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Friday, 28 October 2011

The Ultimate Coming Of Age

1901. A year of unprecedented change across the globe. Queen Victoria passes away, giving rise to the beginning of the Edwardian era. The Commonwealth of Australia was formed. The world, although yet to realise the significance, was joined by Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and master of the honeyed vocal chords and Jazz horn himself, Louis Armstrong.

It was also the year that Janet Sheed Gordon was born. Daughter to Isabella Grant and Charles Gordon and heir to the William Grant & Sons whisky business. for the past incredible 110 years, Janet has lived close to the Glenfiddich distillery, keeping a watchful eye over the proceedings, the comings and goings and ultimately, the liquid that the distillery has been turning out and maturing so successfully for nigh on the past eight decades.

Janet Sheed Gordon (now Roberts) graduating in Law in 1924

The photo below was taken in 1969, at the opening of the Glenfiddich visitor centre. Janet would have been 68 - and looking all the better for it!

As the oldest living woman in Scotland, it's hard to imagine how the world must seem through Janet Roberts' eyes now. So much change, revolution & technology; the birth of the jet age, space travel, nuclear energy, the electric guitar, the internet, the microwave oven and everything else we take for granted these days. All of this has been invented or pioneered during her incredible life.

It seems fitting then, for Glenfiddich to honour such achievement the only way they know best; a bottling of one of their oldest whiskies, from one of the best casks in the distillery's inventory.

What a monumental project this has become. Just 11 bottles of the Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve are ever going to see the light of day. The packaging is an accurate representation of the whisky's namesake, from the travel case box, right down to the aqua marine colour used on the capsule, reported to be Janet's favourite colour.

Comes with a miniature too...

The liquid inside each hand-blown bottle is no less special.

The sherry butt used was filled on Hogmanay 1955. It is what Malt Master, Brian Kinsman describes as a 'plain cask' in that it hasn't had a huge impact on the maturation of the whisky in a short space of time. What this cask has done is allowed the whisky to mature perfectly over a long period of time - 55 years to be precise, which we think rather succinctly sums up a life most definitely well lived.

The first bottle will be auctioned at Bonham's Edinburgh Auction on the 14th December, with all proceeds going to WaterAid, a charity which Glenfiddich have supported in the past.
Further bottles will be available throughout 2012 in key whisky markets such as the US, Taiwan Russia, China and India.

So it is with a deep intake of breath that we raise a dram up to our lips to review.
Crikey. Here goes...

Glenfiddich - Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve - 55 years old - Cask 4222 - filled December 1955- 44.4% - 11 bottles

Nose: An immediate explosion of soft fruits, parma violets, peach skins, floral wax notes, wonderfully perfumed clean linen and brandy snaps. Given time in the glass (hell, this whisky can take all the time it wants) a more herbaceous/vermouth note develops, with some lightly brewed hibiscus tea and finally some freshly picked strawberries and a faint waft of peat smoke. Truly magnificent; open, delicate and enveloping. I carried on just nosing this long after the tasting and changed direction several times as the night wore on.

Palate: A light note of soft aromatic peat, grapefruit, parma violets and lemon zest. Light and fruity, but tethered by a backbone of oak. However nothing dry or oaky dominates, the fruity notes keep developing on the palate, with orange flower water, some light vanilla and back to the soft peat again.

Finish: Peerless balance for a whisky this age. Lingering light fruit, with a slightly drying oak note on the death. The peat takes a backseat, but is still there in spirit, along with the vanilla and zest.

Overall: An extraordinary life such as Janet Sheed Roberts' could only be celebrated with a truly extraordinary whisky and without question, this hits the mark on every level. Hats off to Glenfiddich for maintaining this sensational cask for the past five and a half decades.

So there we have it; inspirational whisky making and perhaps more importantly, an incredibly inspirational woman.