This past Tuesday, I found myself, once again, at my favorite Irish Pub/Whisky Bar, Trinity Hall (www.trinityhall.tv). The reason for this second visit in December, only a week after the Blind Tasting event, was an invite-only evening with Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador David Allardice. But more than just a routine tasting of the Glenfiddich whiskies, the concept for this evening was a deconstruction of the Glenfiddich 21 yr Gran Reserva, one of Glenfiddich’s core releases.
Before David could get started on the official tasting, Marius surprised everybody, David included, by sharing a taste of the newly-released Glenfiddich 14 yr Bourbon Barrel Reserve. The Bourbon Barrel reserve is a US-only release designed to do a couple of things: one is to fill the gap between the 12 yr and the 15 yr (and, yes, Glenfiddich is remaining committed to age-stated releases!), and the second is to offer a profile that can compete in the US with bourbon. Glenfiddich has priced this release in the $50 range – a very reasonable price point for a 14 year-old scotch whisky these days – and to ideally serve as an introduction to scotch for bourbon drinkers, hoping to drive more cross-over sales.
The Bourbon Barrel Reserve is matured for a full 14 years in ex-bourbon American White Oak casks and then transferred to New American White Oak casks for four months. Glenfiddich has sourced these new casks directly from the Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, KY. By finishing this whisky in the new casks, Glenfiddich has sought to add to the core Glenfiddich flavors and aromas, and there is a notable difference. This whisky is sweet up-front, with cinnamon and dry-spice notes, more vanilla and caramel, with an undercurrent of the ripe apples and pears that is so common to the young Glenfiddich whiskies. WIth the addition of water, the mouthfeel becomes nicely creamy and rather rich. The finishing seems to have achieve their stated objectives, creating a sweeter vanilla-driven profile that is much more akin to bourbon than it is to either the current 12 yr or 15 yr offerings. So, I’d say mission accomplished.
Anyway, back to the official tasting. We started with the entry-level Glenfiddich 12 year-old, a whisky that almost everyone who drinks scotch whisky has tried before, and one that the crowd at Trinity Hall knew well. David offered just a brief bit of background on this whisky; that it was an evolution from the original Glenfiddich malt whisky first released in 1963. Bottled at 40% abv, the 12 year-old is a vatting of approximately 85% American white oak ex-bourbon casks and 15% European Oak sherry casks. Eminently approachable, albeit a bit on the simple side, the Glenfiddich 12 is full of ripe pears and apples, a creamy vanilla sweetness, a touch of oak with hints of cinnamon and other dry baking spices. This whisky is light, rather delicate, perhaps just a tad thin and slightly dry on the palate. A drop or two of water makes the palate a bit creamier and brings more focus to the spice and vanilla notes. The reason to start with the GF 12 was to show the basic profile elements that Glenfiddich exhibits; the softly spiced, fruity, delicate nature of their whiskies.
From that rather benign starting point, we got into started with the Deconstruction Tasting. If you’ve never had an opportunity to attend a “deconstruction”, the objective is to dissect and evaluate of the various components to better understand how they contribute to the final product.
David started by introducing the “official” Gran Reserva, taking us through the process and a set of tasting notes. The Glenfiddich 21 yr Gran Reserva is composed of mostly ex-Bourbon casks with just a small amount of sherry-cask matured whiskies that come from refill sherry butts. After maturing for a minimum 21 years, the whisky is then finished in Rum Casks for a period of just four months. According to David, through experimentation, they determined that any time longer than the four months in the rum casks began result in too much rum impact, losing the traditional Glenfiddich character.
Now the fun really began as we launched into the Deconstruction tasting. The Deconstruction lineup included a tasting of the 21 yr Glenfiddich that had not been finished in the rum casks, a sampling of the rum that was used to season the casks for finishing, and the official Glenfiddich 21 yr Gran Reserva.
First up, the “unfinished” 21 yr Glenfiddich. Served at a Cask Strength of 55%-56%, when tasted neat the abv was so high that the nose was closed and it was very hot on the palate. Neat I could get only the subtlest notes of vanilla and fruits. Fortunately, after adding water, the true character of this whisky came through, revealing a sweet, creamy vanilla, apples, some stone fruits, butterscotch, with a hint of cinnamon and baking spices.
Second on the list was the rum. Glenfiddich imports bulk Caribbean rum from a broker. The rum is filled into empty ex-bourbon casks to season the casks. The rum is then drained and filled into other casks. I either missed it if David said, or neglected to write it down if he did say something about exactly how many times the rum is used. At some point Glenfiddich does consider the rum “used” and actually resells the rum back to the broker…at a profit! We’re sure that somewhere someone is selling rum aged in Glenfiddich whisky barrels! I admit that while I’ve had some good rums, I don’t have a significant amount of experience with them. Most of the rums I’ve tried bordered on the overly-sugary sweet side that just isn’t my favorite taste profile. This rum, though, I found quite interesting and very good. Also served at a cask strength of approximately 55%, this rum was a very dry, spicy rum. Full of dried spices, some dried fruits and a nice citric note, along with a pronounced white pepper heat. I found this rum very good!
And for the Finale, we sampled the Gran Reserva. With all our new-found tasting knowledge, it was fun to be able to taste and evaluate how the two components the resulting whisky. The sweet vanilla and fruits of the “unfinished” whisky along with the soft dry spice notes from the rum were all evident, but they whole is more than its parts. The nose has toffee, vanilla cream, fresh figs and dried fruits, and the soft spices. On the palate, this is nicely elegant with a delicate, growing arrival with ripe fruits, spiced vanilla, a hint of citrus, cinnamon, and raisins. Water brings out more fruits on both the nose and the palate. I will say that tasting this following the cask strength unfinished 21 yr and the rum made this one feel even softer than it is (having tasted it before). ,
Ok, I did say that the Gran Reserva was the Finale, but that’s not quite true. A few of us stayed afterwards, migrating to the outside area to enjoy an incredibly nice, warm December evening. Our host David, in his ever-friendly, incredibly generous, look-how-innocent-I-am trouble-making sort of way, decided to bring out a couple of extra drams for us to enjoy – the Glenfiddich Malt Masters Edition and the Balvenie 17 yr Peated Cask. I didn’t bother to take notes on either of these whiskies, instead, we sat outside, until quite late, debating, discussing and enjoying whiskies as only true whisky nuts can do!
Anyway, to wrap this up, thanks as always to David Allardice for hosting a very enjoyable event, and to Marius Donnelly and Trinity Hall for helping put together another fabulous whisky evening!