For my first review of a whisk(e)y outside the United States, I’ll be looking at the Scottish speyside juggernaut, Glenfiddich. The Glenfiddich distillery produces more single malt scotch than any other distillery in Scotland, with Glenlivet and Macallan following suit. Glenfiddich’s core range consists of a 12 year old, 15 year old, 18 year old and 21 year old that is finished in rum barrels. While the 12 year old may be their best-selling in the range it is the 15 year old that really intrigued me. The 15 year old is matured using a solera system. Some wine makers use the solera system to age their wines as well as rum producers. Solera aging process consists of having a row of containers filled at various intervals and as the first container is emptied, the wine or rum producers leave it half full and put the contents of the container next in line in the first container and the process is repeated down the line. The containers are never fully emptied and the new and old spirit are married together each time the process takes place. This creates a level of consistency and helps develop layers of flavors and aromas.
What Glenfiddich does is age it’s whisky in bourbon, sherry and new oak (unusual for scotch) barrels then put the contents in a large vat. The spirit blends and as whisky is taken out it is filled up right away to keep the solera system going. So how well does the solera technique work with single malt whisky?
Appearance: Medium amber with some thick slow-moving legs
Nose: Absolutely stunning. Sun dried raisins, honey and fresh figs. Definitely picking up on more fruit like crisp apples, bananas and grapes. Strong vanilla and caramel are present, no doubt a product of the new oak barrels. Hints of maple syrup, roasted coffee beans, toasted oak, touches of cinnamon and nutmeg. The aromas of all three barrels are present and all are in perfect harmony in this amazing bouquet.
Palate: At first entry it’s very sweet with notes of vanilla, Demerara sugar and caramel. The fruits become present after the initial sweetness. Nectarines, grapes and lots of grapefruit (more so the pith). The spices are also at play as it starts to develop more towards the middle and back of the palate. A nice rush of honey and cocoa also emerge as it continues to show its layers of flavors. The finish is rather long in length leaving notes of slight toffee, maple syrup and vanilla before fading to a slightly bitter grapefruit rind and dry oak. The mouthfeel is slightly dry and medium in body.
Overall: For me this a huge step up from the 12 year old and an absolute beauty. The solera system has married the whiskies magnificently and produced a layered, complex and well-balanced spirit. You are able to pick up on the individual barrel’s influence on the whisky in a way that is presented in a nice cohesive package. It’s fruity, sweet and spicy all wrapped up in a nice oak presence. I can only imagine how outstanding this whisky would be if it weren’t bottled at 80 proof.
Side note I’d love to see bourbon makers adopt a solera system for their juice, even if it’s for a certain brand. It really does produce an outstanding whisk(e)y.
Rating: 92 / * * * *S