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CI’s drinks expert, Kentucky Colonel, and Master of the Quaich Marcin Miller looks at Glenfiddich’s offering and is very impressed…
As Alexander Pope advised us, “a little learning is a dangerous thing”. This can be applied to drinks knowledge, too. In our multi-platform, digital, iWorld, everyone with a keyboard is an expert. Gone are the days when years would be spent on research and, as a result, book-learning is undervalued so very few commentators have root and branch knowledge. Admittedly, this sounds like the delirious ranting of an old fool but there is a point to my curmudgeonliness…
If you don’t know about the history of, say, single malt then you have little idea of heritage or context. An example; Glendfiddich. Even as the spoilt editor of Whisky Magazine, I would bristle whenever whisky neophytes would smugly inform me that they thought Glenfiddich was, well, not very good as if this critical assessment was their own and it was some kind of badge of honour.
How recently had any of those ‘experts’ tasted Glenfiddich blind? Or was their judgement based on the perceived sin of ubiquity? Had they raided their parents’ drinks cabinet one evening when home alone and drunk too much from the distinctive triangular bottle?
For the fact is, gentle reader, that without Glenfiddich there would not be any single malt category as we know it today. Back in the 1960s the Grants – for the business remains a family-owned Scottish concern, rather than an overseas multinational – went out on a limb to market their single malt in a world dominated by the big name blends. Brilliantly, this spirit of innovation remains in the business today; recent successes include the launch of Hendricks gin in 2000 and the creation of Monkey Shoulder. Yet William Grant & Sons retains the world number one spot, as sales of Glenfiddich exceed one million cases (a first for a single malt), as well as a top four blend in Grant’s.
But what does it taste like and which should I list..?
Glenfiddich 12 Years Old is the benchmark; classic Speyside character with fruit, sweetness and a slight cereal note. Using both American oak and oloroso sherry butts in its maturation, it is medium-bodied and mouth-watering.
Glenfiddich 18 Years Old is a linear progression; the same whisky but six years older. It has a nice, spicy palate and notes of raisin, cinnamon and ginger suggest that a higher proportion of sherry casks have been used for its maturation. It is satisfyingly long on the finish.
Glenfiddich 15 Years Old is another example of the pioneering spirit of the Grant family as it matures in a solera. In 1998 a 37,000 litre vat was built from Douglas fir (Oregon pine) out of an old washback. This was filled with 15-year-old whisky and has been constantly replenished since then. The solera system is widely used for the maturation of sherry but this was the first time it had been applied to single malt. Some virgin American oak is used in the initial maturation of the whisky which delivers a rich, honey sweetness. A whisky of excellent complexity and sweetness, it is also preposterously good value.
Glenfiddich Rich Oak (14 Years Old) is deliciously distinctive with notes of chewed pencils on the palate. It is all about the oak, as the name implies, but there is plenty going on here; cedar and white pepper with an emphasis on texture rather than weight. Splendid stuff.
Glenfiddich Age of Discovery, Madeira Finish, 19 Years Old is, for me, the pick of the bunch and one of the better whiskies I’ve tasted for some time; the objective was the influence of a used Madeira cask on Glenfiddich rather than trying to create something overtly Madeira-like. The result is a fantastic whisky with a rich and chewy mouthfeel of nutty plums and a palate of dates, plums, figs and prunes. It is a limited edition so if you see it, buy it.
Glenfiddich 21 Years Old was formerly known as Havana Reserve. A multi-layered, supple whisky of great depth it is all leather, dates, figs and over-ripe bananas. If one can smoke in your establishment, then do not hesitate to recommend this one…
Curiously, dependent on your standpoint, these whiskies are all under-priced or represent excellent value. The UK retail on the 21 is £80 to £100. All the others are in the £30 to £50 range.