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Monday, 13 December 2010

Rising to the Challenge

Sometimes, great ideas just present themselves, rising out of tragedy, misfortune and accident. And Glenfiddich's new release Snow Phoenix typifies this sort of thing down to a T.

I must admit that when we first heard the story if this remarkable whisky, my b******t radar went on alert. A shameless cash-in on the unfortunate damage to Glenfiddich's warehouses, resulting in the loss of a few casks of whisky to the elements?

Well, once i'd stopped being suspicious, I was intrigued to find out more. To re-cap the story in case you missed it... In December 2009 the snowfall in Dufftown was just about the heaviest on record for the area. Approximately 4 feet of the stuff had landed and compacted on the warehouse roofs and the weight was equivalent to a herd of elephants standing on top of each warehouse. Clearly something had to give and what resulted was a huge hole and many man hours of work in freezing conditions as low as -19c to remove the precious stock and repair the damage. Whilst it's unclear whether any actual casks were crushed under the weight, the whole event prompted Glenfiddich's Malt Master Brian Kinsman to release a special batch of whisky from the casks within the warehouses- and Snow Phoenix was born.

Now here's the thing. The story is a great tale of effectively survival against the elements. But would this whisky hold up regardless of the tale it can tell? Last week, I got an opportunity to find out, at a rather unusual tasting over in Hackney, East equally chilling and bleak place, but not in the same way as Dufftown is, under 4 feet of snow... ;-)

Chef, Ben Greeno (middle) with Jamie Milne (right)

The folks at Glenfiddich have been busy working in conjunction with acclaimed chef Ben Greeno, formally one of the rising stars of the 2 Michelin Starred Noma restaurant in Copenhagen. Ben has set up an innovative 'supper club', inviting diners by appointment to his own London apartment for a home-cooked gastronomic experience. Brings a new meaning to the phrase 'straight from the chef's table'....

Our 5 course meal (a preview to Ben's Glenfiddich Burns' Night menu) was paired expertly with expressions from the Glenfiddich range, the dessert being matched to the Snow Phoenix.
Sweet parsnips and Malt Oil were complimented by the light and fruity 12yo, with cured salmon and szechuan pepper working nicely with the more robust flavour of the 18yo. For the main course the 14yo Fine Oak went well with braised beef cheeks in a 'whisky barrel reduction' - basically a rich, oaky sauce, made by infusing pieces of stave into the mixture.

By dessert, the assembled diners were positively salivating for final whisky- whose fateful tale was told expertly by Jamie Milne, UK Brand Ambassador for Glenfiddich. Although the contents of Snow Phoenix are listed as no age statement, Jamie pointed out that the whisky is likely to be a vatting of casks between the ages of 13-30. So an incredible spectrum of maturation then. Also made me start to wonder what type of flavour profile we'd be expecting; Light, fruity and gentle like some of the younger bottlings, or bigger and resonant, like the older expressions? Would the pairing with vanilla mousse, malt cookies and elderflower suit the whisky, or be lost under the weight of flavour, rather like the potential fate of the casks under all that snow....

Glenfiddich - Snow Phoenix - Limited edition bottling - 47.6%- Non Chill Filtered

Nose: Slightly musty, earthy grape notes, cereals (malted barley) followed by floral notes and a whiff of some dried fruit. With a dash of water, white chocolate notes come to the fore, followed by liquorice and fresh peach. Not at all what I expected, but excellent all the same.

Palate: Immediate creamy cereal notes, masses of light orchard fruit, hints of dried apricots, followed by light caramel and delicate vanilla. The mouthfeel with the vanilla mousse was sublime.

Finish: Lingering fresh fruits fade into those of the dried variety (more apricots) and also mango.

Overall: Very different to what I imagined. The lighter styles of whisky have definitely taken the high ground here and this is a whisky which doesn't feel that wintery at all. In fact, it could easily work in the middle of summer, paired with a seasonal fruit compote or salad. Expert whisky making all round from Glenfiddich and at around £49, very affordable for a limited edition bottling. Whilst we don't usually draw much attention to the packaging, the box which this comes with looks great.

As the weather gets heavier again, I can't help but wonder what fate lies-in-wait for the warehouses this year. Will we see Snow Phoenix mkII? Time- and the words of wisdom from this man will tell...

Let's hope that this doesn't happen....