Like Knockdhu, Glendronach is only about ten miles away from Huntly in the vicinity of the village of Forgue, so with the help of a lift by Knockdhu distillery manager Gordon Bruce I was able to visit this distillery as well. Retired distillery manager Frank Massie showed my around the place.
In terms of raw spirit production, Glendronach is currently playing in same league as their neighbours at the Knock (ca. 1.5 million litres alcohol per year), but the character of the place is very different. The premises are rather spacious, and the old buildings have been carefully renovated including a nice and rather big visitor centre. The pretty ensemble of old distillery buildings, often accentuated by bight red window frames, is somewhat disturbed though by a modern stillhouse that was added when the distillery upgraded their production capacity in the 1960s.The Dronach Burn which gave its name to the distillery is flowing right through the distillery grounds, and because of the risk of flooding, all doors of buidlings and warehouses are equipped with additional flood barriers.
Since its founding in 1826 by James Allardyce, Glendronach has had a checkered history with several changes of ownership and a period of mothballing in recent years. After being acquired by Benriach from former owners Pernod Ricard in 2008, the focus of production is now on single malt whisky with an emphasis on sherry cask maturation.
The distillery used their own malting floor until the mothballing in 1996, making lightly peated malt. Today the malted barley used for their whisky is unpeated.
The equipment for whisky production at Glendronach features two rather unusual things: Their big square underback with the shiny copper lid must be the most fashionable in the entire whisky industry. And even more uniquely, the washbacks are made from two different types of wood. Like in many other distilleries, the old washbacks are made from traditional Oregon pine. But they have been partly replaced by ones made from local Scots pine. It would be interesting to see if there is any difference in the spirits because of the different woods, but I am not aware that the distillery has made experiments in that area.
Even though the stills were upgraded in the 1960s, Glendronach used direct coal firing until 2005. The furnaces are still present and give you a good impression of what a tough work it must have been to work in a whisky distillery in the past.
With their four stills Glendronach produce the same amount of whisky as other distilleries with only two. So the distillery should have enough reserves to react to increasing demand for their whisky in the future. The focus on sherry cask matured single malts has already earned Glendronach a good reputation after their re-opening, so I would not be suprised to see their whisky production increase soon.
After a quick glimpse into one of the dunnage warehouses Frank Massie offered my a little selection of Glendronach expressions I had not tried before such as the very nice 15 yo Moscatel Finish and the stunning 20 yo Tawny Port Finish. A wee dram of the excellent “bottle yourself” single cask malt was a worthy conclusion to this visit. Luckily I did not have to worry how to get back to Huntly. A warehouse worker kindly gave me a lift back as he had just finished his shift.