Whisky Review #79: Glenfiddich Project XX

Glenfiddich is no stranger to this blog. It has been reviewed pretty extensively over a few blog posts which covered both expressions and events, and this review will add on to that dossier.

I’ve also realised that I neglected to provide an in-depth look into the history of the distillery during the previous reviews, so perhaps it is time to right this grievous error.

Glenfiddich distillery was founded in 1886 by William Grant, who had previously worked at Mortlach and had honed his whisky-making craft there. The distillery equipment was sourced second-hand from Mrs Cummings of Cardow (now Cardhu) distillery and the distillery was constructed at a cost of £800.

The first distillation ran down the line on Christmas Day in 1887 and the distillery has been producing pretty much uninterrupted since then. Balvenie distillery was also built on the adjacent site 5 years later in 1892.

In 1898, the blending company Pattisons, which was the largest customer of Glenfiddich, went bankrupt and this forced William Grant to rethink the company strategy. As such, he decided to blend his own whisky and this led to the creation of the Standfast brand of blended Scotch whisky which became  a major brand for the company.

William Grant & Sons was founded in 1903 and both Glenfiddich and Balvenie were assumed under its control. While the early years were ones in which the spirit from Glenfiddich and Balvenie were used primarily for blending, that was about to change.

In 1957, the famous three-cornered bottle design was introduced and the floor maltings at Glenfiddich were closed the following year (although the maltings at Balvenie continue to operate to this day).

But 1963 was the year in which things really took off for William Grant & Sons as it was the first time that Glenfiddich was marketed as a single malt in the UK and the rest of the world.

A version of Standfast’s three-cornered bottle was then created in 1964 for Glenfiddich in green glass and it became the iconic bottle design which we now readily recognise and adore. The distillery went one further in 1969 and became the first in Scotland to open a visitor centre.

The distillery was expanded in 1974, when 16 new stills were installed and this allowed its production capacity to be massively upgraded. In the 42 years after the upgrade, the distillery made further improvements to the facility and spent approximately £1.7 million on a new distillery visitor centre in 2005.

In terms of equipment, the distillery sports two 10 ton, stainless steel full lauter mash tuns, 24 Douglas fir and 8 stainless steel washbacks with a fermentation time of 68 hours and two still rooms with a total of 11 wash and 20 spirit stills. This allows the distillery to have a production capacity of 14 million litres on an annual basis, of which 13.65 million litres is currently in use.

The distillery is also in the midst of a massive expansion and a whole new distillery is being built on the same grounds with a view to commencing production by the end of 2018.

The new distillery will be equipped with one mash tun, 16 washbacks, 5 wash stills and 10 spirit stills and the intention would be to run both the existing and new distilleries in tandem in order to produce approximately 20 million litres of spirit on an annual basis.

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The Glenfiddich core range.

The core range of expressions was also augmented over time to include the present offerings of the Glenfiddich 12 Years Old, 15 Years Old Solera Reserve, 18 Years Old Small Batch Reserve and 21 Years Old Gran Reserva. There have also been a multitude of limited edition and Non-Age Statement (NAS) releases over the years, including the fabled Snow Phoenix.

In 2016, Glenfiddich launched the Experimental Series of expressions and the first two bottlings were the IPA Experiment (where Glenfiddich whisky is finished in casks which once held India Pale Ale or IPA beer) and the Glenfiddich Project XX (which is a vatting of 20 different casks which have been chosen by the company’s Brand Ambassadors around the world).

This week’s review focuses on the latter expression, which is only now being made available locally and was one of the surprise inclusions during Whisky Live Singapore. This expression is a vatting of 20 different whiskies which were sourced from American oak, ex-bourbon, port pipes and ex-sherry casks and bottled at a rather unusual 47% abv by the distillery.

So, let’s jump right into the review!

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Glenfiddich Project XX

Glenfiddich Project XX (47% abv)

Colour: Deep gold

Nose: Initial entry presents citrus notes which are reminiscent of baked red apples, pear juice and some lemon drops. There is a slight cinnamon-esque spiciness along with some oak, vanilla and barley sugar. With time, the maltiness increases and the citrus opens further, allowing for a touch of meatiness to appear. (21/25)

Palate: Initial entry is rich, sweet and rather mellow, with the citrus and malt forming the bedrock. More of the baked red apples and barley sugar emerge along with a bit of the meatiness (which I assume is from the port pipes in the mix) and cinnamon.

Black pepper, vanilla and pear juice make an appearance as well and add to the complexity of this dram and there is a slight hint of wood smoke which augments the oakiness. (22/25)

Finish: Medium to long on the finish, with the baked red apples, barley sugar, malt and cinnamon bringing things to a close along with a hint of black pepper. (21/25)

Balance: Slightly feisty at the beginning, but it then shows its sophistication over time and reveals its complexities for all to see. A rather enjoyable dram which showcases how good craftsmanship can produce an intriguing and well-poised product. (20/25)

Rating: 84/100

Credit has to be given to Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman for crafting this expression with what would surely have been some rather diverse cask choices and the final product allows for the different elements to shine through while allowing for a good level of balance.

The Glenfiddich Project XX is sold out on both The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt, so it would be best to source for it from retail stores as the quantities would be inherently limited due to only 20 casks being used to create this first batch.

However, it has been confirmed by Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador for Asia Pacific, Mr Matthew Fergusson-Stewart, that this will be a permanent addition to the Experimental Series and subsequent batches will be created under the expert guidance of Brian Kinsman. Definitely something to look out for!

Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead.

Slainte!

Brendan

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