Brown-Forman is best known for its bourbon. Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve and Old Forester are among the company’s American whiskey brands. But it’s a boom time for global whisky, and Brown-Forman understandably is seeking a foothold in Scotch.
To help achieve this, the company purchased The BenRiach Distillery Company in April of last year. The $355-million acquisition brought three historical Scotch brands under Brown-Forman control: BenRiach, The GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh.
“This is really a new venture for us, as we’re going in the direction of being more of a global whisky company,” said Andrea Duvall, Brown-Forman emerging brands public relations manager, during a media tasting this week in NYC.
I attended the tasting and had opportunity to sample four expressions from those Brown-Forman Scotch distilleries.
The four whiskies were alike in their easy drinkability. With one exception they were entry-level Scotches. Which is not a knock. These are excellent bottles to recommend for customers who have gotten into whiskey through bourbon and are now looking to expand their palates.
1) BenRiach 10-Year-Old
This flagship BenRiach product aged in new American oak — which is quite noticeable. On the palate are plenty of vanilla and toffee notes. These give way to classic Speyside flavors: sweet orchard fruits like crisp green apple and pear, followed by a subtle citrus kick upon the finish.
A strong barley backbone holds everything together nicely. Overall this is a fine whisky and an excellent starting point for the novice Scotch drinker. It’s not so intricate or peculiar to be intimidating, while also complex enough for exploration.
2) GlenDronach 12-Year-Old
Like a good Highland Scotch this is a balance between robustness and smooth drinkability. Maturation in Spanish Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks accentuates the rich flavors of chocolate sauce, dried fruits, and pronounced barley. It’s oily on the palate and long and viscos in the legs.
Brown-Forman also sampled GlenDronach 12-Year-Old in a cocktail.
Considered an act of blasphemy not long ago, mixing up Scotch cocktails is a recent trend. At the tasting I drank The Triumph: GlenDronach 12-Year-Old, Pedro Ximenez, chocolate bitters, and an orange peel. The blend of bold flavors worked perfectly in this warm, rich, sweet, classy cocktail.
Expect to see more Scotch drinks at bars, and more customers at retail asking what Scotches work well in cocktails. (Answer: they all do, so long as you can balance their particular bold flavors with the other ingredients, like matching this Highland 12-year-old with Pedro Ximenez and chocolate.)
3) Glenglassaugh Revival
Reival was the outlier in this Scotch quartet. It’s a funky whisky. Not an entry-level spirit, this is for consumers with more experience on their palates.
Glenglassaugh is a coastal distillery. The resulting salinity is strong in this spirit, which accounts for much of the funk. It aged 50% in European red wine casks, and 50% in ex-Tennessee bourbon barrels, before a combined sherry finish.
On the palate are sweet hard candies, honey, and sherry notes. A long buzzing vibrancy defines the finish.
Revival’s time spent in bourbon barrels reflects another noteworthy trend. More Scotches, Irish whiskeys, and rums are now aging in such casks. This technique is to appeal to the American palate. Familiar bourbon-barrel flavors — vanilla, toffee, etcetera — can help attract new customers into foreign categories.
4) BenRiach Curiositas
The 10-year-old was the sole peated expressed of the four. (GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh both offer peated variants that were not served.)
Customers should not expect a mouthful of campfire like in a Laphroaig. This is a Speyside peated, not an Islay monster. Curiositas has a more subtle smokiness. It’s more about the balance of sweet and smoky, rather than emphasis on the latter.
Islay-lovers may leave unsatisfied. But they are unlikely the demo for Curiositas. This is an entry-level smoky Scotch. Something for beginners, or traditional Speyside drinkers, who seek a bit of smokiness without having to swallow an entire peat bog.
All four of these bottles, plus a few older age statements from each distillery, are available in the U.S.
Brown-Forman is far from done with Scotch. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” proclaimed Stewart Buchanan, Brown-Forman global brand ambassador, as he led the tasting. “There’s a lot more to come.”