the trip.

The GlenDronach

What Sets The GlenDronach Apart?
The GlenDronach, one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, is renowned as the masters of sherry cask maturation and distinguished for true Highland style single malt scotch whiskies. Beloved by connoisseurs and patiently aged in sherry oak casks from Spain, The GlenDronach whiskies offer sublime depth, balanced complexity and an extremely satisfying and long-lasting finish. Vintages, age statements and special casks showcase different facets of this rich experience. Non-chill filtered, they drink as nature intended.

A Balance of Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez Casks
Renowned as pioneers and connoisseurs of sherry cask maturation, The GlenDronach marries Scottish and Spanish skill and heritage. Exceptional Oloroso casks impart crisp spice and dry, nutty notes and the finest Pedro Ximenez casks lend dark chocolaty notes and sweet fruit flavors. The casks are responsible for the naturally dark mahogany color of the whiskies.

The Glendronach’s stills (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

A Pristine Location on Scotland’s Castle Trail
The GlenDronach Distillery is nestled in pastoral Aberdeenshire in the Valley of Forgue, deep in Scotland’s undulating East Highland Hills. Its pristine fertile landscape is dotted by 300 castles, stately homes and historic ruins, and the distillery is located adjacent to Scotland’s Castle Trail.

Key Expressions

  • The GlenDronach 12 Year Old Original – Aged in Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks, with its full-bodied, deep flavor, it drinks beyond its stated years.
  • The GlenDronach 18 Year Old Allardice – Named for The GlenDronach’s founder, James Allardice, it is matured in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks and is a richly sherried malt.
  • The GlenDronach 21 Year Old Parliament – Named for the parliament of rooks that protects the distillery, its extensive sherry cask aging results in a sublime sherried malt.

Additional Expressions & Limited Releases

  • The GlenDronach Peated
  • The GlenDronach Grandeur
  • Kingsman Edition 1991

A range of The Glendronach’s whiskies (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

An Unconventional Founder and Genesis
The GlenDronach was founded in 1826 by James Allardice, an exuberant and extroverted entrepreneur who pioneered sherry cask aging. Upon creating his “Guid GlenDronach” whisky, he headed to Edinburgh to sell it and it eventually became the toast of the town.

A Parliament of Rooks
The distillery is guarded by a parliament of rooks, which proved to be useful allies by creating a commotion when customs men decided to unexpectedly stop by. They guard the distillery to this day. It’s said good luck shines on The GlenDronach Distillery as long as the birds remain.

Local Scottish Barley
The GlenDronach sources its malted barley from Portgordon Maltings, located 30 miles from the distillery. They support the local farming community and their proximity ensures that natural sugars and starches are preserved to provide a sweeter barley character.

A Carefully Controlled Production Process

  • Malted barley fills a 3.76 ton mash tun for a six-hour mashing cycle. High temperature water is added and drained three times.
  • The mash is transferred to open larchwood washbacks for a fermentation process of no less than 60 hours. Since they are exposed to the air and ambient bacteria, they produce a richer palate and body.
  • It is then double-distilled using GlenDronach’s elegant swan neck stills that capture the heavier alcohols, providing luxuriously rich viscosity for the spirit.

Unhurried Aging as Nature Intended
The GlenDronach whiskies are aged at the distillery in Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks sourced directly in Spain. They bide their time in both traditional dunnage and rack warehouses.

Inside a The Glendronach aging warehouse (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

A Deep Stock of Aged Whisky
The GlenDronach’s stock of whiskies extends back to a cask filled in 1968, with every decade represented from that time to the present.

Distillery Tours
Tours of The GlenDronach Distillery are offered daily from May to September and are available Monday through Friday during October to April.

BenRiach

What Sets BenRiach Apart?
BenRiach is the unconventional Speyside, single malt but definitely not single-minded. With a “troika” of styles–unpeated, peated and triple-distilled–and a myriad of eclectic wood types, BenRiach is versatile, daring and innovative, pushing boundaries of malt alchemy like no other. The BenRiach Distillery Company, encompassing BenRiach, The GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries, was awarded Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky “Whisky Distiller of the Year” in 2015.

With an open, smooth and zesty spirit, BenRiach is prone to quickly taking on oak character during maturation, which combined with its smoky and triple-distilled styles, gives BenRiach endless opportunities to create and surprise.

BenRiach Distillery is one of just two remaining Speyside single malt distilleries to seasonally operate its own floor maltings, which provides opportunity for select expressions.

A 25 year old Benriach whisky (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

Located in Historic Speyside
BenRiach Distillery is located in Elgin in N.E. Morayshire and is set amidst barley fields and rolling foothills of the Grampian Mountains. The area’s sandstone bedrock is known for fossils of primitive fish and the earliest reptiles and dinosaurs. In addition to having one of Scotland’s oldest cathedrals, it was also a Roman settlement, with a huge cache of silver coins discovered near the distillery.

A Unique Micro-Climate Informs Every Sip
Located in the Laich of Moray, BenRiach Distillery is situated in Scotland’s best barley growing region. Its climate is more continental than most, with an average annual rainfall of 25 inches (comparable to Barcelona) and more sunshine. This microclimate enhances BenRiach’s signature notes of orchard fruit, cask sweetness and spice.

A Different Kind of Peat
BenRiach’s peated expressions, unusual for a Speyside, use inland Highland Peat that lends approachable charcoal and campfire notes. This contrasts with coastal Islay Peat that conveys notes of the sea: brine, seaweed and fish oil.

The malting floor at Benriach (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

Unpeated Expressions

  • 10 Year Old –This Speyside whisky expresses the distillery’s experimental and innovative approach to cask maturation, three-cask matured in bourbon barrels, virgin oak and sherry casks.
  • 20 Year Old – This elegant Speyside single malt showcases casking expertise through its maturation in four casks with rum, bourbon, virgin oak and sherry.

Peated Expressions

  • 10 Year Old Curiositas – A rare, unconventional peated single malt distilled from heavily peated malt barley and reminiscent of 19th century Speyside malts.
  • 17 Year Old Septendecim – Distilled using Highland peat favored by the distillery, this peated Speyside single malt captures a fresh, sweet barley character.
  • 25 Year Old Authenticus – The oldest expression in the heavily peated collection, this exceptionally rare peated Speyside single malt is full bodied and expertly balanced.

Founded by An Adventurer
BenRiach was founded in 1898 by John Duff, an adventurer and explorer who spent time in the spirits business in Kentucky and South Africa. The distillery fell silent in 1900 and reopened in 1965. It has operated continuously ever since, resulting in an almost uninterrupted stock of whiskies representing nearly 60 years

Local Scottish Barley
Scottish barley is harvested within a short distance of the distillery. This supports the local farming community and its proximity ensures that natural sugars and starches will be preserved to provide a sweeter barley character.

Inside a Benriach aging warehouse (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

A Carefully Controlled Production Process

  • Malted barley fills a 5.76-ton mash tun for a six-hour mashing cycle. Moderate temperature water is added and drained four times, versus the conventional three, to capture its barley-rich flavor.
  • The mash is transferred to stainless steel washbacks, selected to create a clean, fresh profile, and a fermentation process of about 75 hours.
  • It is then double-distilled using BenRiach’s stills whose tall onion shapes capture notes of citrus zest, orchard fruit and refined barley aromatics, resulting in a remarkably clean and complex spirit.

Matured in Traditional Dunnage Warehouses
BenRiach whiskies are matured in an experimental range of cask types. They are patiently matured in traditional dunnage warehouses. Its oldest, Warehouse 13, dates back to when the distillery was built in 1898 and holds its rarest and most mysterious spirits.

Distillery Tours
Tours of BenRiach are available by appointment only.

Glenglassaugh

An award-winning distillery, built in 1875, located on the beautiful Sandend Bay, is a nature lover and surfer’s paradise on the Moray coast of Scotland. The name Glenglassaugh means “Valley of the Grey-Green Place,” which refers to its coastal surroundings. The Glenglassaugh Distillery coat of arms, which features a design of gannets, stills and barley, is accompanied by the Latin phrase “Per Mare, Per Terras”meaning “By land, By sea”. Not only does it reflect the surrounding coastal environment, it tells the story of how the whisky was historically transported to market, long before the distillery was built. The Glassaugh Glend was originally the site of a smuggler’s bothy where illicit distilling took place. Due to its favourable position on the coast, a considerable amount of smuggling took place.

The stills at Glenglassaugh (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

Glenglassaugh is the only distillery to straddle the Highland/Speyside border, with a coastal position, resulting in taste influence from three locations. The whisky matures in our beach side warehouses exposed to the North Sea air, which lends it intriguing salty notes; a Highland malt with seductive coastal charm.

Once opened, Glenglassaugh quickly established a reputation for producing quality whisky and the company prospered. Following the unexpected death of one of James Moir’s nephews who inherited the distillery, it was eventually sold in 1892 to the Highland Distilleries Company. The distillery’s reputation for producing high quality malt whisky continued to grow but following a downturn in the whisky industry, the distillery was closed in 1907 alongside many others.

Despite being mothballed for over twenty years, the distillery has a history of proven maturation, with awardwinning old vintages dating back to the 1960s, whilst the recognised younger whiskies are bottled at higher strength. As this jewel of coastal malt is discovered and enjoyed, it promises to become a cult, contemporary classic.

A 40 year old Glenglassaugh (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

Key Expressions

  • Glenglassaugh Revival: Revival is the first expression released from Glenglassaugh Distillery after it was mothballed for a period of more than 20 years. The Glenglassaugh Revival has been matured in a balanced and unusual mix of American bourbon barrels, red wine European oak casks, and undergoes a final maturation in sherry casks. Revival is a medium to full bodied Highland single malt, with a seductive coastal charm. Natural colour and bottled at 46% ABV.
  • Glenglassaugh Evolution: Evolution is a distinctive whisky from a single variety oak cask style. This expression was matured in ex-Tennessee Whiskey barrels, a harmonious combination of whisky and American oak, giving a unique character with great finesse. Natural colour and bottled at 50% ABV.
  • Glenglassaugh Torfa: At Glenglassaugh, in addition to the traditional production, we also produce a very limitedquantity of whisky using richly peated malted barley. Glenglassaugh Torfa, with its peaty nature, is a unique expression, and is quite different to the usual style of whisky produced in the Highlands. ‘Torfa’, referring to the Old Norse word for peat, has a brooding, smoky character.