I have nothing against experimentation in the scotch whisky market. In fact, I applaud it on principle. Stodgy adherence to “the way things have always been done” can stifle the creation of newer, better products while also preserving the best of the past. Really, the industry needs a bit of both. Keep the old traditions when they make better whisky, but keep experimenting in case you find an improvement or an alternative. Lately, there seems to be a trend with whisky companies bottling and selling their experimental casks, sometimes in the middle of the ongoing experiment. The largest such effort I’ve seen has been the Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection. If you ever wanted to know the difference in taste between the bottom, middle, and top of a tree, go ahead and Google up some Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection. Sometimes this type of public experimentation leads to products that should have never seen the shelf, or bald-faced marketing drivel. Sometimes, it leads to tasty stuff.
Here we have something new. Whisky is (sort of) distilled beer, right? And most (almost all) beer contains hops to some degree. So why not age whisky in casks that previously held heavily-hopped India Pale Ale style beer? Actually this is not totally new, but it’s a valiant idea. A collaboration between Speyside brewer Seb Jones and Glenfiddich’s malt master Brian Kinsman, a specially-brewed IPA ale using Challenger hops was aged for 4 weeks in used Glenfiddich American Oak barrels, which were then emptied and used to finish Glenfiddich single malt for 12 weeks. The result was bottled without an age statement at 43% ABV and retails for, well, a lot.
My sample was from Lot 17 04 7983, whatever that means.
Nose: Maybe I’m going nuts, but this just smells like Glenfiddich to me. A bit of oak, some sunny, nutty malt, a little orange peel, and deep in the glass a hint of banana and walnut.
Palate: Mild, slightly syrupy body. Banana again. A tad hot for 43% ABV. Are there hops? Now I’m “power of suggestion”-ing myself. Yes, that was an awkward way to phrase that, and I’m OK with it. There is definitely a hint of herbaceous, hoppy flavor with an accompanying twinge of grassy bitterness. Hops! Experiment a success! Ship it!
Finish: Short. Minty, with a cooling (instead of drying) effect. Fades quickly.
With Water: A few drops of water release a lemony note that takes over the aroma for a bit. The hops might be more noticeable on the palate now, but that could also just be because I know what to look for. Finish is vaguely sweeter.
Overall: OK, well, I don’t dislike it. I also don’t think it particularly tastes or smells like an IPA. In fact, tasted blind the words “IPA” and “hops” would have never entered my mind. I doubt I would have even detected the unusual menthol effect on the finish, or the herby quality on the tongue. That said, it’s a tasty Glenfiddich that I certainly like more than the 12 year, and even maybe the 15 year (some of the flavors remind me of the 18 year).
If nothing else, you should not be put off from trying this expression if you aren’t into IPA or heavily-hopped beer. At more than $60, however, I balk at the idea of paying out of pocket for Glenfiddich’s own experimental whisky program. Crowdfunded R&D is trendy, or whatever, but that doesn’t mean I appreciate being on the “crowd” side of it.
Finally, MAN that’s a pretty bottle…