When I was a kid, I was forced to learn about trees every year at school. We’d go to the forests and draw trees; we’d see tree stumps and learn about tree rings; we’d learn the varietals in northern British Columbia; and, we’d understand how the forestry industry was so interlinked with our region.
By the time I was nine, I was sick of learning about trees. But it was, undoubtedly, entirely linked to my childhood.
Now, at the age of 29, I look back much more fondly on those times, traipsing about on field trips to lumber yards, forests and mills. I always say I didn’t have the most standard of childhoods, growing up in the middle of the Canadian countryside, but it is only with hindsight that I can appreciate (and miss) all those lovely trees – their smell, the way they moved in the breeze, their density in the ever-present tracts of forest.
So, as I stood at the recent launch for Glenfiddich 26 year old in front of a beautiful photography exhibition by Simon Butterworth, which captured the journey of oak trees from forest through to barrel, I did so with reverence. I paused in front of each photo and revelled in the fact that they reflected not only the life of those people working in the cooperage part of the whisky industry, but also held so much in common with my formative years. I suddenly didn’t dislike the possibility of learning about trees and wished I still had all my intricate elementary school drawings of tree rings to hand.
The event not only debuted a beautiful new whisky from the William Grant & Sons owned staple distillery, but showed off all of the intricate care and attention that goes into making casks through a live link-up with the owners of the Kelvin Cooperage in Kentucky, from which Glenfiddich gets many of its casks. As Paul McLaughlin said during the webcast: “It takes years of experience to know when a tree is ready.” Which, I suppose, is how you could sum up the skills of the master blenders who take the whisky from those casks and blend it all together – years of experience and know-how goes into it all.
For me, it was a moment to pause and reflect not just on the spirit I love so much, but the fact my roots stem from the types of communities where the raw material that makes the home for that spirit comes from. Not only a great realisation but a warming one indeed.
The new whisky that we tried that night is being brought out for prestige markets – which is a bit of a shame as I wish it could be more readily available. Aged in first and refill American oak barrels, the 26 year old Glenfiddich Excellence is just that – rather excellent. Here’s what I made of it:
(n): Strawberry foams, toasted marshmallows, dried figs, tinned pineapples – a lovely richness balanced between slightly earthy note and gorgeous tropical fruits. Syrupy but still remaining fresh with great intensity. Marcin Miller who I was with said it reminds him of old Bowmore; reminds me of the ’74 Glenfiddich I tried at The Whisky Exchange show in 2013.
(p): Spicy peppery warmth that runs through the pineapple, guava, vanilla, fresh grass, blackberry and creamy brûlée notes; fantastic texture: unctuous without being sickly. Develops from light to dark with elegant progression.
(f): Fruity peppercorns