Travel retail exclusive

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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Montecristo Churchill Añejados

Montecristo is the most ubiquitous of all Cuban cigars brands, with the majority of Habanos S.A.’s revenue coming from sales of the soon to be octogenarian brand (having been established in 1935). This is the first documented release of Montecristo cigars for public sale of this vitola – a parejo of the Julieta No.2 factory appellation, commonly known since 1947 as the “Churchill” size, and showcased with great fanfare at this week’s Festival del Habano XVII as part of the new line of Añejados (rolled and boxed Habanos aged between 5-8 years before release).

At first glance, its sturdy structure certainly makes it look like a flavoursome cigar to enjoy after a grand meal in the evening with a worthily paired digestif. On closer inspection, the light and somewhat speckled colorado shade of wrapper exhibited in all the boxes when they were first made available in the UK may not be that impressive – especially to those like me, who prefer a darker shade on the capa.

Contemplating an accompaniment to this aged Montecristo left me concerned not to choose anything overpowering, yet still embodying a crucial sweetness and long finish to compensate the expected earthiness the brand is famous for. A bottle of Rémy Martin Reserve Cellar Selection Cellar N°28 cognac that I shrewdly purchased in LAX duty free (set for first European release in April 2015) came to mind. Rémy Martin’s twenty-nine ageing cellars in Domaine de Merpins in the Cognac region of France each have different layouts, temperatures and humidity levels to induce different aromatic impressions to their respective maturing liquid gold. The Maître de Chai (Cellar Master) selection of Cellar N°28 celebrates the unique aromatic style of the eaux-de-vie from that particular cellar with its “rich candied fruit notes”. Designated as an XO (above 20 years old), using some of the rarest blends available, I hoped that this would be the right match.

The good pre-light draw without any bitter ammonia notes turned out to be a misjudged indication as to what came next. The first few puffs had expected earthiness but certainly more spice than I anticipated. Barely an inch into the tasting, a sudden kick of white pepper flashed on the retrohale. Furthermore, the somewhat ‘meagre’ cepo felt awkward to begin with, as the volume of smoke was not as generous as I have grown accustomed to, principally smoking much thicker cigars.

Nonetheless, a sip of the Selection du Maître de Chai refreshed my palate with rich dried fruits and a wonderfully long finish. The Churchill may have sensed my plea for more subtlety and mellower and creamier, milk chocolate notes graciously came to pass. With the second third starting to showcase the complexity of the aged tobacco, a hint of anise on the retrohale was satisfying. The last third developed further with darker chocolate notes veiled with complex earthiness and spice. With barely an inch left, my Añejado experience concluded with the promising thought that only a few more years of ageing would refine the balance and pleasure of a future tasting.

Tasting notes and details:

Montecristo Churchill Añejados

Factory NameJulieta No.2

Size47 x 7.0”  (18.65 x 178)mm

Box code and dateASB  JUL06

WrapperColorado capa with no protruding veins. A few faint beauty spots present.

Draw – Good draw. Box age very apparent as pre-light notes exhibit complete lack of ammonia. Faint nuances of earthiness.

First third – Earthiness from the start but also a burst of white pepper which thankfully mellows out to some delicate milk chocolate notes.

Second third – Starts to further show its age with greater complexity coming through. A hint of anise in addition to more milk chocolate and earthiness on the retrohale.

Last third – Darker chocolate veiled by earthiness and stronger spice. Still smoking well with only an inch left.

PairingRémy Martin Reserve Cellar Selection Cellar N°28 (travel retail exclusive) cognac – 40%. Nose of red candied fruits does not disappoint with the silky texture wrapping the taste buds with a lingering finish and refreshing the palate for the later complex flavours of the cigar.

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© 2015, Harmic Davidkhanian. All rights reserved.

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