GLENFIDDICH 50 YEAR OLD: A GLORIOUS DRAM IN DUFFTOWN
This new career of mine may not be as lucrative as my previous existence, but you would never hear me denying it is more fun, a lot more fun or that it presents me with the opportunity to experience things I could only ever have dreamed of when I was desk bound.
Last week, just as I was packing for Belfast, I received an e-mail from the good folks at The Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog asking me if I would like to go and represent them at the launch of a rather special whisky. To be exact at the launch of a milestone release from market leader’s in Single Malt, Glenfiddich, a 50 year old whisky that was going to retail for £10,000 a bottle.
I adore Scotch Whisky and, after convincing them that I knew my Blended Whisky from my Blended Malts, I altered my flights and arranged to travel directly from Belfast to Aberdeen and from there to Elgin in Speyside, where a whole slew of real whisky aficionados from around the world were going to hosted by Glenfiddich for two days of tasting.
I often compare Glenfiddich to one of my other favourite spirits, Beefeater Gin, primarily because as market leaders in their category, people often confuse the fact they are produced in considerable volume with the fact that they are mass produced. In both cases things could not be further from the truth and visits to the two distilleries, the chance to meet with the Master Distiller at both locations and, of course, sampling as I have been lucky enough to do, convinces you that these remain crafted products that just happen to have become very popular.
The launch of the 50 Year Old is a big statement from Glenfiddich and shows that, as a family company, they are not beholden to their shareholders and can both take the decision to over produce and store whisky for releases such as this, but also be indulgent enough to do so at a time when many other distilleries, part of publicly owned companies, might not be able to.
Whatever the reasons, the opportunity to be at their distillery for such an historic launch was too good to pass up and the day after my arrival, I hopped on the bus good and early for the short ride to Dufftown and the place where William Grant built the original structure with his own hands well over a hundred years ago.
I have visited many distilleries in my time and I still say that if you can’t get excited about seeing the mash tuns, washbacks and glorious copper stills at work, you must be dead. Then there is that unmistakable smell. First of beer as the malted barley is brewed, then the stills themselves and “the middle cut” is taken from the second distillation as the clear liquid that will become whisky after years of maturation.
Glenfiddich also has its own cooperage, one of the few still to do so, and inside a cavernous shed men were hard at work restoring old barrels and checking new ones ready for filling. Originally, whisky was aged in Sherry barrels, but now predominantly uses barrels from Bourbon distillers who by law can only use each one a single time. Sherry barrels are still used, but are in short supply and I was intrigued to find that Glenfiddich actually has Oloroso sherry made for it for the sole purpose of seasoning barrels for three years after which it is discarded.
David Stewart, the Master Distiller at Glenfiddich works with his team to choose which barrels to blend for the various expressions, 12 year old, 15 year old, 18 year old and so on and, over the course of the two days we got chance to try them all, on their own or paired with food. However, I was really there for one reason and, on the last night we were shipped back to the distillery for the eagerly awaited launch supper.
I had managed to squeeze myself into a dinner suit for the first time in well over ten years, but most of the other men, including many journalists who had borrowed them, were in full Scottish attire with kilts swirling worryingly in a stiff breeze as we were piped into the dining room.
There David Stewart and Peter Gordon, chairman of William Grant served us the 50 year old whisky themselves, placing in front of each of us a commemorative glass engraved for the occasion and then barely filling it enough to cover the bottom. Even that small amount was worth about £500 and given that two bottles were completely emptied, represented considerable generosity on their part.
Was it worth it? Well, even with my limited palate, it was certainly the finest Scotch whisky I have ever tried and aided by the descriptions of David and other famous Whisky imbibers at the table, I was able to discern the key aromas of citrus, rose petals and even green tobacco. The taste too was out of this world and I took sparing drops onto my tongue and let it linger there until the flavours of orange and a little smoke began to reveal themselves.
All too soon the last drops from each glass were gone and we turned our attention to a delicious supper as the celebration haggis was piped into the room to be served with plenty of wine and even more glasses of whisky, this time the 15 Year Old, lovely in its own right.
And that was it. The next morning, I was back at Aberdeen airport and on my way back to London. I wish I could say that a bottle of the 50 Year Old found its way into my luggage, but I suspect a contract on my life would have followed it. A mere 450 bottles will be released at the rate of 50 a year and represent a huge income for Glenfiddich, so I don’t begrudge them sending me home with just some of their other whisky.
It was a great privilege to be asked to go and cover this event. It was just as great a privileged to get the chance to visit another beautiful distillery but most of all, it was a privilege to have the opportunity to taste that astonishing 50 year-old whisky.
I know that my night time drop of Scotch is never going to taste the same again.