A Taste Of Three Expressions To Celebrate Glenfiddich's 125th Birthday

Posted: 8 August 2013
Category: Features
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Glenfiddich, a single-malt-whisky distillery in the Highlands of Scotland, has been celebrating 125 years with events around South Africa in which three of its whiskies are being showcased. Learn more about its 12-, 15-, and 18-year-old expressions, as well as what happened at the Groove Lounge event at Twankey Bar in Cape Town.

Glenfiddich, Gaelic for "valley of the deer", was founded at the end of 1886/the beginning of 1887 by William Grant, who built the distillery over the course of a year with the help of his children and a stone mason. The first whisky was distilled in Christmas Day in 1887, marking 25 December 2012 as the distillery's 125th birthday, and 2013 as a year for celebrating.

A Taste Of Three Expressions To Celebrate Glenfiddich's 125th Birthday: Robbie Dhu spring

Glenfiddich is the only Highland distillery in Scotland to use water from a single source - in this case the Robbie Dhu spring that runs through the property. Over a century ago William Grant realised the importance of this water and, in an amazing moment of foresight, set about buying up as much land as he could to ensure that the spring would remain protected.

The spring water is heated and mixed with malted barley at the distillery, where it is then ground finely. Yeast is then added and the mixture is fermented in washbacks made of Douglas fir where the sugars convert into alcohol. This is then mixed with more water from the Robbie Dhu spring to dilute the alcohol-by-volume percentage to 40.

A Taste Of Three Expressions To Celebrate Glenfiddich's 125th Birthday: barrels

Glenfiddich has been celebrating its 125th birthday in South Africa with a series of Groove Lounges around the country to marry a lifestyle experience with introductions to three of the single-malt-whisky expressions that Glenfiddich produces. Cape Town's event was held at The Taj hotel's Twankey Bar, which has street access on the picturesque corner of Wale Street and Adderley Street opposite the Iziko Slave Lodge and a few steps from the entrance to The Company's Garden and St George's Cathedral.

A Taste Of Three Expressions To Celebrate Glenfiddich's 125th Birthday: Twankey Bar

Upon arrival we were greeted with our choice of two cocktails - a Margarita and something called a Sonic Boom (it includes tonic and soda). Both are made with Glenfiddich 12 Year Old. I opted for the margarita, which included orange liqueur that gave it a lovely zing. It was a wonderful cocktail and a great way to start the evening. The cocktails are a direct, and smart, attempt to market the whisky to a younger crowd by providing it in a more accessible form that will later lead those interested to the exploration of Glenfiddich single malts directly, in much the same way as the Brandy Foundation in South Africa has been marketing cocktails and brandy routes to younger people.

A Taste Of Three Expressions To Celebrate Glenfiddich's 125th Birthday: DJ Leighton Moody

The evening's guest DJ was Leighton Moody, who first played some lovely jazzy grooves before shifting to gentle house music. Meanwhile, the guests continued to arrive and soon Twankey Bar's waitering staff and barmen were very busy mixing cocktails, pouring single malts, and serving food.

Through the course of the evening we were given a taste of three of Glenfiddich's expressions. Unfortunately there wasn't much in each glass and I didn't have water to counter the mild alcohol burn and potentially open up the flavours further so I struggled, especially in the beginning, to taste them accurately and write detailed notes.

Nevertheless, here is a compilation of what I experienced combined with extra research I have done to understand the whiskies better.

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old
A Taste Of Three Expressions To Celebrate Glenfiddich's 125th Birthday: Glenfiddich 12 Year Old

The Glenfiddich 12 Year Old is matured in American oak and Spanish Oloroso sherry (oak) casks for at least 12 years and its signature aroma is pear, which is the product of the fermentation stage of the whisky making process when yeast breaks down the sugars into alcohol. I must confess that I just couldn't pick it up as I was having a really difficult time trying to concentrate only on the whisky with the sensory onslaught that was going on around me.

The whisky is very sweet, both on the nose and the palate, and you might also pick up vanilla, due to the American oak, although I didn't, and a creamy maltiness. The aftertaste was warm and fruity.

The whisky was served with chicken wraps and some sort of lamb dish, neither of which I tried, being a vegetarian, so I don't know if they complemented the whisky.

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old: More information and tasting notes

A Taste Of Three Expressions To Celebrate Glenfiddich's 125th Birthday: Glenfiddich 12 Year Old

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old
A Taste Of Three Expressions To Celebrate Glenfiddich's 125th Birthday: Glenfiddich 15 Year Old

Unusually, the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old comprises whisky that has been matured in three different types of cask. Part of the whisky is matured for at least 15 years in Spanish sherry casks, which hold 500 litres of whisky each and impart a rich fruitiness. Another part is matured for at least 15 years in American bourbon casks, which are smaller, and they impart hints of sweet vanilla fudge, which you pick up on the nose. Finally, the whisky is matured for a few months in new (unused) American bourbon casks, which imparts heather honey on the nose.

This whisky is all combined in Glenfiddich's solera vat, which is made from Oregon pine and was created by the previous distillery master. This vat is always filled at least halfway with this whisky, where it is given time to mellow. Finally, the whisky is moved to 2000-litre Portuguese oak barrels to marry before being bottled.

I struggled to pick up the vanilla fudge on the nose of the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old, although I did pick up the honey, which is the other signature of this whisky, and, surprisingly, caramel. As expected, I didn't find this whisky to be as sweet on the nose as the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old. I tasted oak flavours and a spiciness, as well as ginger. You may also pick up hints of sherry and marzipan, although I didn't.

The Glenfiddich 15 Year Old was paired with vegetarian wraps (I'm tempted to call them Vietnamese rice-spring-roll or rice-pancake wraps as they reminded me very much of something similar that I've both eaten and cooked in Vietnam) and cheese and tomato pastries. While both offerings were very tasty I didn't think that they particularly suited the whisky - they didn't detract from the experience but they didn't enhance it either.

I must, however, commend the waitress from Twankey Bar who ensured that I got some wraps and encouraged me to take a few, having learnt in the previous round that I was a vegetarian. I really appreciated her concern, which was contrary to what I very often experience at functions.

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old: More information and tasting notes

A Taste Of Three Expressions To Celebrate Glenfiddich's 125th Birthday: Glenfiddich 15 Year Old

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old
A Taste Of Three Expressions To Celebrate Glenfiddich's 125th Birthday: Glenfiddich 18 Year Old

Our final tasting of the evening was the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old, which is matured in both American oak - from Missouri, Kentucky, and Indiana - that has been used for bourbon and European oak from Spain that has been used for sherry. Glenfiddich malt master Brian Kinsman says that the American oak imparts a vanilla flavour and adds a creaminess to the 18 year old. The pear notes of the 12 year old mature over time in the barrels and transform into richer fruit notes, which I could definitely distinguish when I tasted it. On the nose, rather than the fruit that I was expecting to pick up, I only noted the oak. It also came across as being very warm and rich.

The Glenfiddich 18 Year Old was served with much fanfare, including a birthday cake and, for each guest, carrot (and I think cinnamon) cupcakes that had a creamy icing. The pairing was fantastic and I really enjoyed how well the whisky and the dessert complemented each other. The dessert even smoothed and soothed some of the natural intensity of the alcohol.

I thought that the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old would be my favourite of the night but the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old ended up being the one (my notes include the phrase "really quite special"). This whisky is produced in limited quantities and the batch number on each bottle is labelled by hand, which is a lovely touch.

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old: More information and tasting notes

A Taste Of Three Expressions To Celebrate Glenfiddich's 125th Birthday: Glenfiddich 18 Year Old

Learn More
Each Glenfiddich expression has a dedicated page on the web site where you can learn more about the whisky and watch tasting master-class videos with Glenfiddich malt master Brian Kinsman, as well as download his specific, and detailed, tasting notes. All the information is very interesting and well produced and is useful not just for learning more about what happens at Glenfiddich but also for increasing your knowledge about single malt whiskies. Just be aware that the videos begin to cache automatically as soon as you get to each page so wait until you have sufficient bandwidth before accessing the information.

A Taste Of Three Expressions To Celebrate Glenfiddich's 125th Birthday: Glenfiddich malt master Brian Kinsman

Additional information used in this article was sourced from the Glenfiddich web site.
Mandy J Watson was a media guest of Glenfiddich at the Glenfiddich Groove Lounge in Cape Town.

Tags: #arts_and_culture, #cape_town, #whisky

On The Internet
Glenfiddich South Africa: Official Site | Twitter
Glenfiddich Single-Malt Scotch Whiskies: 12 Year Old | 15 Year Old | 18 Year Old | Full List

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