Ask any ten people to name a brand of Scotch whisky, and seven of them will say Glenfiddich. There's a reason it's one of the world's biggest and best-known brands, but Glenfiddich is not content to rest on their laurels. To take advantage of the surging global popularity of single malt whisky, the distillery has come out with a line of experimental spirits. Developed to please a wider range of palates and suit different moods, these limited edition whiskies range from smoky and sweet to hoppy and floral.
If you would like to learn more about whisky from grain to glass, read our whisky guide here for a fully comprehensive insight into the world of whisky.
The challenge with new single malt whiskies is that they aren't truly new; whisky takes time to mature and any flavouring comes from how it's made, not additives. Craft beers take only a few days or weeks to be brilliant, but whisky can take years to find its voice. Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, for instance, gets its name from the dozen years it matures to its distinctive oaken, mellow finish. Each bottle of Glenfiddich 15 Year Old would be looking forward to passing its drivers licence if it could and the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old old enough to legally enjoy a glass of whisky itself.
Another issue is that Scotch whisky is one of the most scrutinised and regulated products on the market. To earn the name, a whisky must, of course, come from somewhere in Scotland, such as Glenfiddich's Dufftown home. It must be aged for a minimum of three years in oak casks and it has to be processed and fermented locally. No flavourings may be added, so all those glorious smoky, fruity or honeyed notes come from the subtle alchemy of good barley and the distiller's art, not a laboratory.
How, then, is this experimental series of whiskies produced? Some of the new flavours and finishes come from aging in barrels made from different woods or steeped in other liquors. Others are the result of master makers coming together to create a blend of whiskies to epitomise all that's best in the Glenfiddich single malt scotch whisky lines. Developed in secret, using code names and perhaps a few false starts, the experimental whisky line now includes four exceptional labels.
As with any experimental product, some of these special whiskies are more successful than others. We've sampled them all and have our recommendations for how to enjoy them, which stand out and who might appreciate them most. We'll also note that you won't find an age label on these bottles, which is a great way for Glenfiddich to turn up production on younger whiskies and reach a younger, more experimental audience in doing so. Every Glenfiddich product is a pleasure, but these were a particular delight given the highly individualistic character of each bottle we sampled.
The first of the Glenfiddich experimental spirits is this distinguished blend of malt whisky liqueur which involved the input of 20 brand ambassadors, expert tasters and master distillers. According to the company, the initial project was so secretive that these experts weren't even told why they were set loose in the distiller's Conval Warehouse to sample the casks until halfway through the process. Each taster chose the most compelling cask and the Glenfiddich team set to work blending whiskies infused with port, aged in smoked oak casks or finished in bourbon barrels from American distillers.
(The resulting blend proves that with careful editing and thoughtful composition, a committee can sometimes get it right). With its rich copper hue and classic flavour profile, this whisky is our winner for connoisseurs, though at £47 per bottle, it's also accessible to the novice. Neat or on the rocks, its character is silky and smooth-edged with notes of vanilla, apples and honey throughout. The aromatic spirit of the port pipes comes through at the finish, along with a hint of oak tannins reminiscent of an autumnal walk through the woods.
As the first of the experimental series, it's a triumph. At 47 percent alcohol by volume, it's also one of the more potent potables in the collection.
Glenfiddich IPA Experiment
As light and golden in colour as the ale from which it borrows its name, IPA Experiment required the distiller to branch out into brewing just for the barrels needed to age the whisky. By finishing its maturation process in ale casks, the spirits have taken on some of the IPA's distinctly floral, hoppy notes and crisp character. Think of it as the Chardonnay of whiskies, and you have a good idea of where this label fits into the collection.
As the second in the experimental whisky series, it's a delicate counterpart to its cousins and has the most pared-down flavour profile. If Project XX had a rich red apple accord, IPA Experiment is a slightly astringent green apple with a hoppy head note and a bit of tanginess in the body that echoes the yeast the casks once contained. We also found it a bit grassy, which is lovely if you want something to sip on a crisp evening in the garden.
IPA Experiment is bottled at 43 percent ABV and costs approximately £45 per bottle.
In search of new ways to impart new character to aged whisky, brand ambassadors traveled to Canada to research ice-wine, a sweetly potent dessert wine made by freezing grapes on the vine, a process which freezes the water in the grapes but not the sugars, resulting in a concentrated flavour. When the wine ferments, it has an almost syrupy intensity that remains in the barrels after the wine is decanted. Filling the casks with whisky for a minimum of six months results in the sweet richness of Winter Storm.
After learning about the production process, we thought this one might be a bit too sweet for our palates, but we were delighted to be wrong. Although those powdery-sweet and fruity notes are there, the complexity of the 21-year-old whisky adds depth to them and creates something far greater than a handful of jammy sweets.
We enjoyed ours at slightly cooler than room temperature with enough water to open it up. During our tasting, we detected everything from toffee to maraschino cherries here, but the sturdy body of the whisky was more than a match for the sweetness, cutting it with just enough sharp and peaty notes to add sophistication.
Speaking of sophistication, we also love the opaque white bottle. Unlike its predecessors, this whisky has an age imprint, and to go along with the higher age is a higher price point; expect to pay north of £200 for Glenfiddich's third experimental label. Ice-wine barrels and aged whisky are rare resources, so the higher price makes sense. We find it worth the extra cost, and at 43 percent ABV, you can enjoy it throughout a special evening.
Fire and Cane
We have a confession to make: after the wave of jam-sweet and spiced whisky blends, meant to appeal to younger palates, we thought Glenfiddich Fire and Cane might be more of the same, and we were braced for disappointment. Instead, we found a lovely smoky surprise. The "cane" in the name refers to sugar cane, the main ingredient in the rum that once filled the barrels where the whisky matured. The "fire" portion refers both to the intensely peaty whisky blend and the char on the bourbon barrels used during its aging process.
To our delight, this fourth label of the experimental whisky series has greater depth to it than expected. Its imperial topaz colour looks lush in cut crystal, and its notes of toffee, smoke and red fruits offset the tannic twinge at its finish. We found that it took on a slight bitterness in the middle when blended with water, but we were more than up to the challenge it presented.
At 43 percent ABV, this smoky and sophisticated take on blended whisky is outstanding by itself and a friendly mixer. The best price we found was just shy of £50, so it's also quite accessible. Glenfiddich whisky prices do vary by availability, so this most recent offering may go up in price as its rarity increases.
Find out how to be a whisky connoisseur and take a glance at our exclusive ‘behind the scenes’ trip to the award-winning Glenfiddich distillery, only available through EBS. Click here for more details.