A Deer in the Valley
Glenfiddich. For many, it’s a name that resonates with the grace and prowess of a legendary stag. In Scottish Gaelic, Glenfiddich translates to the poetic “Valley of the Deer“. Try to pronounce it as /Glen-FID-ick/, but go easy on that /ck/.
A Stag’s Home in Speyside
Glenfiddich, a name that vibrates through the lush green valleys of Scotland, finds its roots nestled in Dufftown, Speyside. The legendary whisky-producing region of Speyside is home to more than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries, but Glenfiddich’s iconic stag stands tall and proud among them. The region is known for its gentle and fruity malts, often accompanied by a hint of nuttiness – and Glenfiddich is no exception.
The Essence of Glenfiddich: Distilling Philosophy
What sets Glenfiddich apart is its stubborn commitment to tradition while also being fiercely innovative. While many Speyside distilleries lean towards the sherried profile, Glenfiddich has always struck a harmonious balance. Its expressions display the classic fruity and nutty Speyside characteristics, but some also flirt with richer, sherry-influenced notes. Peat? Not a predominant character here, but the subtle nuance of it in some expressions showcases their innovative spirit.
Humble Beginnings: The Visionary William Grant
In the heart of Scotland, in 1886, William Grant left the confines of Mortlach with an audacious dream. With sheer determination and a touch of mad genius, he embarked on an entrepreneurial journey to craft his own distillery. Picture this: William, his magnificent team of seven sons, two daughters, and a loyal stonemason, forging the distillery brick by brick, stone by stone. And on the festive occasion of Christmas Day, 1887, the first drop of liquid gold was distilled.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and Grant’s Standfast blend was relished in no less than 63 global destinations. Quite a leap for the humble deer from the valley!
Defying The Odds: Prohibition and Perseverance
While many establishments wilted under the weight of the US prohibition, Glenfiddich stood defiant. One of a meager six distilleries to remain active, it wasn’t just about brewing whisky; it was about upholding a legacy.
Pioneers or Not: A Spirited Debate
Glenfiddich’s history is sprinkled with a dash of controversy, a pinch of debate, and a whole lot of whisky! They claim several ‘firsts’ in the world of malt. But, as every whisky aficionado knows, these claims are often the center of spirited debates (pun very much intended).
- 1963: The year Glenfiddich dared to label their golden brew as a ‘Single Malt’, departing from the conventional “Straight Malt” or “Pure Malt”.
- The Duty-Free Dabble: They championed the concept of travel retail, introducing their whisky to the then-fledgling Duty-Free shops.
- All Welcome: As tourism flourished, Glenfiddich swung its majestic doors open, inviting the world to its visitor center and offering tours.
Family First: The Grant-Gordon Legacy
The Glenfiddich baton, drenched in whisky and tradition, has now been passed to the 5th generation of the Grant-Gordon family. This lineage also boasts of whisky stalwarts like Balvenie, Kininvie, Ailsa Bay, not to forget the eclectic Monkey Shoulder and the ever-refreshing Hendrick’s gin.
Age is Just a Number, or is it?
2001 witnessed a monumental event in the world of whisky. Glenfiddich unveiled the world’s oldest single malt, matured over a staggering 64 years. But, thanks to the thirsty angels (oh, that Angel’s share!), only 61 coveted bottles could be filled.
And speaking of age, in 2011, the last torchbearer of William Grant’s immediate family celebrated her 110th birthday, reigning as the oldest person in Scotland. A testament to the spirit of Glenfiddich, perhaps?
Liquid Gold: Glenfiddich’s Single Malts
Often the first sip for many entering the world of whisky, this expression is a Speyside classic. Matured in Oloroso sherry and bourbon casks, it presents a harmonious balance of rich orchard fruits, oaken notes, and a hint of smoke. The finish is long, warming, and gracefully complex.
With an alcohol content of 40%, it’s like a gentle caress of flavors on your palate. The playful dance of fruit and honey, punctuated by a tease of spice, makes it an excellent introduction to whiskies. Especially for those reluctant drinkers who’ve yet to discover the world of malt.
The Glenfiddich 18-Year-Old
Age introduces complexity and depth. This expression is a testimony to that. A longer maturation in Oloroso sherry and bourbon casks imparts a richer, deeper flavor profile. Think baked apple, dried fruit, candied peel, and a delightful spice undertone. Every sip is an elegant dance of flavors, leaving a lasting impression on the palate.
Glenfiddich’s Whisky Production: A Journey from Grain to Glass
The process starts with barley. This barley is soaked in water and then allowed to germinate. During this stage, enzymes activate to convert starches in the grain into fermentable sugars. Once germination reaches the desired point, the green malt is dried in a kiln to halt the process. The resulting dried malt is then ground down into a coarse flour known as grist.
The grist is then transferred to the Mash Tun. Here, it’s combined with hot water in a series of “waters” (usually three). Each water progressively extracts the sugars from the grist. After the third water, the liquid, now known as wort, is drained off. It contains the sugars that will be fermented to produce alcohol.
The wort is then cooled and transferred to Washbacks. Yeast is added to initiate fermentation. Over the course of several days, the yeast consumes the sugars in the wort, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process transforms the sugary wort into a mildly alcoholic liquid called “wash”, which is essentially beer.
Glenfiddich employs the traditional pot still method of distillation, which involves two main steps:
- First Distillation (in the Wash Still): The wash is heated in a copper pot still known as the Wash Still. As it heats, the alcohol evaporates. This vapor is then condensed back into liquid form, resulting in a liquid known as “low wines”.
- Second Distillation (in the Spirit Still): The low wines undergo a second distillation in the Spirit Still. Here, the liquid is heated again, and the vapors condensed. The distiller divides this product into three parts: the head (or foreshots), the heart, and the tail (or feints). The heart, which is the middle cut, is what’s collected as new make spirit and will be aged in oak casks to become whisky.
The new make spirit is then filled into oak casks. Glenfiddich, like many distilleries, uses a combination of American and European oak. Over time, the spirit interacts with the wood, drawing out flavors, color, and character. The harshness of the raw spirit mellows, and it takes on complexity and depth. This aging process is vital in shaping the final profile of the whisky.
After maturing for the desired number of years, the whisky is finally ready to be shared with the world. It’s extracted from the casks, often combined with other casks for consistency (unless it’s a single cask release), diluted to the desired strength with water, and then bottled.