Glenfiddich, one of the world’s biggest whisky brands, made a bit of a splash recently by announcing a couple of new experimental whiskies in which they hope to ‘push the boundaries of Scotch whisky’. It’s actually very difficult to do new stuff with Scotch whisky, as it is the most heavily regulated drink in the world. Yet in a cluttered up market place, and with a desire to reach a younger audience (not to mention not putting an age statement on the bottle) there needs to be an interesting enough marketing hook to create some noise around it. Not to mention some good branding. I certainly think they’ve achieved that.
The result is two new whiskies. One is an IPA cask-finished single malt, and the other is an ambassador crowd-source whisky aimed the connoisseur. Glenfiddich IPA Experiment is a No Age Statement whisky finished for just 3 months in casks that had held an IPA beer created by the nearby Speyside Craft Brewery. The ale itself was created using British Challenger hops for its fruity flavours, and which would in theory go well with the Glenfiddich’s inherent fruitiness.
This is not the first whisky to be finished in an ale cask. Grant’s, like Glenfiddich owned by William Grant & Sons, released an Ale Cask whisky. And curiously there have been experiments with single malt finished in ale casks too.
The other whisky is the Glenfiddich Project XX. This one is a little more straightforward. It is made up of whiskies selected by the distillery’s 20 brand ambassadors, from a variety of different casks, which were then combined by master blender Brian Kinsman.
And they were whizzed over in a very nice tasting set, along with a petri dish of salt and an orange. Now I suppose the orange and salt is a method of enticing hipster folk, bartenders and the likes to make all sorts of fancy cocktails (the recipes came with the set). Millennials! But at Malt we concern ourselves with classic style, not modern fashion, and so it was straight into a Glencairn glass with these for critical analysis of the whisky. (Although I will actually experiment using the salt and orange with the Glenfiddich Distillery Edition.)
Glenfiddich IPA Experiment
Bottled at 43% ABV, without an age statement, but finished in an ale cask. A bottle of the Glenfiddich IPA Experiment costs £45.
Colour: deep gold.
On the nose: an exceptionally fresh nose, with more a winey nose: notes of Chardonnay, perhaps Sauternes. A few classic Glenfiddich traits manifest. Blood oranges. Toffee. A touch of yeast. Green apples.
In the mouth: it is hoppy, yeasty, and malty, but it doesn’t feel too youthful. Citrus. Blood orange. Not at all a heavy texture, but quite silky. Toffee. Touch of vanilla. Very creamy. Grassy, straw-like notes. Chaff and then a coffee bitterness, more like a creamy latte. Fresh bread. The maltiness and hoppy notes return for the finish.
Not a bad whisky by any means, but the IPA cask isn’t adding much complexity to the (good) spirit – not in the same way that, say, a wine cask or rum cask might. The flavours remind me of the pre-distillation stage, liking tipping your head down into a washback. It regresses this whisky to a more primitive form. It feels like a step backwards.
Glenfiddich Project XX
Bottled at an unusual 47% ABV, again without an age statement, the Glenfiddich Project XX costs £47.
Colour: deep copper.
On the nose: much better, much more classic Speyside. From a gentle grassy intro, through orange and vanilla, to sultanas and dried apricots.
In the mouth: blood oranges (I tend to find that a lot in Glenfiddich), with toffee fudge, vanilla, a little cinnamon. Again, lightly textured but with a silky edge. Sultanas, raisins – European oak showing itself? – with cloves, baked apples, pastry. Hazelnuts. A sprinkling of muscovado sugar. Milk chocolate. Quite autumnal. Touch tannic on the finish. Really very nice.
Project XX has the trendier name and the trendier story: sex it up however you want (and the branding and design is excellent – gorgeous bottle) but this is simply good old-fashioned Speyside whisky at a very good price. If this is a way to get Instagramming millennials excited about classic flavours, then I’m fine with that.
It’s clear where I stand on these. Not a fan of the IPA, even though it wasn’t a bad whisky, but liked Project XX a lot. I think the branding is excellent on all bottles, and the pricing is quite good too. All it lacks is – yes – information about the age of the whisky itself. Why not tell us that if they’re telling us more about the beer that was emptied from the casks?
Anyway. It will be very interesting to see where they take the series next. (Project XXX? That will sell.)