Viewed holistically, the Scotch Whisky market really doesn’t have much space to accommodate newcomers in the traditional fortress the Scotch Whisky Association has built around it. It’s actually very difficult to do fiddle around with Scotch whisky, as it is the most heavily regulated drink in the world. Newer avenues are being examined to penetrate a cluttered up market place, and with a desire to reach a younger audience there needs to be an interesting enough marketing hook to create some noise around it, not to mention some good branding. One of the first barriers to be broken was the Age Statement. Today, there is a profusion of No Age Statement bottlings, from debutants to diehard distilleries. The basis for integrity bottlings was to be recast.
Glenfiddich, one of the world’s biggest whisky brands, made a bit of a splash when it announced a plan to create new experimental whiskies with which they hoped to ‘push the boundaries of Scotch whisky’. The Malt Master at Glenfiddich had obviously figured out a method to push things further, with pride of place at stake. He looked for a solution by questioning convention and breaking boundaries; the heart of a range of expressions known as the Experimental Series.
THE GLENFIDDICH EXPERIMENTAL SERIES
Malt Master Brian Kinsman had a series of experimental bottlings in mind. Without giving much away, he said that he would start with a bottom-up approach. His first would be with Indian Pale Ale casks, to be followed by an attempt to collate the skills of as many as 20 Brand Ambassadors from 16 countries to create a truly international expression, after which at least three more expressions would be seen. He left it at that, stirring up interest in his creativity and how far he was willing to go.
In Experiment #01 he wanted to question what he knew about ale and the residual taste in barrels after ageing beer in wooden barrels to achieve a variety of effects in the final product. Sour beers such as lambics are fully fermented in wood, while other beers are aged in barrels which were previously used for maturing wines or spirits. Barrel-aged beers are so trendy that nearly every taphouse and beer store has a section of them. These were the barrels used in maturing the Glenfiddich IPA Experiment. Brian drew on his experience in creating a beer barrel-aged blended Scotch whisky from Grant’s. He started tooling around with different cask finishes, looking to add another layer of interest to that blended Scotch. Four months in a cask that once held scotch ale afforded the flavour he sought: maltiness, honey and (perhaps from the hops) a satisfying citrussy ping at the end. Sadly, it was not to be!
THE GLENFIDDICH IPA EDITION: ABV 43%
The Glenfiddich IPA Experiment is a No Age Statement whisky finished for just 3 months in casks that had held an IPA beer created by the nearby Speyside Craft Brewery. The ale itself was created using British Challenger hops for its fruity flavours, and which would in theory go well with the Glenfiddich’s inherent fruitiness. In the first experiment of its kind, Kinsman collaborated with Seb Jones, an entrepreneurial Speyside brewer, to create a new craft IPA and pioneer the way for a new kind of single malt Scotch whisky. Brewed in bespoke craft IPA barrels, this single malt expression was supposed to be imbued with unique zesty citrus notes of ripe green apple, William’s pear and spring blossom, complemented by the subtle tang of fresh hops followed by a long-lasting sweetness. Unfortunately, this experiment didn't go too well but laid the cornerstone for subsequent expressions to leap off from.
I wouldn't like to offer an opinion on the tasting notes. The official tasting notes are:
Colour: Rich golden.
Nose: An elegant harmony of fresh green apple, William’s pear and spring blossom. Complemented with aromatic hops and fresh herbs.
Palate: Vibrant with a zesty citrus note followed by creamy vanilla and a hint of fresh hops.
Finish: Enduring sweetness with an echo of green hops.
THE GLENFIDDICH PROJECT XX: ABV 47%
20 of the whisky industry’s most exceptional minds came together to create this truly unique, pioneering single malt expression, the second in the Experimental Series. It was an unqualified success, wiping off the sour notes of its predecessor.
With its deep golden hue, Project XX embodies the warm, fruity character of a classic Glenfiddich whisky with hints of apple blossom, summer fruits and ripe pear. But its multiple personalities are revealed with hints of sweet candyfloss, cinnamon spice, almonds and rich port tannins with the odd whisper of liquorice. Deep and mellow, the finish is long-lasting with a lingering sweet oakiness.
The official tasting notes are:
Colour: Deep gold.
Nose: Classic fruitiness with hints of apple blossom and plump pear. A perfect balance of rich vanilla oak with golden sugar and a touch of liquorice.
Palate: Deep and mellow, the candyfloss sweetness is complemented by unusual notes of toasted almonds and cinnamon and a hint of crisp tannin.
Finish: Long lasting with a savoury sweet oakiness.
ICED WHISKY: Pursuing an ingenious idea, Brian experienced the freezing Canadian January weather to learn about how the grapes had to be picked at moonlight at -10˚C when they were as hard as pebbles. Iced Blended Scotch whiskies were already available, with a good market response. Working with Peller Estates VP of Winemaking, Craig McDonald, it was an opportunity to push the boundaries of taste to create a new unexpected whisky.
THE GLENFIDDICH WINTER STORM: ABV 43%
For the third experiment, Malt Master Brian Kinsman travelled to Canada to meet a renowned winemaker in Niagara. There he learned how the grapes had to be picked by moonlight at -10˚C to produce the intensely sweet Icewine.
Upon his return to the Glenfiddich Distillery, Brian started experimenting with several French oak Icewine casks from the Canadian winery, filling them with different Glenfiddich aged malts for up to six months. Only the rarer whiskies, those aged for 21 years, could cope with the extra Icewine intensity.
The taste is a perfect combination of both pioneering liquids, the heightened candied sweets and oakiness of Glenfiddich are complemented by mouth-watering tropical fruit notes and a luscious sweetness from the unique Icewine cask finish.
First released in October 2017, the expression is now freely available.
The official tasting notes are:
Nose: A bouquet of tropical fruit and candied sweets are perfectly balanced with underlying wine notes.
Palate: Soft sweet notes reminiscent of candied fruit and Turkish delight develop into flavours of mouth-watering lychee. The fusion of sweet flavours is soon met with a rich drying sensation from the Icewine.
Finish: Short and crisp.
GLENFIDDICH FIRE & CANE SINGLE MALT WHISKY: ABV 43%
Brian Kinsman then turned to produce a peated whisky, not a typical style for Glenfiddich. The answer is Fire & Cane, unexpectedly smoky but with a hit of toffee sweetness.
Glenfiddich Fire & Cane is a bold fusion of smoky and sweet notes. By marrying peated whisky and malts matured in bourbon barrels, and then finishing in Latin rum casks, he created an exquisite whisky with campfire smokiness and toffee sweetness.
The official tasting notes are:
Nose: Billowing soft peat notes, like distant smoke on the wind. Rich sweet toffee with zesty fresh fruit notes and spiciness.
Palate: Like a Highland peat campfire, with oak notes and toffee. Sharp green fruit, sweet baked apple and soft smoke.
Finish: Lingering smokiness and sweetness
OVERALL: The Project XX is streets ahead of the other three. Perhaps one could even discount the IPA expression as way below par, not reaching even the Glenfiddich 12 YO Standard Bottling.