A Tour of Glencadam Distillery and Reviews of 10, 15 and 21-Year-Olds



A virtual distillery tour of Glencadam and a full review of its range has been long overdue.
 
Glencadam has been my favourite Highland distillery for many years now and if you have read my other reviews, I constantly mention it as their range has become my base line to judge all other Highlanders by. It is therefore rather embarrassing that I have never actually written a full review on any of their products! Well, I am about to correct this huge travesty of justice right now.
How to get there
Getting to Glencadam distillery is simple once you know how but you won’t find it simply following Waze or Google Street. (Sorry for side tracking here but isn’t it funny how so many people make the understandable mistake of calling the Google GPS app “Google Drive” which is actually their Cloud storage service!).


So, this is the right way to get there: Head south on the A90 from Aberdeen. You take the exit off of the A90 marked Brechin and drive through the town on the B966. When you reach Eddie Avenue on your right, keep going but slow right the way down. Keep your eyes peeled! About 150 metres further on there is a narrow gap in the houses on the left hand side looking like someone’s side yard. This is actually the beginning of Smithbank Road although there is no street sign and you can easily drive by it without even noticing there is a road there. Google Street (the one with the little yellow man that swings from side to side in the air when you pick him up), doesn’t recognise the road or allow you to go down there but Google Maps does label it as Smithbank Road. Take this road and drive down, passing the cemetery and you will find yourself facing the entrance to the distillery.


Alternatively, you could go the long way round and leave the car outside the park at the other end of Smithbank Road and walk through. Then afterwards, have a picnic in the park on one of the many picnic tables. (The Highlands of Scotland are so picnic and parking friendly, it’s just wonderful!). If you do have time, please visit the War Memorial in the park dedicated to those Brechins who fell in the line of duty from 1914 up to the present day.

Glencadam as seen from the Park side
 
Glencadam as seem from the park
The Band Stand in the park
 
The War Memorial
 

If you look up Glencadam distillery in the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2018 on page 94 there is no mention of any visitor’s centre. Actually there is and quite a lavish one at that, but you will need to call ahead and make an appointment as the tour and visit to the tasting room is usually conducted by none other than the distillery manager himself, Douglas Fitchett and as you can imagine, he is a very busy gentleman.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I do not use the word “Gentleman” lightly. I have been corresponding via email with Douglas for many years now. He always replies to my never ending stream of questions and is not afraid to say that, sometimes, he doesn’t know. Douglas is what we call in Yiddish, a real “Mench”. He is a kind mannered and softly spoken person and incredibly modest with it. However, in my opinion, he is a giant in the whisky industry who manages what is, one of a very few traditional, totally manual hands-on distilleries where everything is done the hard way. I suspect however that Douglas wouldn’t have it any other way.


Forget your Lauter or even semi Lauter mash tuns and other such fancy “modern” contraptions. The large old fashioned cast iron Mash Tun at Glencadam is a “No-Lauter” Mash Tun where mash levels and water volumes are judged by the eye of experience from a traditional Underback Balance Tube, and workers churn the mash wort around by sticking long paddles into the tank and stirring the hot liquid barley around and around like a huge bowl of breakfast porridge for some hungry giant in a fairy tale story.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This produces a very violent and volatile mash and when pumped into the six washbacks and yeast added, the resultant wash is like a North Sea storm. When it gets particularly violent, there is no other option but to strip down to the waist and it’s all hands on deck with buckets of soapy water thrown in to the washbacks.


 
 
 

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Douglas doesn’t use bottles of prepared industrial liquid soap like they use in other distilleries such as Balblair. Oh no! That would be too easy. Instead he makes it himself from enormous bars of soap. You can just imagine the scene in the Washback room whilst he grates the soap into a pail, humming away to the theme tune of “Fiddler On the Roof”, “Na Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na Na Na, Tradition! Tradition!”


Established in 1825 to take advantage of the railway which had just arrived in the area bringing with it a regular supply of coal and malted barley. The distillery has therefore never had a history of ever using local peat as an energy source to dry its malted barley. I for one would love to know what peated Glencadam tastes like, even as a one off experiment. When I mentioned the idea to Douglas, he looked at me aghast. Glencadam, he said, has always been unpeated and as long as he is still in charge, will only be so. (“Tradition!, Tradition!..,”)

 
 
 
 
 

Glencadam has one pair of 14,000 Litre stills. Both the wash and spirit stills are heated by steam. Another unusual feature of Glencadam is that the lyne arms coming out of the stills are tilted upwards at an angle of 15 degrees, not downwards as almost all other stills are. This obviously produces more reflux and translates into a more refined and fruity delicate new make spirit. One more idiosyncrasy is that the window to check the wash level on the still is at the back! The solution was to place a large mirror on the back wall so that the distiller can see what’s going on.


 

 
 
 
 

The excess steam is pumped outside, past the two cooling condensers which are bolted to the outside wall and are used to heat the famous Glencadam duck pond, looked after by, yes, you guessed it, Douglas himself. (Come to think of it, shouldn’t Glencadam be using old fashioned worm tubs to cool their spirit instead of these “new-fangled” condensers? Tut tut!)
 
The Still House was resently upgraded last year due to flood dammage. When I heard that Glencadam was "underwater" I sent off an email to Douglas asking what the situation was. He very kindly sent me a couple of photos of the flood.

 

 
As remarkable as everything in the still house is, nothing compares to the most hallow place within the distillery, the dunnage warehouse. This is situated opposite the duck pond. Douglas opened the large red doors and our nostrils were instantly confronted with the magnificent earthy, musky, sweet, wood spicy smells of a real traditional dunnage warehouse.



Almost every type of cask can be found here from Spanish sherry butts to Kentucky Ex-Bourbon casks and Hogsheads. When fully inside, you head starts to spin with all the potent smells of spirit slowly maturing in barrels.






 

Although Douglas I’m sure has a lot to do with cask selection, he does rely on one Robert Fleming, Master Distiller and Cask expert at Angus Dundee who I had the great pleasure of corresponding with whilst I was researching into kashrus issues with First Fill sherry casks a few years ago.


What Robert doesn't know about casks isn't worth knowing. In an email, Robert informed me that he could tell not only if the whisky was sherried but exactly which type sherry had previously sat in the cask by simply smelling and tasting the whisky. The specific character flavours and smells of the Madeira, Pedro Ximenez, Oloroso or Port wines come through clearly in the whisky.
Baruch Hashem, most of Glencadam’s output is actually matured in Ex-Bourbon Hogsheads so all but those expressions which state Sherry on the label, are suitable for the “Mehadrin” whisky drinker like myself.
The entire Glencadam range (with the exception of the black sheep of the family, the Non-Age-Statement “Origin 1825” which Douglas doesn’t like to talk about, emphasising to me that it wasn’t his idea!), are all age statements, Non-Chill Filtered, Natural Colour and bottled at 46% abv.


The Whisky Reviews
Like all Angus Dundee products, Glencadam as well as their sister distillery, Tomintoul, are all readily available in Israel. Thank you Angus Dundee. We appreciate it!
Packaging

 

 

 

The whole Glencadam range share identical packaging and are only differentiated by the Age statement and colour of the canister and label. The practical and strong cardboard containers look quite grand on the shelf, displayed side by side like a set of King George VI commemorative stamps.

 

To me, the artwork does look like something out of the 1940s but I think it works! I like the style. It’s not over-the-top touristy like the Tomintoul artwork. The generally minimalist design approach with touches like the traditional illustration of the distillery at the bottom look very pleasing to the eye. Most importantly however is the clear, no-nonsense detailed information, including honest tasting notes printed on the canister telling us exactly what we malt lovers want to know.
The overall impression conveyed by the packing is one of good taste, total transparency and complete honesty. All other distilleries take note! This is how to do it!
 
 

Glencadam 10-Year-Old. Natural Colour, Non Chilled Filtered, bottled at 46% abv.
You can find the 10-Year-Old for around 260 Shekels.
Colour

It’s worth talking about the colour seeing as with these whiskies, it does give us an honest depiction of the whole maturation process. The colour is a dark rich yellowy-gold chardonnay colour which tells me the whisky has been maturing in highly active, top quality, Ex-Bourbon American white oak casks.
Appearance and Swirl in the Glass
In the glass, it shows healthy and slowly dropping alcohol legs. Swirling around in the glass it has a mildly oily viscosity which for a light to medium Highland malt is quite remarkable. This no doubt is due to not chill filtering the whisky.
On the Nose
Despite it being "only" 46% I found that you must add a touch of water to open it up and calm down a slight alcohol nose prickle. My advice is to add a teaspoon of water and wait a few minutes to get the best from this young 10-Year-Old.
Clean fresh vanilla milk, roasted barley sugar snacks, Horlicks malt drink, sweet cake dough, creamy oat porridge, yeasty artisan ale beer, sweet lemon grass fruity floral ester with silky smooth white heather honey and walnuts.
If you ponder over the above description you realise that what it describes is actually the entire whisky making process from malted barley mash, yeast wort, distillation new make spirit to the final stage of Oak maturation. It is like a snapshot recording that has captured the whole production process and you can now play the recording back by pouring yourself a dram of this golden nectar. The same playback experience continues into the tasting notes.
Tasting Notes
The 10-Year-Old has a good medium mouth fill with Sugar puffs in vanilla milk and honey. Delicious crumbly lemon-vanilla cream sandwich biscuits, caramel biscuit sandwich spread, thin pastry apple in white sugar, sultanas and custard pie with some roasted walnuts and grated coconut sprinkled on top. A clean satisfying creamy vanilla oaty walnut aftertaste. With fruit cake and wood spices to finish. The finish is not long but deliciously fresh, frisky, young and clean.
I realise that I’ve used the word clean too many times but this is what best describes this Glencadam, along with the word “honest”. It tastes completely natural, unprocessed, perfectly balanced exactly as it should be without any attempt whatsoever at flavour engineering which unfortunately is what we are finding more and more in modern whiskies today.
Sitting and enjoying this whisky is like an experiment in single malt reverse engineering where, by simply nosing and sipping, you can derive every stage of the whisky making process. It’s the perfect malt to begin a whisky evening as it tunes you in to all the elements of a Highland single malt.
 

Glencadam 15-Year-Old. Natural Colour, Non Chilled Filtered, bottled at 46% abv.
You can find the 15-Year-Old for around 400 Shekels.
Colour
The 15-Year-Old, held up to the light, side-by-side with the 10-Year-Old, is slightly darker, more of a brown orange gold rather than a yellow-brown gold of the 10-Year-Old.

Nosing
The yeastiness of the 10-Year-Old has gone. It has been replaced by traditional breakfast marmalade and buttered toast! Rich fruitcake, stewed juicy apples and oranges in brandy. Creamy brandy butter. Brown sugar. Loads of wood spices. The nose is far more substantial than the 10. The alcohol heat is still there so adding water is a must but you are rewarded with a complex intoxicating aroma.

Tasting Notes for the 15-Year-Old
The 10-Year-Old is very enjoyable but it is a touch young and frisky. You do get to thinking, what if it had had a few more years in the cask to mature and mellow? Would it improve it a lot or just a little? Well, the 15-Year-Old is here to give you the answer.
The 15 is far more approachable and rounded out. All the elements of the 10 are here but it’s even creamier now with chocolate malty Horlicks.  Mature fruit cake with brandy with sweet glazed oranges. Heap-fulls of marmalade with walnuts and cinnamon-butter toast. Cinnamon-orange chocolate Yeast Cake, you know, the one with the burnt sugar on top. More sweet wood spices, vanilla creams and orange Sabra brandy to finish.
I'd say the Glencadam 15 is the most natural tasting and honest single malt whisky I've ever tasted. It is stripped of all modern shpill, fraudulent cask finishings to give an underachieving whisky a superficial taste overcoat, devoid of Computer aided Laboratory Blending engineering methods and other colour and flavour enhancements. This is what Single Malt Whisky ought to taste like. Usually you only find this style from small craft farm distilleries. It is a rare thing indeed that a large industrial size distillery produces not just one of its expressions as a natural craft style choice but their entire range! In my opinion, this is down to one man, the unsung hero of the whisky world, Douglas Fitchett.
 

Glencadam 18-Year-Old. Natural Colour, Non Chilled Filtered, bottled at 46% abv.
The 18 is as yet unavailable in Israel but in the UK it retails for £85
Note: In the interests of honesty and full disclosure I have to mention that Douglas gave me a sample miniature freebie to take home to Israel to try.
Colour
A pale straw barley-sugar yellow, lighter in hue than the 10, 15 or 21.
Nosing
Lovely and floral like white rose petals on the initial nose with a touch of freshly ground white pepper which tickles the nose. With the addition of water, you get big juicy green apples, sauvignon blanc wine and fresh tropical fruit juice with fresh spices. Sweet Apple, pineapple and Vanilla essence sponge cake.
 
Tasting Notes for the 18-Year-Old
Wet Pineapple and custard strudel drank with a glass of sauvignon blanc. Roasted Barley Crispies breakfast cereal, honey and vanilla milk. Green/yellow bananas, Apple cider with cinnamon and sweet wood spices. There is a tangy Lemon curd spread as it goes down. The finish is light and fruity with some wet pastry crust, sweet white pepper and wood spice on the medium finish.
I only had a few ccs of this to try but the 18-Year-Old seems a very different whisky to the 15-Year-Old. The 15 is more substantial, rich cake and dry orange fruity. The 18 is much more delicate with lighter tangy tropical fruit notes.
It is a very pleasant whisky but for me, lacking a bit of body of the 15-Year-Old. Again, I cannot give it a full assessment as I only had a tiny sample to go on and personally, I find that I only really get to a whisky after I’ve consumed around a third of the bottle spread over multiple sessions at different times and obviously moods.

 
Glencadam 21-Year-Old. Natural Colour, Non Chilled Filtered, bottled at 46% abv.
This expression was withdrawn over a year ago but you can Still pick up a bottle here in Israel. Prices range from 600 to 900 Shekels. (I know, ridiculous difference in prices!)
In the UK it is still available in online stores at about £95.
Colour
Golden Yellow. Thick and oily, well at least for Mainland Highlander it is.


Nosing and Tasting
Upon first opening the bottle it had an overpowering alcohol pinch of new make spirit. This definitely was not what I was expecting. Big alcohol heat, green chilli peppers and a bit of honey sweetness. After 21 years in wood I was expecting an even more complex version of the 15-Year-Old. I could recognise that this 21 came from the same distillery but had you told me that this was a Glencadam 8-Year-Old, I would have believed you! Even with water added until the poor old thing was almost drowned, the whisky was still green pepper hot although signs of a slightly sour tropical fruit somewhere on the palette.
Bitterly disappointed having spent a lot of money on this, I decided to put it away for another month and reserve judgement.
Take Two! (6 weeks later)
I opened the bottle and poured myself a dram with some trepidation. I really really wanted to like this whisky, after all, I had invested a lot of money in it on the basis of its younger brother, the 15-Year-Old, only to find that this 21 was a wild beast.
I added a teaspoon of water and waited 20 minutes. Now, the time had arrived to nose it once more. OK, OK, this was a bit more like it! It still has a fresh clean character but now the chilli pepper heat was toned all the way down. Lots of sweet and sour floral aromas. Flowers with green leaves. Sour apples, lemon grass and yummy barley sugar creaminess.
Tasting the 21-Year-Old
Cooking apples and creamy custard. The smell of inside an old walnut wood cabinet. Candied Almonds. Ripe white creamy Noni fruit and Guava from the West Indies.
I dared to add another drop of water and waited another 5 minutes. Interestingly, the 21 only now was starting to really remind me of the 15 with a fruit cake, brandy, orange peel marmalade and buttered toast. It was all there but more laid back and relaxed. Lots of spices but also mild on the tongue. More sweet and sour West Indian creamy fruit juice. I was beginning to enjoy this now but I have to say, you need a lot of time and patience to appreciate this aristocrat of a malt.
So, what happens if you don’t have the patience to wait so long for this 21 to open up? I found a solution. Taking Ralfy’s advice, I added a few drops of the 15-Year-Old and waited five minutes. Result? Spectacular! Big ripe meaty fruits, rich creamy barley, rich vanilla and honey cake with oranges, bananas, ripe Noni creamy fruit, oaky chardonnay and bitter sweet spices on the finish.
I compared this special Glencadam blend with the 15-Year-Old with a small group of friends. We were unamemous. Everyone thought the 21/15 blend was more complex, fruitier, richer and that sweet and sour West Indian fruit character made it really unusual and interesting. I couldn’t say though in all honesty that it tasted any older than the 15.
So, there you have it. The 21 is probably the most challenging whisky I have had to deal with. They say that age sometimes turns people cranky and difficult to deal with, a pain in the tuchos, uncooperative….what is the word I am looking for? Oh yes, got it!  Cantankerous. That’s it. This 21-Year-Old is cantankerous. However, with a bit of coaxing, lots of patience and a touch of youthful assistance, when he starts to warm to you, to trust you, then he’ll open up and tell you tales of wonder and give you a taste of generations gone by.
 

Some Final thoughts
For me, the 15-Year-Old hits the sweet spot. It is so elegant. Even if you had never heard of Glencadam before, nosing and tasting this will make it crustal clear that this is a quality dram for sure. It deserves your respect. This 15-Year-Old is in my opinion the best Highland single malt readily available today and if you enjoy this style then you should search a bottle out and make sure you try this before it’s too late. Why too late? Because Glencadam have just withdrawn the 15 from the market. Baruch Hashem, there are still plentiful stocks here in Israel but in the UK I hear stocks are already very low. In place of the 15 you have two choices.
So which expression would I replace the classic 15 with when bottles finally run out? The younger 13-Year-Old or the older 18-Year-Old? I have not tried the 13-Year-Old but in my opinion, the 18 is overpriced. It’s good but certainly no better than the 15 and I for one am not prepared to pay twice the price for three more years. So, even though I have not yet had the pleasure of trying the 13-Year-Old, my good friend Douglas recommended it, so I’m going for this. Prices in the UK for the 13 are around £50 or less.



Breaking Kashrus News
I don’t know if I had any influence in the matter at all but Douglas has just informed me that the entire range (excluding the two Sherry casks expressions obviously) are now all OU Kosher certified. The OU symbol already features on the new 13-Year-Old and will start to appear on new bottlings of the rest of the range. Great news! Kol Hakavod to Angus Dundee.



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