Few phrases will get a whisky enthusiast’s pulse racing quicker than “vertical tasting”. With all other ingredients – grain, water, yeast, copper, and wood – being equal, it allows an investigation into the effects of that final, abstract ingredient, time. Finding a distillery that produces a range where all else is constant, without the interruption of a special process for the 15-year-old, or a cask finish that adulterates the 10-year-old, can make for a real treat. As such, you can imagine our excitement when Dundee Angus Distillers offered to host the Water of Life team for a virtual vertical tasting of some of the Glencadam range.
Founded in Brechin in Angus, Glencadam has been producing single malt whisky since 1825. Iain Forteath, the Master Blender for Glencadam’s parent company, Angus Dundee Distillers, described Glencadam to us as “Old and traditional in everything they do…it’s rustic and old school, and not trying to be a tourist trap.” The distillery never increased production capacity beyond its two stills: it has barely expanded in its nearly 200-year history. Instead, it has focused on producing what would have once been known as “East Highland” single malt whisky with a fruity, almost tropical character.
While it has changed hands many times in its history, Glencadam most recently passed from Allied Domecq to Angus Dundee Distillers in 2003, having been mothballed since the millennium. Although the distillery was quickly resurrected, this production gap has impacted the availability of suitably old spirit for some age statements, leading to pauses in their release to the market.
The Glencadam range contains age statement whiskies between the 10-year and 25-year point. Among these are a few offerings with finishes, such as the Aged 17 Years Triple Cask Portwood and the Aged 19 Years Oloroso Cask Finish. However, enough releases have only spent time in ex-bourbon barrels to make for a fantastically revealing vertical tasting. Specifically, we were offered the Aged 10 Years, the Aged 15 Years, and the Aged 21 Years.
The range we tasted were all bottles at 46% ABV and were all non-chill-filtered and without colouring. All were matured in ex-bourbon barrels, with the only variation other than age being the percentage of first-fill and refill barrels used.
Glencadam Aged 10 Years
£33.95 (Master of Malt)
Nose: there’s a real freshness to this nose; it feels almost spring-like and very vibrant. A fruit cocktail to start containing sharp granny smiths, fleshy peaches, zesty limes and honeydew melon. Slight notes of fragrant vanilla too.
Palate: A vast change to the nose. This time, it turns into a more desert-based sweet-fest with lots of butter and cream, with white chocolate being especially dominant. The vanilla just finishes it perfectly.
Finish: The finish is annoyingly short, with lots of warmth with the vanilla still there from the palate, with a hint of pepper just to finish off.
Nose: The nose is extremely fresh! Fresh green apples and peaches, with a touch of crème brulé and sweet vanilla. There are some tropical undertones as well, with hints of passion fruit coming through.
Palate: The sweeter notes hinted at on the nose come through much more strongly: vanilla and honey lead the way. There’s also creamy chocolate and a little citrus.
Finish: Very light. Slightly floral with vanilla and pepper lingering, but not for long.
Opinion: We were actually a little astonished by the Aged 10 Years. It really stands out from the other offerings found at its price point. The different balances found between the nose and palate made the dram particularly interesting to explore. The greatest drawback is the length of finish, but this can be overcome by simply going back for more! A bit of a gem.
Glencadam Aged 15 Years
£56.85 (Master of Malt)
Nose: A lot ‘thicker’ on the nose this time compared to the 10. Less fruit and more wood and spice influence this time around. Some fruit lingers, mainly in the form of pear drops, but the overwhelming spice from the cinnamon takes centre stage.
Palate: More sweetness to it this time around, with maple syrup and crème caramel adding a lovely balance with the white pepper notes. The spice continues with an abundance of warmth from the cloves.
Finish: Lots more warmth to boot! An indulgence of spice with cumin and cinnamon being the leading players here.
Nose: There are still some fruity notes found in the 10, but they’ve been joined by wood and spice. There are peaches, bananas and apricots, with honey and oak notes. The spice comes through as cinnamon and gingernut biscuits.
Palate: Maple syrup! Orchard fruits are still there but are dominated by sweetness and spice from preserved ginger, hobnobs and pepper.
Finish: Much greater than the 10. A really creamy mouthfeel, with warmth from pepper and a nutty sweetness.
Opinion: We both agreed that the Aged 15 Years would have impressed us much more if we hadn’t tried the 10 first. Apparently, this is Glencadam’s whisky with the greatest cult following, and we could understand why, but its price is a bit of a drawback: while the 10 is class-leading, the £55-65 range contains tougher competition. The Aged 15 Years did grow on us: it benefits from a little bit of air and a bigger bit of drinking. However, it doesn’t quite have the “wow” factor of its younger sibling.
Glencadam Aged 21 Years
£103.89 (Amazon; limited stock remaining)
Nose: a beautiful concoction of sweetness. There’s fruity sweetness first with dried pineapple and mango, giving it an excellent tropical boost. Then there’s a trip to the sweetshop with a tasting of liquorice and aniseed followed by a helping of wine gums.
Palate: sticking with the fruits, but a dose of Christmas this time. Stewed apples in buttery crumble with lots of cinnamon. Lots more spice; take your pick of anything from star anise, cumin, pepper and cloves. Lovely stuff.
Finish: Spice lessens ever so slightly with a more mellow finish with vanilla taking precedence—lovely warmth into a long finish.
Nose: Dave’s “wine gums” note could not be more spot on. There are also some great tropical fruit aromas, with dried pineapple and mango coming through strongly accompanied by desiccated coconut and toasted almonds.
Palate: There’s a great, complex balance of fruit and spice. Mango and vanilla are joined by apple crumble and pineapple upside-down cake. These transition to delightful and complex spice flavours, with cinnamon, pepper, star anise, cumin, and cloves.
Finish: A long, creamy finish, with the spices slowly mellowing, until vanilla custard and honey remain.
Opinion: This dram showcases the complexity that a long time spent in ex-bourbon barrels can impart on a whisky. The nose and palate were both finely balanced and complex, with more and more aromas and flavours emerging. The price isn’t bad for a 21-year-old and doesn’t just buy a high age statement, but an exciting and engrossing whisky. However, there is one significant issue: with the distillery having been closed between 2000 and 2003, no more Aged 21 Years will be released to the market until 2024, meaning this dram will become increasingly difficult to track down.
A lovely surprise. With free whisky, I don’t generally think that it will be anything worth shouting about, but this is a real revelation to what I was expecting. I was most impressed with the 10-year-old, for the price you can’t get a lot better, such freshness and character for something that age. The Aged 21 Years is a different whisky altogether; the depth is excellent and just beats the Aged 10 Years as the best in range. A quality range for the price.
This tasting started extremely strongly with the Aged 10 Years, which has to be among the best value of any entry-level single malts I’ve tried. While the fruit notes ran as a common theme through this range, it was interesting to see how increasingly complex spices developed as the whisky spent longer in wood. The resulting Aged 21 Years was quite impressive.
Given that I usually get most excited by innovative and exciting whiskies, I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed these offerings from Glencadam, which is about as traditional a distillery as you will find. It does serve as a reminder that there is a reason for the obsession with tradition across the industry: when the basics are done very well, the results can be fantastic.
Disclosure: The samples and virtual tasting experience that informed this article were provided to the Water of Life team by Angus Dundee Distillers free of charge. Angus Dundee Distillers have not had any other input into this article, nor has the Water of Life team relinquished any editorial control.
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