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Monday, 16 February 2009

A Feast of 'Fiddichs...

Recently, we've had the pleasure to meet some wonderful people whose lifeblood runs deep with many a fine dram. Just to sit and listen to their stories and experiences working with whisky warms our hearts and gives us all something to hope for- that we're still as passionate about it as they are, in the decades to come.
In this day and age of quick job turnover, little work satisfaction and lack of employee/employer respect, it was wonderful to hear that up at Glenfiddich, several of their team were marking out some serious malt milestones in their employment history. Last year, Dennis McBain the distillery's well respected Coppersmith, celebrated his 50th year with the company and amazingly, over 20 other craftsmen have been with the distillery for over 30 years.

Last week, Caskstrength managed to meet up for a splendid tasting evening with two similarly long serving gents from Glenfiddich - Mr Ian Murray, 'Host extraordinaire' and Mr Ian McDonald, Master Cooper - and all round top bloke.

It was fascinating to hear that for such a huge operation, Glenfiddich still adhere to certain traditional values, originating from when the company first breathed life, in the hands of the original generation of Grants. From working to the original timings of the spirit cuts, to using of the infamous Robbie Dhu Burn throughout, it was clear that the company still views itself as a family business, albeit a globe conquering one!

The evening introduced us to the extended family of ‘Classic’ ‘Fiddich expressions and a few other younger siblings which surprised and delighted equally at the same time. First up... the new born- kicking and screaming to get out of the sample bottle!

Glenfiddich - New Make Spirit, distilled January 2009. - not for resale - 64% vol

Very fruity, but balanced with lots of pepper and cereal notes- clean and very inviting.

Palate: Hugely reminiscent of pasturised fresh apple juice (no doubt, the classic underlying theme of tonight's tasting) lots of cereal notes again and some candifloss light sweetness.
Finish: A very fresh new make, more sweetness develops as your palate dries.

Overall: A sure sign of things to come and definitely give you an insight into the house style that has become the bedrock of most Glenfiddich releases.

Next up, a real treat. Ian had unexpectedly bought along some 'work in progress' whisky, which we were chomping at the bit to try!!

Future 'Fiddich !! - 7 Years Old - 56.4% vol- Mature by 2014

To try a distillery's new-make spirit is like looking into the DNA of a finished bottle. To try a mid-matured whisky is like a half term school report!! will this be an A* or a 'could try harder'...

Nose: Hard butter candy (Werther's Originals), crisp cream crackers, unripe banana, hazel nuts, lemon zest and white chocolate shavings. Really under the influence of the bourbon cask which contained it, but yet still so expressive for a very young whisky.

Palate: Cereals, (toasted oats) masses of malt extract (rather like sweetened Shreddie's) fudge, white wine notes and green apples. Young but, again, hugely promising.

Finish: Sweet, short and feinty, this really shows where the whisky will undoubtedly head by the time it's fully matured.

Overall: A wonderful blueprint of how an expression can start to develop over time,taking direction from its cask but demonstrating how good whisky relies on a highly characterful and spirited centre.

12 Year Old - 40% vol - 70cl

Rather than just approach this, Glenfiddich’s entry level single malt as a mere 12 year old, it was fascinating to hear that that the casks that go into this bottling are based on a vatting of 15% sherry and 85% bourbon casks. Everything is then placed in a marrying tun for up to 3 months before bottling.

Nose: Dark brown sugar, freshly cut apples and grass, lots of perfumed floral notes and a huge dash of buttery caramel thrown in for good measure.

Palate: More sliced green apple, pears, hints of spice (a light dusting of nutmeg and cinnamon) with more sweet caramel (not the horrible, bitter colouring) coming through at the end.

Finish: Slightly dry /sour balance, with some fresh green shoots. Smooth and well constructed.

Overall: A very good opening release for our evening. This is a fine entry-level single malt and those who have perhaps overlooked it because of Glenfiddich’s huge global success, should revisit this and be pleasantly surprised.

15 Year Old- 40% vol- 70cl

This next single malt as many of you will recall is the excellent Solera Reserve, renamed and numbered. At its heart still beats a blend of new oak casks and used bourbon, as well as a larger percentage of sherry casks, married together in the famous Solera vat.

Nose: Ripe banana’s in golden syrup, buttery Scottish tablet, mint and warming spices, as well as a big dollop of Manuka honey. Very well balanced and rich.

Palate: A lovely glossy mouth feel leads into fruity and spicy notes with more toffee/caramel sweetness and a dusting of cinnamon.

Finish: Classic ‘Fiddich cut apples, more mint fresh green shoots and lots of rich dried fruits, prunes/sultana’s right on the death.

Overall: This dram has given some people mixed opinions, but for me, it is a very refined glass of single malt and I am pleased it hasn’t suffered at all in its transition from Solera to 15 year old bottling.

18 Year Old – 40% vol – 70cl

This time, Ian explains that a 20/80 balance between sherry and bourbon go into the 18 year old bottling. On previous tastings, this has been my overall pick , so will it triumph tonight?

Nose: There it is- that lovely cut apple again (I never tire of this aroma) some spiced notes (Star Anise, nutmeg and more cinnamon) Also, some deeper, musty German wine notes start to appear the longer you leave this dram. A lovely heady concoction.

Palate: The sherry becomes more noticeable on the first sip, leading the way for a much drier palate than the 12 or 15, but with pleasant notes of toasted, rolled oats and more apple. This really reminds me of my morning porridge with a little dusting of brown sugar and a sprinkling of sultana's on top of the apples. Delicious.

Finish: More of the drying sherry notes but with hints of what was once, a very lively new make (as witnessed by the first heady dram of the night!)

Overall: Another great expression and a lovely progression from the 15- although a very different whisky in its development.

21 Year Old- 40 % vol – 70cl

A slight departure from the bourbon /sherry path we’ve been beating throughout the evening. This older expression (from 1988, or so the short presentation film with images of 'Yuppie Britannia’ leads us to believe) has been finished in Caribbean rum casks for anywhere between 4 and 6 months. I am immediately suspicious of finishes, having tried a disproportionate amount of shockers over the years, so hopefully this will make up for any that disappointment.

Nose: Pear/estery notes, mixed with sweet perfumed vanilla and slightly earthy vegetative note. Also hints of a spiced bread and butter pudding. So far, so good.

Palate: More vanilla, then you get your first mild hit of sweet rum, but nothing near I feared- rather like an Italian rum and raisin ice cream.

Finish: Dry but very unctuous, not cloying and with a little retention of the sweet notes from the rum, which pops up to greet you again right on the death.

Overall: Fears dispelled, I started to enjoy this a great deal, after the 3rd mouthful. Although not my favourite on the evening, certainly something to seek out and try against the other older expressions if you get a chance.

If the 21 year old was rum loving grandfather, onto the great grand-daddy - the 30 year old. We’ve reviewed some old whiskies recently, with mixed results between stately, robust and hopelessly brittle and over-oaked. With a mix of 30% Oloroso and 70% bourbon casks at its ageing heart, lets see where this old boy sits.

30 Year Old – 40% vol – 70cl

Nose: Big hits of rich dark chocolate, gingersnap biscuits and a waxy aroma of mahogany. Then we get into the dried fruits! Wow, expressive, open and powerful. The Oloroso really makes itself known, but doesn’t dominate.

Palate: More of the succulent dark sherry, mixed with sherbet and stewed plums. Very dry, but still retaining a wonderful mouth feel.

Finish: You expect length…. And it delivers. Burnt orange and bonfire toffee hits the palate as it dries out, the finish lasting for what seems like hours!

Overall: A wonderful way to finish off a fine presentation of expressions. This old fellow sits upright, sharp as a whip with his feet up at the bar and refuses to be moved!