I’ve built this review from the bottom up. Starting with the tasting notes, followed by the score and conclusion. The bottle details follow, then this, the actual introduction and chewy part of the article.
I was hoping that an angle would suggest itself beyond the staple topics of luxury or wine casks. A bolt of lighting from above and a eureka moment that, sadly, never transpired, or hit the bullseye, as I walked through a nearby forest. So, we’re left with this new release from Glenfiddich that debuted last year and is a well-aged expression with the twist coming from a maximum 6-month finish in wine casks. Such a short finish after a long duration is interesting on paper. For many of our readers, it will be enough to scramble up to the viewing deck and ring the warning bell and shout to the rafters.
Context is everything. Glenfiddich is a massive name and brand. For many whisky drinkers out there, it is their bread and butter, while for others it’s something they left behind long after starting out on their whisky journey. A prestige brand that can produce great whisky, unlike Glenlivet, which seems to struggle of late. I know, because the Glenfiddich 2017 Speyside Festival bottling from a few years ago now, is still one of my favourite whiskies of recent times. A glorious peated and sherried expression, it didn’t last beyond the festival, once the word got out.
The whisky showcased what Glenfiddich can do when it does go beyond its safety net. At the end of the day, you have to take care of the bread and butter, the staples, the everyday chores etc. before you can experiment and offer new whiskies at higher strengths, unique casks and things that will appeal to more niche markets. A great brand can appeal to many, but it cannot hope to satisfy everyone. And this is what many of us have come to learn over the years in whisky: what isn’t for you, will pass you by. We’re all on a voyage somewhere. Some propelled by luxury whiskies, others unicorns and some poor fools enjoy the Jura. Each to their own and that’s the beauty of it all. However, people love opinion and an informed one at that, (note I didn’t use respected here), which is why you may return to Malt again and again.
A bottle of this Glenfiddich Grand Cru will cost you £220 via the Whisky Exchange with Amazon demanding £210.90 for the experience and SharedPour requesting $402.99. This standard release is bottled at 40% strength and prior to this an unspecified number of American oak casks and ex-sherry casks are finished in 1st and 2nd fill French oak casks. These vessels were previously used to ferment wine that would in time go onto becoming Champagne.
Glenfiddich Grand Cru – review
Colour: a light gold.
On the nose: Soft and creamy vanilla, light and delicate. Dried orange, pulped apples and mineral quality. There are popcorn, caramel and pastéis de nata aka Portuguese custard tarts.
In the mouth: soft vanilla and again those delicate, gentle and refined flavours. Poached pears, custard, candied lemon on the finish. A freshly baked croissant, creamy again and pleasant velvety texture with a touch of white wine vinegar bringing a splash of sharpness.
I’m slightly torn on this Glenfiddich from a number of perspectives. In its current guise, it is fairly pedestrian, inoffensive and a whisky for non-whisky drinkers. Perhaps envisaged as a celebration bottle like champagne that’s brought out with fanfare post-meal to top off a special occasion. This would explain the concept and presentation overall.
The initial flaw is the strength, which at 40% is arguably more suited to another market of whisky drinker or the curious. I know there’s a 43% travel retail edition, but I feel that I’d prefer 46% to 50% to really showcase the glimmer of potential here. Then, there’s the price, albeit this is a 23-year-old from arguably one of Speyside’s finest and most notable distillers. The promotional literature suggests this is a whisky for non-conformists and that it is daring & unexpected. I often use the Ford Fiesta analogy when discussing Glenfiddich. Solid, reliable, popular and it ticks the majority of boxes. Nothing wrong with that, but to suggest that this whisky is daring and for non-conformists, really underlines how safe things have become. Keeping the analogy going for a moment, if I may, it’s like taking Miss Daisy out of that reliable Fiesta and going daring, by stepping into a Ford Mondeo Estate.
For £220, I can have more fun with whisky and I’m sure the majority of you can as well. With Glenfiddich there is an economy of scale evident as this huge producer can keep prices more affordable than others. Their 21-year-old Reserva Rum Cask Finish will set you back a palatable £114.90, meaning there is a premium here for just 2 years; or more likely the wood involved. French oak – especially the finest – isn’t a cheap commodity, or easy to source. Casks will cost 4-figure sums and come with conditions if you’re able to source them. See Bruichladdich and their range of valinchs with initials for confirmation.
Despite the garish presentation, price tag and strength, there is the whisper of promise within the liquid itself and it’s very drinkable. That’s the saving grace. A higher strength would have resulted in an extra point and better experience for the drinker: if all the stars were aligned and the cru sang to its fullest potential. Perhaps there’s an outlet here for Glenfiddich and a Grand Cru Extra Brut edition?
There are commission links within this article but as you can see, they don’t affect our judgement. Lead image kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange.