The story behind the oldest bottle of whisky in The GlenDronach distillery’s library goes something like this: Before departing for combat at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, three friends each purchased a bottle of 29-year-old scotch whisky, agreeing to open their bottles together upon reuniting after the war. Only one of the three returned home. Keeping his end of the pact he never opened his bottle, and his family later gifted it back to The Glendronach where it had been distilled in 1884 and bottled nearly three decades later.
So when filmmaker Matthew Vaughn, franchise director of the Kingsman films, approached The GlenDronach Master Blender Dr. Rachel Barrie about collaborating on a special limited edition whisky to mark the release of the latest installment in the series, she knew exactly where she would draw inspiration. Set during WWI, The King’s Man sets out the origin story of the Kingsman intelligence agency amid that era’s geopolitical upheaval. With the surviving soldier’s 1884 vintage whisky in mind, Barrie sought out six casks of equally aged 29-year-old liquid in The GlenDronach’s warehouses and set to work on a blend.
Marketing tie-ins are a funny thing in whisky, as they can land anywhere on the spectrum from gimmicky distractions at one end to unexpected and fortuitous sources of inspiration at the other. And while it’s easy enough to brush many of them aside as commercial stunts, there are plenty of instances where brand-driven special editions have created opportunities for consumers to—at the very least—experience an age statement, cask regimen, or blend from a distillery that they otherwise might not have (some of Diageo’s “Game of Thrones” releases come to mind).
The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage lands all the way at the “inspired” end of this spectrum. It comprises what is virtually the last of the 1989 whisky left in The GlenDronach’s warehouses, Barrie says, making the roughly 3,000 bottles produced all the more unique. And without the impetus from the Kingsman tie-in and the inspiration from the soldier’s unopened WWI bottle, we likely wouldn’t have seen this otherworldly liquid come to market.
The result of these stars aligning is one of those bottles that some consumers will shrug off and for which others will clamor (collectors mainly, but also anyone cognizant of the great heights to which The GlenDronach and Barrie can go). Every bit of the liquid in these six casks spent time in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks over the last three decades, which means this whisky is deep, fruity, nutty, and rich. But from here, the way in which you describe a whisky of this age and caliber becomes less straightforward.
You can talk about its aged copper hue or the way it absolutely clings to the glass when you swirl it. There are the aromas of red fruits and dark berries on the nose that balance neatly against the earthier and nuttier notes of cedar and walnut—notes that evoke something like nibbling on a warm, fruit-filled pastry while taking a wintertime walk in the woods. Then there are the flavors: fig, raisin, dark berries—a surprising amount of bright fruitiness for a whisky that’s spent this much time in barrels—alongside the balanced nuttiness of pecans, hazelnuts, and walnuts, tailing slowly off into dark fruit and tobacco.
But what’s really stunning in a whisky like this is the integration that you just can’t fake; either your whisky has spent three decades maturing in various Spanish sherry casks or it hasn’t, and there’s no substitute for either time or expert cask management. The complexity and depth of character in this bottle stems from a stunning commingling of the The GlenDronach’s signature sherry-derived flavors, providing something rich and multifaceted that nonetheless plays like a well-rehearsed orchestra on the palate.
Most consumers who drop $1,300 on this very old, very limited, and very excellent release will likely want to hold it in their collections. The bottom line: This whisky is drinking beautifully right now.