Underrated: Glenfiddich

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Why The World’s Best Selling Single Malt Is Also One Of It’s Most Underappreciated

By Richard Thomas

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old
(Credit: Richard Thomas)

My first understanding of the pathology of the angry nerd came hand-in-glove my once being labeled an ignoramus, a poseur and a heretic for nothing more than the simple pleasure I took in listening to R.E.M.

It was 1991, I was a DJ at my university radio station, and like most of my colleagues I had become a fan of the band in the mid-1980s. The difference between myself and many of those colleagues was that R.E.M.’s breakout and widespread popularity hadn’t caused me to turn my back on the band. In their minds, these angry music nerds were the elite, endowed with an arcane knowledge that made them superior. The more popular a band, the less it enabled their imagined eminence, so a band that went as mainstream as R.E.M. became not just bad, but retroactively bad.

So it is with many angry whisky nerds and Glenfiddich. The distillery sells more single malt than any other. According to angry nerd logic, since the clueless masses only drink swill, it therefore must not only be bad, but was never any good in the first place.

Sometimes angry nerd logic has a point, but in the case of Glenfiddich it’s pure hogwash. Take the entry-level 12 year old, the foundation for the distillery’s No. 1 sales position. It’s nearly impossible to find a better single malt for the price, with only The Glenlivet 12 Year Old rivaling it as the quintessential bang for your buck premium Scotch whisky. The reason people around the world drink it in such quantity isn’t because they are ignorant and tasteless, but because it offers such good value.

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old Scotch WhiskeyOne might argue that it’s the rejection of Glenfiddich because it is so widely popular that is the ignorant and tasteless act, especially when it comes to the distillery’s older and limited edition expressions. Glenfiddich rarely receives the same attention as The Balvenie in whisky circles, yet until 2009 they were both stewarded by the same blender, David Stewart. Many of Glenfiddich’s current expressions, including all of its core ones, are either Stewart’s creations or were supervised by him for decades. One could make the argument that Stewart’s creation of Glenfiddich 15 Year Old is as innovative as anything he has done at The Balvenie, but that and all other arguments would fall on determinedly stone deaf ears with some enthusiasts.

That impairment lies at the heart of why Glenfiddich is so underrated a brand, despite the mountainous sales record. Objectively Glenfiddich is a fine distillery, but some people just can’t feel like a rarefied expert while talking up something as obvious as the world’s top selling single malt.

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3 comments

  1. Thijs | Words of Whisky

    I’ve done a vertical of Glenfiddich not too long ago and have another one planned later this year. Fun stuff, but nothing earth-shattering. I think what you say in your final sentence is telling:

    ‘Objectively Glenfiddich is a fine distillery’ (emphasis on fine)

    Fine is indeed a fitting description for this distillery. They make decent whisky, but nothing an experienced drinker would rave about. I don’t think whisky nerds scoff at Glenfiddich per se, it’s just that it’ll take a little more to be impressed once you’re at a certain point of your whisky journey.

    • You don’t know some of the same whisky snobs I do. When I order Glenfiddich 12 at the bar for some relatively cheap and easy sipping… let’s just say I’ve gotten lectures. From both sides of the bar no less.

  2. I am interested in the angry nerds for my chewing pleasure.

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