GlenDronach v BenRiach – Battle of the Ages

I remember my 22nd birthday like it was yesterday. Although it was well over a decade ago, I still reminisce to the days of uncontrollable excitement at getting my hands on whatever spirit I could purchase without getting ID’d. In those days I couldn’t fathom the idea that a uniquely flavored whisky that had been sat patiently waiting for as long as I had existed on this planet, would be getting released and savoured by malt connoisseurs. Oh how times have changed. From a nostalgic time where a non-branded liquor would satisfy my taste buds as long as my wallet was happy, I now proudly class myself as at least edging towards a whisky bon vivant. It’s taken grit and determination, but I feel I can now hold my own in any distilling discussion.

So, as I find myself in front of two award-winning whiskys – a bottle of 22-year-old BenRiach and a 14-year-old GlenDronach, it dawns on me that the age difference between the two is identical to that of my youngest brother and me. It seems like the perfect excuse to invite him round for a tasting, to see if our palates align and if indeed age makes room for considerable divergence.

We toss a coin, and as usual, Tim wins. I’m convinced that he always carries a weighted 10 pence everywhere he goes. He aptly opts to crack open the younger of the two and pours us both a generous measure of the GlenDronach. Without tasting it, I ask Tim if he is hit with any specific scents and he reports that he’s noting a distinct syrupy pome fruit scent. It turns out that little brother’s nostrils serve him well, as this full-bodied whisky is known for its appley hints and sweet pear drop undertones. I concur with his findings and on initial taste, I offer that I’m receiving a definite vanilla hit from this Moscatel cask-finished splendour. A couple of drops of water unleash new essences of candy and possibly even tobacco. It’s going to take another couple of sips to confirm the latter.

Satisfied with our discoveries of the first subject, it’s time to break the seal on the one I’ve been excited about, the senior of the two; the BenRiach. This Moscatel cask finished 22-year-old whisky was originally aged in unused American bourbon barrels. I’m curious to see how much of an effect this has on the flavours that the malt might harbour. As the cork comes out, before even pouring a dram we can smell the difference from just a mere sniff of the open bottle. Initial hints towards the sweet fortified wine cask it was aged in are immediately apparent, and there are strong honey aromas to chaperon these hints. From the introductory taste, the Speyside single malt gives us traces of dark chocolate; and there’s that honey again. This is definitely a long and rounded whisky and respect is due to the distillery that obtains its water from the resident Burnside springs.

Unsurprisingly, as brother’s who often lock horns in our differences in our taste in music, we can’t decide on a clear winner. Tim appropriately favours the younger of the two, whereas I’m leaning towards the 22-Year-Old. We agree to disagree, but one thing is for sure… we’re going in for another dram of each.

If, like us, you can’t decide which one to go for, I suggest trying… both. Full details of stockists can be found on their respective websites: GlenDronach 14 Year Old and BenRiach 22 Year Old.

Author Bio:
John Harfield is a travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh.

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