Glenfiddich is one of those whiskies that you see everywhere but which can be easy to skip past for thinking it’s a major market brand that sloshes out millions of litres without thinking of what’s going into the bottles.
You would, of course, be right in thinking it sells millions of litres (11 to be exact) but you’d be wrong to think there wasn’t a definite passion and focus on creating great spirit also lingering behind those sales figures.
One of the most enthusiastic people I (and likely many other whisky lovers) have met is Jamie Milne, the Glenfiddich brand ambassador. Now, he is employed to be enthusiastic but (cynicism aside folks) talking with him about whisky has never felt forced or “PR’d” – he just really loves what Glenfiddich produces.
I recently attended a tasting with him at the Soho Whisky Club (along with other whisky folks – the Caskstrength chaps, Living Room Whisky‘s Jon, Kirsty Chant, Master of Malt‘s Ben Ellefsen and Cat Spencer, Ian Buxton and Mark (Dramatic Whisky) Thomson).
One of his first statements is that people do often forget what Glenfiddich is about. And then he finds they’ll re-taste it and be reminded it is actually a “darn good whisky”.
I’ll definitely hold my hands up and say I’m guilty. I do not own a single bottle of Glenfiddich but that’s not because I don’t like it. I wrote about some of its new releases here a while back and very much enjoyed some. But I do fall into the category of sometimes overlooking it for want of smaller batch whiskies.
So, it was with interest I sat down to do a deconstruction of the Glenfiddich 15-year-old Solera that night. We were to try the various whiskies that make up the Solera (well, nearly, as one was missing and was substituted by the 15 year old Distillery Edition) and get to know each whisky involved in its make up.
As background, the Solera is a unique whisky in that it is made of three separate whiskies that are marrried in a 37,000 litre vat which is never fully emptied. This means that each time a bottling is done, some stays behind in the vat to be included in the next run.
As Jamie explained: “Some of the whisky being bottled today as “Glenfiddich 15 Solera” was 15-years-old in 1998 and has been in the vat ever since, mixed with subsequent casks of 15-year-old.”
We started with the 15-year-old Distillery Edition, a 51% whisky made from a mix of American and European oak casks, including Oloroso sherry casks. While it doesn’t officially help make up the Solera – as that is normally done with the 15-year-old refill cask whisky – Jamie said it was a very close representation of the whisky normally in place.
On the nose, I found it started with a slight citrus, apple and peach note, before moving into scents of hay, oak, a dash of marzipan, buttery baked pineapple and warming spice. On the palate, I picked up pineapple, cream, caramel, popcorn and butter. There was a slight gentle burn at the front of palate and a warm, grassy finish.
We then moved onto a 15-year-old, that had been transferred into virgin American oak casks to be aged for four-six months.
The nose was a lovely bouquet – very sweet, like fresh baking batter: vanilla, brown sugar and eggs. There was a hint of cinnamon spice and a touch of paint thinner lingering below. I loved the palate on this one, which reminded me of just-made cinnamon buns with lots of thick and sweet brown sugar and icing filling.
The final element of the Solera was the Glenfiddich 15-year-old sherry butt matured cask. On the nose it was a proper sherry bomb (to Cat’s delight), with tannin, wood, sherry, chocolate and raisin elements. On the palate, there was a lot of spice, a hint of red pepper corns, and a dry, tannic finish with a dash of sulphur lingering about.
The marriage of all of these elements was then tested out on its own through a sample of the finished product: the 15-year-old Solera. On this nose I found the cakey marzipan notes from the Distillery Edition and Virgin oak finished whisky returned, but there was a definite rich spice imparted from the sherry casks, along with lemon pie, cherries and oak. The palate had more oak influence, along with a caramel note, some cinnamon spice and a fleshy fruit I pegged down to remind me of peaches.
We finished on a completely different note: the 125th anniversary edition, a duty free exclusive which is not being released in the UK. This was hugely varied from the normal Glenfiddich in that it was peated. According to Jamie, the distillery does a run of highly peated malt for two weeks at the end of each year and master distiller Brian Kinsman decided to recreate a Glenfiddich similar to what would have been found in distillery releases in the late 1800s, by doing a vat of half peated and half unpeated malt.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make notes on this one (tut-tut) as I was too distracted by the fantastic tales of life in the whisky industry being told to us by Jamie’s father, who worked in the industry for decades. But, I can say it was a richly peated whisky that still had some Speyside sweetness to it from the unpeated malt.
All in all, it was a great reminder of just what goes into Glenfiddich. And a tasting the made me want to go out and discover more of this company’s releases. It may be massive, but it’s still got soul.