...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Glenfiddich Special Old Reserve, bottled circa 1986

In the mid-to-late 1980's Glenfiddich removed the "Old" from their whisky's name, Special Old Reserve. That 'Old' was around for only a few years, while Special (not Old) Reserve had its place on the label for nearly two decades. Once again, I somehow wound up with a bottle that was caught in the transition:


At least this time the design was mostly coordinated. It's just the 'Old' that's missing from the tube.

Placing the exact year of bottling is difficult. At least Whiskybase has a matching 1000mL bottle from 1986 to use as a reference. Was Special Reserve actually younger than Special Old Reserve? Probably not. But here's to hoping there's some maturity in the Olds.


Distillery: Glenfiddich
Owner: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: no age statement
Maturation: ???
Bottle Code: LE4675281143
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is back to a pale hue. The nose has some lovely old dunnage stink to it. Beneath that is a series of bright fruity, floral notes: peaches in honey, clementines, lemons, apples and vanilla bean. Lots of fresh ginger in the palate. Sweet citrus and a little bit of raspberry jam. There are smaller notes of molasses, burlap, herbal bitterness, salt and wood smoke. It gets maltier with time. It finishes with fresh ginger, limes, honey, salt and smoke, with the limes holding on the longest.

A pair of pliers was required to get the cap off this mini. That tight seal may have helped keep this whisky fresh and fruity, similar in quality to my bottle of early '90s Special Reserve. The citrus and ginger notes also formed a bit of a link between the two whiskies. This one is a little simpler than the early '90s version, and the extra 3 three alcohol points neither add nor subtract anything. No, it doesn't seem to be any older than the Special Reserves I've reviewed, but it's still a comfy starter single malt. That touch of smoke doesn't hurt either.

Availability - Auctions
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82

Friday, February 15, 2019

Glenfiddich Special Reserve, bottled 1990ish @ 43%abv!

We have reached the 43%abv era of Glenfiddich Special Reserve!

*trumpets trumpet*

*sun shines*

*dog licks his balls*

But does it matter? Will that little bit of extra alcohol and less water result in more flavor and better texture? I hope so.

Today's Glenfiddich Special Reserve is from the early-er '90s. It's a 50mL, bottled for the USA. Its label nearly identical to the that of the 750mL reviewed on Wednesday, except for one factor:


There's that extra 3 points of poison. And now there's a listing of "(86 Proof)". As of 1990, liquor bottles were required to list alcohol content in %. Some companies listed both proof and abv for the first year or two in the transition. Others possibly started doing so before 1990.

In 1989, the Surgeon General's warning became an added requirement. This mini's got it:


So I lined this whisky up with Wednesday's Glenfiddich and the 2017 bottling. It was the first time in these tastings that I had a slightly higher than moderate expectations.


Distillery: 
Glenfiddich
Owner: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: no age statement
Maturation: ???
Bottle Code: LD....and then a string of smudged, vanishing numbers
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Its color is actually darker than the other early 1990s bottling. There's yeast, dough, honey, white bread, salt and burlap at the core of the whisky's nose. Mint and strawberry candies at the edges. Small highlights of apples and smoked meat appear occasionally. The palate is vanilla cardboard and sugar. Tangy limes and a hint of cigars in the far back. Gradually the limes and vanilla push forward. It takes an hour before the cardboard flavor dissipates. The lightly sweet finish has limes, vanilla and cardboard.

The nose is full of promise. The palate is full of disappointment. Okay, that's polite. The palate is crap. The 50mL bottle had an excellent fill level, so it's not an oxidation issue. It's just a very flat batch, possibly assembled from used-up casks. It even underperformed the 2017 bottling. Having an extra 3 points of alcohol doesn't help if the whisky is flawed.

Next week, we go back to the '80s and early '70s....

Availability - one can find these minis at auctions
Pricing - ???, I think I paid less than $10 for it
Rating - 74 (only the nose keeps this out of the 60s)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Glenfiddich Special Reserve, bottled early 1990s


Traveling back in time, we're now in the era when Glenfiddich was transitioning away from the "Pure Malt" nomenclature. As a result there are some design inconsistencies between the bottle label and the tube, where one will see both the Pure Malt and Single Malt titles.


When I tried this whisky up against the 2017 bottling in the most recent Killing Whisky History, this 'Fiddich came out on top. That made me happy because this bottle is 750mL, and it's sad to have 750mLs of bleh.

I found the bottle at a random liquor store somewhere in Orange County in the spring of 2016. There were at least four more bottles on the shelf, and the gent behind the counter wanted to sell me all of them. I didn't take him up on it because I wasn't sure if I knew what the whisky was like. He was a nice guy, though, and kinda desperate to get rid of someone crap no one else wanted. All four bottles are probably still there. Ready, set, go, find it!


Distillery: Glenfiddich
Owner: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: no age statement
Maturation: bourbon casks, probably
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? ???
Caramel Colorant? ???

First thing to note is the color which is much lighter than the three Glenfiddichs that preceded it this month. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if no e150a was applied. The nose is vibrant for 40%abv. Lots of barley, flowers and orange juice. A mix of honey mustard and ground mustard seed. With some time in the glass, the whisky develops notes of butterscotch and key lime pie. The palate feels much thicker than the 2017's. The sweeter notes — butterscotch, confectioner's sugar, vanilla bean — are balanced with some zippy notes of horseradish and ginger. After a while it gains peach nectar and flower notes without losing anything along the way. The finish has a decent length. It's mildly sweet with lots of citrus and ginger, and smaller notes of mint and vanilla bean.

This is very pleasant without being generic. It's textured and tasty with a little bit of complexity. I don't think there's longer-aged whisky in the mix, but the bourbon casks are doing their job without overwhelming the spirit. There's no sherry cask influence to be found, but that's not a bad thing here. It's the most enjoyable Glenfiddich of the group so far, by far.

Availability - ???
Pricing - bought it for $37.99 in 2016
Rating - 84

Monday, February 11, 2019

Glenfiddich Special Reserve 12 year old, late 1990s (Europe release)

I bought this 350mL from a reliable European retailer that had listed it as a late '90s bottling.


Its front label is very similar to the 2002's, but it has a much different bottle code. At some point in the 1990s Glenfiddich switched from L-number to L-letter codes, e.g. L2 vs LK. Unlike the 2002 bottling, this whisky was produced for Europe. It has a 350mL volume (as opposed to 375mL in the US) and it has Greek, French and Icelandic words on the back.


We're still in GF's 40%abv phase, about which all I have to say is 🙁. And though the Pure Malt phase has not yet been reached, the label compromises with the term Pure Single Malt. Speaking of compromises, see this bit of comedy:

With a smile!
No compromises except industrial dye, aggressive chill-filtration and the heaviest dilution allowed.


Distillery: Glenfiddich
Owner: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: bourbon casks and sherry casks, maybe?
Bottle Code: LK6023020532
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Caramel Colorant? Yes

The nose begins with a mix of lemon, lime and orange peels, framed by a generic Speyside/Highland sherry cask note. It takes 20+ minutes for small notes of yeast, Blue Moon beer and peach candy to float up. The very thin palate shows toffee, nuts, Milk Duds and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper. Tart limes last the longest, and a metallic note stings underneath. After 30+ minutes, a bland caramel note starts to take over, and a hint of woody bitterness enters. The short finish is all sweet citrus, caramel, pepper and woody bitterness.

The 2002 and 2017 were sampled alongside this bottling, and this late '90s GF lands between the two quality-wise. To those of you who carry within your hopes and hearts that all 1990s whiskies have some old glut stock in them, may I just say #NotAll1990sScotch. This whisky is neither horrible nor grievously flawed, but it's devastatingly boring. Having gone through multiple glasses of the stuff, I've been unable to glean anything further. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the rest of the bottle's contents, other that maybe vatting filler?

Availability - ???
Pricing - this was $17 before shipping
Rating - 78

Friday, February 8, 2019

Glenfiddich Special Reserve 12 year old, bottled 2002

Back when I was still dusty hunting on the streets of Long Beach, I once found something significant to only me:
I opened the bottle promptly, admittedly a rare act for me. I saved a big sample and I saved the glasses! This is the one whisky this month that's from a saved quantity, a wee bottle I knew I was saving for something, but didn't know what.

The contents of the bottle vanished down my gullet quickly. At that point in time I was drinking only cask strength whiskies, so this Glenfiddich drank easily. Also, that was my first month of fatherhood, so this Glenfiddich drank easily.

With some time, perspective and a slightly clearer mind, I tried it side-by-side with the current Glenfiddich 12.


Distillery: Glenfiddich
Owner: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: bourbon casks and sherry casks, likely more of the former
Bottle Code: L2-something
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yup
Caramel Colorant? Uh huh

Deeper and brighter than the 2017 bottling's nose, the 2002 version smells of apple skins, cinnamon, flowers, pears, dates and lemon juice. There's also a whiff of old sherried oak. With time the lemon juice turns into lemon bars, and small notes of cherry candy and vanilla bean appear. The palate has wood spice, roasted nuts, lemon juice, tart berries and a hint of toasted coconut. Though some cocoa and tangier citrus notes develop, it fades quickly overall. Mild heat and mild sweet in the finish. Tart citrus and berries, apples and mint.

This is a significant improvement over the 2017 edition, or the 2017 was a retrogression from this. It feels better matured, it's fruitier and the oak offers some gentle influence. The alleged 15/85 mix of sherry and bourbon casks seems to have worked here as well.

Its main weakness is the Unholy Trinity of Whisky Abuse: filtration, coloration and maximum dilution. It's thin in the mouth and has no staying power. The flavor is here then it's gone. It even has me looking forward to this month's 43%abv Glenfiddichs.

Still, there's more going on with this 2002 bottling, than the Glenfiddich 12 year old from 2017. It's more expressive and enjoyable. And it's better than most of the blends its age.

Availability - ???
Pricing - I think this gift pack was $29.99
Rating - 81

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Glenfiddich 12 year old, bottled late 2017

Once upon a time, I understood Glenfiddich's bottle codes. But when the company updated their bottle design, in 2017, they changed the coding. So I can tell you that this whisky was either bottled on November 24th (L328) or December 12th (1212). Whichever day it may be, I don't think the year was 2018 because this 375mL was already collecting dust on the shelf in Ohio in January 2019.

Those are some sturdy maths right there.

Because you've watched this month's Killing Whisky History episode you know I already provided on-camera tasting notes and a brief opinion for this bottle. Now I'm going to give you a second review for free! The whisky has had a couple of weeks and 1¼ smidgeons of oxygen. And now I'm going to give the whisky another go from within my hermetically sealed whisky chamber wherein I can take my time and blast Blondie's Greatest Hits.

I'm using the rest of this bottle's contents as the control whisky in all the Glenfiddich tastings this month. Because the entry-level Glenfiddich was never designed for a complex experience, the tasting notes will likely remain brief throughout this month. I'll compensate by writing extensive introductions.


Distillery: Glenfiddich
Owner: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: bourbon casks and sherry casks, likely more of the former
Bottle Code: L328 5057 1212 1233
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yep
Caramel Colorant? Yip Yip Yip Yip Yip Yip

NOTES!
Hmm, the nose has opened up a little bit. While there's still plenty of barley, the eau de vie note has retreated to the midground. Now there are more flowers, orange peels and golden raisins. It smells very sugary. It gets grainier with time and gains(?) a cardboard note. The palate is simply sugar, vanilla, roasted barley and raw almonds. Equal parts tangy, drying and bitter. Seems like grain whisky meets eau die vie, with no mouthfeel. It finishes tangy and sweet, with hints of almonds and wood smoke.

CONCLUSIONS!
The nose has certainly improved over the past two weeks. The palate has not. It's singing out for the nose's fruits and/or flowers. I've found the best way to address this is via a highball with Rogan's orange bitters and a generous cut of lemon peel.

I've always preferred Glenfiddich 12 over Glenlivet 12 but the distance between the two has narrowed considerably. This current version of Glenfiddich 12 has gotten mighty close to Blend Territory. That's somewhat understandable, as it is the starter 'Fiddich. But a 750mL bottle goes for $45 here in Ohio, which is more than Lot No. 40 and Evan Williams BIB, combined. This may be the last bottle of GF12 I buy. ☹

The only hope is the past. Maybe earlier versions will be better...

Availability - Everywhere
Pricing - $25-$60, yes, things are silly
Rating - 76

Monday, February 4, 2019

Glenfiddich: An Introduction and History

source
Though he had a stable job to support his nine children, William Grant chose to quit his gig as Mortlach's manager in order to build his own distillery. Constructed from the stones of River Fiddich, the distillery was dubbed Glenfiddich, or "valley of the deer". In 1886, Grant caught a break when Cardhu distillery sold off their used distilling gear — including stills, water mill, worm tubs and mash tun — for all of £120. Glenfiddich spirit first passed through those stills on Christmas day, 1887.

When whisky broker William Williams & Company quickly bought up the distillery's entire output, Grant then increased the 400 gallons/week yield and started supplying whisky to Pattisons Ltd. Many distilleries were crushed when Pattisons went bust in 1898, but because Grant pivoted his business and started producing his own blends, Glenfiddich survived. Their most successful blend for more than a half century was Standfast (named after Clan Grant's motto).

source
William Grant had a stroke in 1900, and in 1903 the family business was turned into an LLC known as William Grant & Sons. The company has stayed in the family ever since.

In 1957, the company contracted modernist designer, Hans Schleger, to rework their packaging design. The result was the industry's first three-cornered bottle, an iconic design that only changed once, in 1964, when its clear glass was switched to green glass for their new product.

Single malt whisky had existed since legal whisky production began, but what made Glenfiddich's 1963 foray into single malt unique was the decision to promote and market it, worldwide, with the same effort put towards blended whisky. This sudden, risky maneuver wasn't blind chutzpah. It was prompted by necessity.

In 1963, Distillers Company Limited ended its grain whisky contract with William Grant & Sons, putting Standfast's production at risk. William Grant's great-grandchildren adapted just as he did when circumstances became difficult. They built their own grain distillery, Girvan, within the year. And Glenfiddich 8 year old Pure Malt made its debut.

Thought it took a few years, the gamble paid off. In 1964, Glenfiddich Pure Malt (or Straight Malt in the US) sold 4,000 cases. In 1974, it sold nearly 120,000 cases. Around 1,200,000 cases of Glenfiddich's single malt were exported in 2017. With its jump on the rest of the marketplace, Glenfiddich has been the number one selling single malt brand for 54 of the past 55 years. As recently as 2007, Glenfiddich had 18% of the single malt export market, which was more than the 2nd and 3rd single malts combined. As of 2016, they still held 12.5% of the market.

source
In addition to trailblazing the single malt marketplace, Glenfiddich was the first single malt to show up in Duty Free shops, in 1968. The distillery was also was the first in Scotland to build a visitor center, in 1969.

The distillery has outsourced its malt supply since its floor maltings were closed in 1958. They've used the same water source, Robbie Dhu, since the 1880s, but their production levels have increased slightly, approximately 173x. The distillery now has 32 stills (some of which remain direct-fired), 32 Douglas Fir washbacks and two stainless steel mash tuns. The fermentation time is either 60 or 72 hours (depending on one's source).

Though Glenfiddich's entry level single malt has kept the same bottle shape for more than five decades, its name and label design has shifted more than a half dozen times. It's been known as a Pure Malt, Pure Single Malt, Straight Malt, Unblended and Single Malt, though it's always been 100% malt whisky from the same distillery. It went by the same Special Reserve or Special Old Reserve name for at least 30 years, but is now labelled as "Our Signature Malt". It's been an NAS, 8yo, 10yo and 12yo whisky at different times. Its balance of sherry to bourbon casks (15/85 in 2008) has also likely changed a bit over the years.

Glenfiddich 12 year old was the first single malt I ever tried, 20-ish years ago. I've been curious to find out how the liquid has changed, so I collected eight bottles from batches produced over the past four decades. Now I'm going to open them up and drink 'em. Gird your loins, it's going to be a 'Fiddich February.


Sources:
--MacLean, Charles. Whiskypedia. A Compendium of Scotch Whisky. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010.
--MacLean, Charles. Scotch Whisky, A Liquid History. London, UK: Cassell Illustrated, 2005.
--Ronde, Ingvar (Ed.). Malt Whisky Yearbook 2018. Shropshire, UK: MagDig Media. 2017
--www.scotchwhisky.com