Spanish Oak Casks

Glenfiddich Cask Collection and Distillery Tour

My first trip to Scotland may have been organised at the last minute, but the experiences of the distillery visits during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival with my dear friends Elie, Antoine and Jonathan only emboldened my passion for whisky – particularly the inimitable patriarch that is Scotch.

Glenfiddich (translated as “in the valley of the deer” in Scottish Gaelic, hence the stag iconography in its branding), was the one I most enjoyed from beginning to end. Located in the town of Dufftown (pronounced “Duffton” with a soft ‘t’), the vast site is impressive on its own, incorporating a coppersmiths to maintain the stills and a dedicated cooperage to repair the barrels and casks, which were both added in the 1950s.

The most striking element of all though, is the fact that the distillery is one of very few to remain in the same family hands of the founder. I am sure that William Grant, who saw the first spirit to run off the stills on Christmas Day in 1887, would be immensely proud to know his descendants have earned Glenfiddich the highest accolades of most awarded and best-selling single malt whisky in the world.

The welcome centre itself has a wonderfully illustrated poster to whet the appetite for knowledge of the distillery, and our guide in his tartan kilt certainly was the real deal brimming with enthusiasm and knowledge. Thankfully neither the expected weather, nor the prohibition of photography inside the warehouses dampened spirits (excuse the pun). The Solera Vat process unique to Glenfiddich and introduced in 1998, was the focus of our tour in “Warehouse 8”. This marrying method which was modified from the original process most commonly found in sherry and port production, is used for their 15 Year Old to ensure continuity in the taste and intensity of the blend.

Whisky that has been aged for a minimum of 15 years (in the casks from the date of distillation) in American ex-bourbon oak, Spanish ex-Olorosso sherry oak and finally ‘finished’ for 3-6 months in new American oak casks; are half-emptied into the enormous 35,000 litre Solera Vat sequentially at intervals to mix and settle in such a way that the vat itself is always half full of whisky. The ratio of the vatted malt is roughly 70% ex-bourbon, 20% ex-Olorosso sherry, and 10% new American oak and the oldest whisky in the mix is said to be 30 years old, which would certainly help to mellow out its feistier, younger brethren.

Once the interval for mellowing the whisky has passed, half the whisky is finally transferred from the Solera Vat to large 500 litre Portuguese oak tuns to further marry and compound all the greatness of the different casks into the single malt for at least 3 months. Thereafter, it is chill filtered and diluted to 40% ABV (alcohol by volume) with the natural spring water Glenfiddich uses in all its production, from the nearby Robbie Dhu.

In late 2013, three smaller vats were added to Warehouse 8 to be used for then new travel retail exclusive Cask Collection which comprises of Glenfiddich Select Cask, Glenfiddich Reserve Cask and Glenfiddich Vintage Cask whiskies. These were the drams we had the pleasure of tasting at the end of the tour and they were certainly different to the usual expressions I had previously come across, particularly for the fact that they are NAS (non-age statement) Glenfiddich whiskies. The characteristics of each of the three whiskies are a result of maturation in a variety of oak casks followed by a finish for at least 2 months in the new vats and they are bottled only when Glenfiddich’s Malt Master, Brian Kinsman is satisfied with them.

With a relatively short walk over to the welcoming oak interior of the warm and homely tastings suite, we got down to business:

Glenfiddich Select Cask

Glenfiddich Select Cask

The first of the three whiskies was matured in aged American bourbon, European oak and Californian red wine casks, then finished for at least 2 months in the Select Cask Solera Vat.

Nose: Floral notes apparent from the beginning. Some mild apple can be detected among summer fruits.

Palate: Very smooth, barley sweetness and flavours like the zestful pear character of Glenfiddich 12 Year Old with a touch more of oak spice.

Finish: Crisp and refreshing.

The balance of this whisky is very good and would probably be the one to convert non-whisky drinkers. A little more zing on the finish than the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old.

Glenfiddich Reserve Cask

Glenfiddich Reserve Cask

It was immediately apparent from the noticeably redder colour of the second whisky that it was clearly matured in distinctive Spanish sherry casks before being finished for a minimum of 2 months in the Reserve Cask Solera Vat.

Nose: A stronger aroma is present than the first whisky. Plenty of mandarin orange as well as oak spice.

Palate: The sweetness is greater than the Select Cask but the Spanish oak spice gives added complexity. With time, citrus flavours, chocolate raisin and cinnamon engage the palate.

Finish: Long, sweet and slightly drying with time.

Very smooth, exhibiting sweeter and spicier notes. Being a sherry cask fan, this was a little weak for my cask strength palate but still enjoyable.

Glenfiddich Vintage Cask

Glenfiddich Vintage Cask

Like most whisky until the onset of the 20th Century, the barley used for the fermentation process was dried by combusting local peat rather than heating by gas as is the case today, thereby adding smokiness to the flavour of the end product. The Glenfiddich Vintage Cask was born with this heritage in mind.

Peated barley was used specifically and only for the production of this whisky. It was then matured in American Bourbon and European oak casks, to then be finished for no less than 2 months in the Vintage Cask Solera Vat.

Nose: The distinctive salinity and smoke is evident from the start. Some dark roasted cocoa beans and a hint of spice later appear.

Palate: Vanilla sweetness bursts onto the palate and then peat and smoke crash by the wave on the palate. The sweetness and smoke interact like a tango on the tongue as citrus, crème brûlée and a touch of wooden spice appear as it develops in the glass.

Finish: Creamy sweetness and oak spice goes long into the dry smoky finish.

This whisky is a unique and complex iteration of Glenfiddich whose flavours certainly live up to being akin to the old taste of peated Glenfiddich from many decades ago. However, even as an Islay fan, the smoke does not seem to quite work for me, as you cannot help but feel it is too overpowering over the other flavours.

Another first for me at Glenfiddich and probably the most enjoyable moment of the trip I had, was to fill my own unique bottle straight from a single cask. As it was a first fill Sherry, cask strength whisky at 57.8% ABV and chosen to be made available only for visitors during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival this year, it was a sagacious, yet sybaritic purchase. Having tasted a sample before getting my hands on the finished article, I knew from the profoundly deep ruby colour that it would live up to the “Sherry bomb” epithet our guide bestowed on it during the tour. Please watch this space for my first single malt, single cask tasting of this unique malt which will be coming soon!

Glenfiddich Visitors Centre Interior Glenfiddich Visitors Centre Heritage Poster Glenfiddich Site Casks

Glenfiddich Solera Vat

© 2015, Harmic Davidkhanian. All rights reserved.

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