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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Team Sheet: The New Glenfiddich Whisky Collection


The moment Fabio Cappello was sacked as England manager the country took a sharp intake of breath. All across the land, work colleagues were leaning over booths, engaging their co-workers in conversation. Barmen in pubs from Norwich to Newcastle were hosting the same conversations in their hostelries. And taxi drivers in London, Birmingham and Manchester were no longer asked: “What time are you on ‘til, mate?”, in favour of the one question fuelling all these discussions.

Who will take over as England manager?

This question is still being discussed, at great length on some 24 hour news channels, grateful for the content in these times of mass media. But to whom did The FA turn so close to a major tournament? Well, in the interim at least, a chap called Stuart Pearce was put in charge. Nicknamed ‘Psycho’ from his ‘take-no-prisoners’ playing style, Pearce has been promoted from his role as manager of the England Under 21’s team (as well as being at the helm of Team GB’s attempt to win a gold at the London 2012 Olympics) to take full charge of the England First XI.

Moving a manager up from what is effectively the England youth team in to the first team shows the same journey that a lot of the players have been on, rising up through the ranks to break in to the main squad. This coming summer will see an international breakthrough for players such as Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck and Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge, both of whom have graduated from the U-21’s to play with the ‘big boys’ on the world stage. If you want to see who will probably be playing for England tomorrow, go and watch the Under 21’s today.

It seems that increasingly, a similar testing ground for quality and acceptability is being applied to whisky, via the world of Travel Retail (nee, Duty Free). Take Johnnie Walker Double Black, for instance. Initially only available in Bangkok, Dubai, Beirut, New York JFK, Singapore and Sydney airports, such was the reception of this new product that the distribution was widened and you can now pick up a bottle in your local Sainsbury's.

I can’t decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I know a lot of whiskies are and will remain Travel Retail exclusives; a good thing in my book. If you’re gonna risk life and limb getting on a giant metal bird (there is a reason why, when you arrive at an airport, the first word you see is TERMINAL...) then you deserve to be able to buy something unique, something special, something no one else has. I also don’t want to feel like my purchase was ‘market research’ which I’ve had the privilege to pay for. However, on the flip side I like Johnnie Walker Double Black; it’s a bloody good blend and I don’t want to have to fly in and out of Beirut airport to buy a bottle, thank you very much. Sainsbury’s Nine Elms is a hell of a lot closer to where I live.

All of this brings me to a new set of releases from Glenfiddich; two new introductions to their first team and one wearing a brand new, shiny kit.

The first is a graduate from the ‘youth team’ that is Travel Retail, with the launch of the Glenfiddich 19 Year Old Age Of Discovery Madeira Cask Finish in to the UK. Previously only available in Travel Retail, we reviewed this whisky here and after trying it again, we weren’t so enamoured with it, finding it a little thin in both body and flavour. It almost reminded me of an alcoholic version of the orange squash from Sunday School, but if they’d have served this instead, then I wouldn’t have minded going each week...

Moving on to the next member of their squad, the newly packaged 21 Year Old: now we’re talking. This is a whisky and it has been given the packaging overhaul it deserved. Housed in what can only be described as a beauty of a bottle, the additional ‘sub-branding’ of Gran Reserva has been added to the moniker. You also get a bigger box, a booklet and something described as ‘an intricately designed filigree pattern’ on the label. Erm, okay.

The liquid itself is matured in American oak casks and then additionally matured for four months in Caribbean rum casks.

Glenfiddich – 21 Years Old – 40% abv - £99 rrp but cheaper here and here

Nose: Baked apple and cinnamon, toffee and tablet, black bananas and baked pear all come through on the nose, with a lovely rich sweetness underpinning the aromas. Some leather tones, but new leather, not vintage.

Palate: Banana dipped in dark chocolate fondue, some wood tones of dry oak, liquorice (salted?) all come together to give a bold palate full of tasty flavours. Well balanced and rich.

Finish: Spice and cinnamon on the death with a sweet, vanilla ending.

Overall: A really excellent whisky. I’m a huge fan of the rich oak 14 and their excellent 18 Years Old offering, but this really does turn up the flavours up a notch and shows such a great lineage across their sub-£100 range.

To finish off the additions to their new squad is a late comer to the game; the Ian Wright (or Matty Elliott for Oxford fans...). Not making its way up through the youth team ranks, but landing with a bump and a hefty transfer fee is the 1974 Vintage.

This is Glenfiddich’s first ever Vatted Vintage Reserve and was constructed, much like the excellent Snow Phoenix, by combining whiskies of different strengths, ages and finishes (although all from 1974, one would wager). A panel of their Global Brand Ambassadors, headed up by the talented Malt Master Brian Kinsman, were give vintages from 1973, 1974 and 1975 to choose from. After much debate this whisky, the 1974, was chosen and bottled. Only 1,000 bottles have been made with just 50 being released in the UK at a fantastic price of £499. If you can find it!

Glenfiddich – 1974 Vintage – Released 2011 – 1000 bottles only - 46.8% abv - £499

Nose: Blackcurrant leaf, toasted brown bread with butter develops into cinnamon toast topped with vanilla sugar. Some of the pear notes from the 21 come through providing a balance to the spicy cinnamon tones. Very well balanced and well constructed nose.

Palate: A huge hit of sweet tea and blackcurrant lozenges is underpinned with a note of freshly baked sourdough bread and a freshly opened packet of dried mixed fruits. The addition of water softens the palate in more of a fruit cake direction, but the vanilla is still present enough to give this an extra dimension.

Finish: Long and spicy with some drying tones of wood.

Overall: A very well put together whisky at what is these days, a good price for a rare bottling. Great job all round.

So there we have it. Two new additions to the Glenfiddich First Team and a new kit for one player. Sadly for me, at the age of 32, I think my international football career may be over. I’m off to email Stuart Pearce my retirement notice, before he tells me the sad news that I’ve not been selected for Euro 2012 anyway...