By Richard Thomas
Speyside’s Glenfiddich is one of the most storied names in single malt Scotch. When the whiskey industry in both Scotland and Ireland was in troubled times, Charles Gordon of William Grant & Sons took the bold step of revamping and ramping up Glenfiddich, effectively inventing the single malt category as we know it today. Consequently, Glenfiddich became Scotland’s largest malt distillery and the world’s top selling single malt, accounting for roughly one-third of all single malt sales and the only single malt brand selling over one million cases every year (although Glenlivet might join them above the one-million mark this year).
That success likely plays into why some diehard Scotch snobs disdain Glenfiddich, following as they do the nerdy path of rejecting that which is most popular on principle. Yet there is more to Glenfiddich than its near omni-present 12 Year Old. Take the latest addition to the distillery’s regular line-up, the Excellence 26 Year Old. Here we have a single malt that has spent a generation maturing in ex-bourbon barrels from Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky before Brian Kinsman took it up and bottled it at 43% abv.
The defining characteristic of Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Year Old is its understated and delicate nature. This starts in the glass, where it has a white wine coloring that is just a little softer and more translucent than expecting, but without losing its color.
The nose has a buttery texture and a very fruit-driven scent. This is the richest, boldest part of the whisky, and while I wouldn’t say it is aromatic and carries across the room, it certainly rises up from the table to greet your nostrils. Green fruits with a dollop of vanilla, seasoned with a little jasmine tea and a drop of smoke, likely American barrel char.
Once on the palate, Excellence 26 Year Old takes on a much more restrained and light aspect. The main current of this Glenfiddich is its sweetness, which takes on not a fruity but more of a candied character on your tongue. Vanilla and toffee spiced with hot cinnamon and licorice would make this like the memory of a really nice craft candy store visit, were it not for the signs of the long time spent in old American barrels, which gives it notes of leathery wood and barrel char smoke.
Now some will read that mention of smoke and think “Peat! Islay!”, and that is not what I mean. Glenfiddich is Dufftown, after all. It’s bourbon char, not peat smoke, and there is just enough of a whiff of it to add to the complexity, nothing more.
The finish is a subtle little devil of a closer. It starts light, but peppery, and winds itself down very quickly into just a shadow, but that shadow lingers for a long, long time.
The shift from a somewhat rich nose to a complex, softly understated body and finish make this a fascinating whisky. It really is the sort of sipper that commands reflection back to itself, and rewards those who obey. Pour it when what you want to do is study your whisky and not something else.
Of course, a 26 year old Glenfiddich is going to be expensive. The 70cl UK version is priced at £350 ($595), but Americans should wait for this autumn when they will get something of a bargain. Reportedly the 750cl U.S. bottling will be priced at a slightly more reasonable $499.99. One dram’s worth more whisky for almost a hundred dollars less!