The first of the three 'Fiddich friends: the 14 year old Rich Oak.
The words "Rich Oak" often bring to mind thoughts of craft whiskies that have been aggressively overoaked in small barrels. My hope was that this wasn't a failed-experiment-type of release by Glenfiddich. You know, something they screwed up but made so much of it that they had to release it (such as this more expensive whisky). Their Rich Oak hasn't yet made it to the US, where big oak is often appreciated more by bourbon fans than single malt fanatics, but I was able to buy a sample of it through Master of Malt.
To find out what Glenfiddich meant by "Rich Oak", I went to their official UK site that has a page dedicated to it. You can go there if you like; there are moody photos and a gauzy video. You'll discover that the whisky spent its first fourteen years in a mix of previously used American and Spanish oak casks and then is finished in a different mix of new, virgin American and Spanish oak casks for twelve weeks. There are also a bunch of vague tasting notes about vanilla, "fruit", "oak", and "spice". Let's see if I can whip up something more specific.
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation/Age: 14 years in ex-bourbon American and ex-oloroso sherry Spanish oak casks, then another 12 weeks in a mix of virgin American and and Spanish oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
The color is a medium gold. On the nose, that "oak" is more toasty smelling than charred. The "fruits" are fresh white fruits, specifically golden delicious apples, pears, and green grapes. But mostly pears. In fact there's also a strong note of baked pear in caramel sauce. Also, floral perfume, oats, and hints of menthol. The palate is surprisingly malty and drier than I had expected. There's some subtle vanilla, a hint of tree bark, dry grass, toasted almonds, and a pleasant bitterness. It's all very mellow. There's some plain caramel and vanilla notes in the finish. Some fresh apricot, along with the floral note from the nose. Some nuts and grains in the mix.
I only tried it neatly because at 40%ABV, it's already so watered down. The whisky would be much more interesting if Glenfiddich did more of a crafty presentation of it, bottling it at 46%, un-colored and un-chillfiltered. It seemed like there were more cereal notes and possibly some farmy ones hidden beneath the water, but we'll never know.
As it is, it's not bad. It's a tiny step above the 12 year. That pear note seems to show up in every Glenfiddich I've had, which I always like as a sort of signature characteristic. The 14 year isn't as sweet as the official tasting notes would lead one to believe and it's actually almost spice-free when comparing it to bourbons and ryes which spend their entire lives in new oak. Those are not criticisms at all. To me, those are good things. The malt hasn't been suffocated away.
If you're trying to buy it from Europe it can get prohibitively expensive thanks to shipping. A cheaper option may be a Duty Free store if you're traveling internationally. For those folks living in Europe, the 14 is priced about the same as the 15, about a 30% markup over the 12. I wouldn't say it's 30% better, but it's unique enough to provide a different experience.
Availability - Europe and Travel Retail only
Pricing - If in Europe: $50-$60; For US folks (w/international shipping): $65-$75
Rating - 84