There is no doubt that the company owning names like Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve and Old Forester has serious insight when it comes to truly great whiskey and bourbon. When the opportunity comes to taste scotch from three newly acquired, iconic Scottish distilleries’ brands that date back to the 1800s, you take it. Period.
The night with Brown-Forman started off with specialty scotch cocktails designed by the Global Brand Ambassador of their Scotch Collection (more on him in a minute) and a little talk so we could get to know the Brown-Forman team.
Honestly, before this night, I had never tried (or even heard of) a scotch cocktail. The though in my mind was that just isn’t done because it would be a waste of a great spirit. When I asked the ambassador (who is from Scotland, naturally) if it hurt him that we were drinking scotch cocktails, he laughed and said, “Of course not! I designed them myself, and when you complement the flavors of the whiskey, there’s nothing wrong with mixing.”
We began with a traditional scotch cocktail, the Penicillin (BenRiach 10-Year, lemon, ginger, honey syrup), which is a stout cocktail with the perfect balance of bright flavors with the smokiness of the scotch. We then had a couple of less classic options like the Highland Game Changer (GlenDronach 12-Year, vermouth, cherry brandy, dash of absinthe) and the Bobby Burns (GlenDronach 12-Year, orange liqueur, and vermouth).
Once everyone was sufficiently lubricated, we moved into the tasting portion of the evening. The tasting was led by Stewart Buchanan, a Scottish native and Global Brand Ambassador of the Brown-Forman Scotch Collection. Stuart has been involved in the Scotch industry since 1993.
He has worked in virtually every position within the industry from production to warehousing, office work to hosting tastings and management. In 2004, he helped to restart the BenRiach Distillery, one of the sampled brands in the tasting, after it had been closed since 2002.
Needless to say, he is a world-class sommelier of Scotch (whatever the word is for that). With his production background, Stuart gives a unique insight into the different process techniques and what makes a whiskey individuality by using different styles of casks in maturation. All that said, he has an incredibly outgoing personality and is a dangerous drinking companion.
Now to the whiskey…
GlenDronach 12-Year-Old Original
Rich sherried, 12-year-old single malt matured in a combination of Spanish Oloroso sherry casks.
Proof: 43% ABV
Nose: Sweet aroma with creamy vanilla and hints of ginger and autumn fruits
Taste: Creamy and silky smooth taste with rich oak and sherry sweetness, full mouth feel, raisins, soft fruits and spice
Finish: Long, full and slightly nutty finish
Distillery: The Glendronach Distillery, founded in 1826 in the valley of Forgue deep in the East Highland hills and one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. Characteristics of this distillery are heavy and robust using mastery of sherry cask maturation with a deep color and rich flavor profiles ranging from sweet and fruity to dry and nutty.
Fresh and smooth single malt Classic Speyside. It is unpeated, fruity and matured in American Virgin Oak wood.
Proof: 43% ABV
Nose: Crisp, green orchard fruits, stem ginger and tangerine mellows to creamy vanilla with a delicate note of mint and a twist of citrus with a barley back note.
Taste: Warm toasted oak spices through green apple skins and dried apricots with hints of peach and soft banana. Touches of aniseed and lemon zest contrast the fruit and add to the crisp barley finish.
Distillery: The BenRiach Distillery was founded in 1898 in Northeast Morayshire that uses 100% Scottish Barley sourced from farms across Speyside and Northeast Scotland. They are known for using a wide variety of casks for maturing and finishing. BenRiach is one of only two remaining Speyside distilleries to seasonally produce whiskey using malted barley from its own traditional floor maltings.
BenRiach 10-Year-Old Curiositas
Peated single malt distilled from heavily peated malted barley giving this scotch a fresh, peated expression with smoky-sweet notes.
Note: Peat is a traditional source of fuel that is taken from the land and consists of compressed, decaying plant material. Different processes in sourcing and the varying locations of Scottish distilleries give varying flavors of smokiness unique to where the Scotch is distilled. BenRiach uses Highland Peat that is taken from the top layer of soil and has charcoal and campfire notes, unlike the salt-water infused peat used in coastal distilleries that have a medicinal and iodine notes.
Proof: 46% ABV
Nose: Aromatic peat smoke with hints of honey, fruit and mellow oak
Taste: Pear front followed by a complex hint of fruit, heather, nuts, oak and wood spices.
Glenglassaugh Evolution (my favorite of the evening)
Distinctive whiskey matured in ex-Tennessee Whiskey barrels which gives it a unique flavor compared to other Scotch whiskeys.
Proof: 50% ABV
Nose: Combination of sweet barley, pineapple and vanilla with deep oak spices and caramelized pear.
Taste: White peppery oak through crisp green apple with hints of salted caramel and ripe banana.
Distillery: Glenglassaugh is an award-winning distiller founded in 1875 on Sandend Bay on the Moray coast of Scotland that is on that Highland and Speyside border. Their Scotch, both peated and unpeated is matured in beach side warehouses that gives it salty notes, but uses Highland malt that creates a unique flavor of three regions. They are known for innovation of their newer whiskeys, but have old stocks going back to 1963.
Brown-Forman created a truly amazing and educational evening. Due to the recent acquisition of these distilleries and their commitment to knowledge and quality, this scotch whiskey is currently available in limited quantities in the United States. Specifically, in the Dallas area, you should be able to find them in Total Wine and Specs. If you are looking to sample, we were informed that the Standard Pour and Whiskey Cake in Plano were the only two watering holes that were mentioned to have stock. Not to worry, though, the Brown-Forman team said they would be more widely distributed later in April and May. Save up your money and go grab a bottle … or three.