...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Single Malt Report: Taste Off, Part 1, Glenfiddich 18 year old

While conducting this Taste Off on Saturday night, two happy surprises unfolded:
  1. The UCLA Bruins upset #16 Nebraska at home!  WOOHOO!  Go Bruins.  I almost knocked over my whisky after the 4th quarter interception.
  2. I really enjoyed both of the Taste Off whiskies.  I had hoped that they'd be decent.  They were better than decent.
Unlike last week's Taste Off, I'm going to split this one up into a couple of posts.  Makes for easier reading (and writing?).  And I'm going to keep secret the second whisky until Part 2...


Brand: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: American (ex-bourbon) and Spanish (ex-oloroso sherry) oak casks
Marriage(!): At least three months before bottling
Age: minimum 18 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Let's start with the negatives.  Glenfiddich 18-year is chillfiltered, artificially colored, and watered down to 40% ABV.  For many anoraks, that's three strikes.  It's out.  Personally, I don't go that far, but it did considerably lower my expectations.

The low ABV mystifies me the most.  Really, they're releasing an 18-year-old whisky watered down to the minimum allowable %?  They do the same for their 21 year too!  Would it really hurt William Grant & Sons to raise the ABV up to 43%?  With a 7.5% rise in alcohol content, they could boost the price at least 10% and the complaints would be minimal since it would still be one of the cheapest 18s around.

[UPDATE: This gets interesting. Thanks to the comment string, I've discovered that most (or all?) of the US bottlings are now 43%, while the UK releases are still 40%. Online shops and reviewers list a mix of those %s. So, I'm thinking that this may be a new change for US releases. If anyone knows the full story about when this change took place, please let us know!]

ANYWAY, my history with Glenfiddich is mostly positive.  I like their regular 12yr & 15yr bottlings and I do adore their pricing.  Plus I like that the Grants still own the company after so many years.  Though a small business they are not, they are pipsqueaks next to The Diageo Machine.

I figured that the 18yr would be similar to the 12 and 15.  Figured it would be reasonably mellow and malty, okay enough to recommend it for the good price.  But my figures were short.  I liked this whisky quite a bit.


Round 1 - neat, in the covered glass for 20-25 minutes before commencement

The color is gold with sienna highlights.  The nose, mmmm.  Raspberry sauce meets American Oak.  Plum wine, Dreyer's Wild Berry Fruit Bars (popsicles), and pipe tobacco.  I nosed the hell out of this.  Happily, the palate paralleled the nose: A lovely start of sherry and berries mixed with vanilla. A fresh berry tart. Cream soda and cherry-flavored candy.  The berry notes continue into the finish.  Strawberry and raspberry yogurts with black cherry soda and oranges.

Round 2 - with water (down to 35.3% ABV)

More oak sneaks into the nose, along with a little silly putty.  But it's still strong on the berries.  Raspberry jam.  Sherry.  Pipe tobacco.  Actually, it's raspberry shisha.  The palate starts with berries in cream.  Then sweet sherry, lilac, and lemon zest.  Sweeter now, very desserty.  The raspberries are still in the finish, along with the lilac and lemon zest.

A note about "fruitiness" in tasting notes:

Many whisky reviewers, including most of the best, often use the term "fruity" when describing some whiskys' noses and palates.  I know that "Fruity" takes up a good slice of the flavor wheel.  I know that it references the estery compounds in the spirit.

But when whisky writers use that term, I know what they mean, but I don't know what they mean.  Know what I mean?

I do my damnedest not to use the term "fruity" in my notes because I will wrestle (for waaaaaay too long) with my senses until I can determine what fruit I'm smelling or tasting.  Limes taste different than cherries, which taste different than apples, which taste different than mangoes, which taste different than bananas, which taste different than grapefruits, which taste different than limes.

What I'm saying is, I try very hard to be specific.  If I just can't figure out what that fruit is, then I'll say "fruity".  Sometimes I'll say, "sweet but not sugary" instead of "fruity", because...well...the whisky is sweet but not sugary.

Ultimately it's down to personal preference, so I don't begrudge anyone who uses "fruity" to describe their booze (especially since many of the best spirits writers use the term), but I'm obsessed with specifics so my preference is to grind down further.

Okay, back to Glenfiddich 18.  Searching other reviews......I'm apparently the only one getting hit in the face with berries.  BUT, most reviewers note the whisky's fruitiness (see above).  So we're sensing something in the same category.

I really enjoyed the raspberry shisha element in the nose.  One would almost expect this to be a pink whisky finished in some fruity wine cask.  Ultimately, it's a dessert trifle (the UK definition).  The low ABV keeps the pleasant experience brief.

And the low ABV seems to make the best parts of the whisky fizzle into nothingness after more than an hour.  Upon returning to the whisky later in the night, it had transformed into a mild sleepy boring malt.  I still wonder how much better this would be at 43%.  I'm not asking for 46% or 48%.  Just a couple more degrees of oomph.

[UPDATE: As per the update above, there appears to have been a recent change in the US release to 43%, though online the listings are mixed between the two ABVs. The UK bottling remains at 40%. The sample I purchased from Master of Malt was at 40%.]

I do not recommend this whisky to you Octomore-loving peatheads, unless perhaps you don't mind a Speyside softie once in a while.  But if you like quieter, mellower whisky then perhaps this wouldn't be bad for or with dessert.

As always, please try before you buy (even though the price is super).  Glenfiddich apparently makes the 18yr in "small batches" so the experience may differ from batch to batch.

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - $65-$75, great price for its age
Rating - 86

So what on earth could I have possibly tried alongside the Glenfiddich.......?


  1. Do you have a UK bottling of GF18? The mini I tried and others I have seen for sale around here are 43%.

  2. Indeed - US bottles are 43%... go USA! It's so common for us to moan about how much better these would be at 43% instead of 40% (I'm not singling you out - we all do it); someone needs to buckle down and actually compare the US and UK versions of this BLIND (or Glenmo 10, Laphroaig 10, Highland Park 12, Jura 10 ... whatever). You and Jordan or Josh over at Coopered Tot are all geeky enough to try something like that ;-)

    1. I'll see about ordering an extra mini or two when I put in an order to TWE this month.

    2. The odd thing is William Grant and Sons does bottle whisky at 43% but only if it's Balvenie AND only if you buy the bottle in the US. Both Doublewood and Signature are 40% in the UK and 43% in the US.

    3. Well, I'll be swizzled. Every single one of my whisky books that list ABVs show 40%, but they're all from the UK! Additionally, that's what the UK shops are selling. The Party Source and Binny's list their (US) GF18 as 40% as well. Though Total Wine and Beverage Warehouse list it at 43%. The L.A.W.S. lists it at 40%, as do the Maniacs.

      I wonder if this was a very recent change. If so, there are probably bottles of both ABVs floating around the US. In fact, I know a good dusty place that would have the older bottling.

      It's curious that Grant has this difference in ABVs with Balvenie and GF. But then again, I'm finding a lot of distillery choices curious these days.

      Good idea, Ryan! Looks like Jordan's going to get there first. :)

    4. Just to clarify Glenfiddich 12 and 15 are bottled at 40% in the US. Glenfiddich 18 and older should be bottled at 43%. Why they don't bottle 12 and 15 at 43% is most likely for cost reasons.

    5. Hmm, I might as well list the whiskies I've encountered that are bottled higher (43%) in the US (compared against TWE listings): Macallan 12, Glenmorangie 10, Old Pulteney 12, Laphroaig 10, Balvenie Doublewood, Balvenie Signature, Highland Park 12, and Teacher's Highland Cream. Now older bottlings (18 years+) of single malts tend to be bottled at 43% and above.

    6. That makes me proud to be an American. :)

    7. Anybody else notice who owns those distilleries and brands? Edrington Group, Inver House, Beam, LVMH, and William Grant & Sons. I wonder if they are intentionally increasing the ABV in the US to help grab some market share away from Diageo and Pernod?

    8. Those smaller companies do seem to be appealing to whisky fans, but do the more casual drinkers/buyers know the difference? I honestly don't know. But It is good to see the rest of the industry progressing while the giants drag their feet.

  3. Even though it's been over a year and a half since we had the discussion on 43% US releases, I recently noticed something in this month's Whisky Advocate. A William Grant & Sons rep FINALLY gave an explanation for the higher proof. According to their market research, American consumers prefer the higher proof so many of their products are bottled at 43%. However I did not see an explanation for why Glenfiddich 12 and 15 are still 40% nor why they don't bottle at 46%.

    1. IF demands really are what marketing folks say they are, I doubt we'll see 43% Glenfiddich 12&15 any time soon. Gotta spread that whisky out. In fact, that would give everyone a good excuse to drop the ABVs from 43 to 40. Quietly though, unlike Maker's Mark's approach.