Monday 3 November 2014

Glenfiddich Tasting with Ian Millar in Hong Kong (Tasted #131 - 136)

Spend a bit of time reading this blog, and you'll realise I'm a bit of a Glenfiddich fan. Whilst I don't still have the collection I once did (it's tucked safely away in storage back in Sydney), I still enjoy a Glenfiddich every now and then, and it'll always hold a special place as the dram that got me into whisky in the first place.

So it goes without saying, that when Steph and I were offered two spots at a private Glenfiddich tasting to be held the following week, led by none other than Ian Millar (Glenfiddich's global brand ambassador), I was more than a little excited.

Turns out, Ian was in Hong Kong for a very brief visit to judge the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Competition, and had just enough time to host a few tastings, including this one - held for Oxford and Cambridge University Alumni. Now Oxford nor Cambridge Alumni I am not, but after telling a friend of a friend about this blog over a friend's birthday lunch, she mentioned the upcoming tasting and said there may be a free place, and would I be interested? 

So on a Tuesday Steph and I made our way to LKL Private Club in Hong Kong's Lan Kwai Fong (a club that seems to be so private, it doesn't exist on "Facebook Places") where we were greeted with a glass of English sparkling wine (which was surprisingly good), before a brief discussion with Ian. After not too long, and with the club at full capacity, it was time to begin the tasting.

Given the audience were not all whisky aficionados or industry types, I wasn't expecting anything other than the standard 12-15-18yo lineup (which would have been fine with me - I was just happy to meet and experience a tasting led by Ian). My interest was piqued though, when (in addition to the 21 and 30yo), I spotted this bottle with scant detail but a tell-tale label:

..but more on that later.  Ian took the stage and talked us through a little of his lengthy career in the whisky industry, which included time at Blair Athol, Mortlach, Dalwhinnie, The Balvenie and Glenfiddich to name just a few. Before getting into the tasting, Ian explained that one problem with tasting whisky in the tropics is not so much the heat, but the air-conditioning! True enough, when we picked up the Glencairns, they were icy, and the whisky inside wasn't exactly what you'd call "room temperature" either, so a little rubbing and cupping of the glass was in order before each tasting (just the glass this time, no rubbing of the whisky itself).

Ian also left us a few pearls of wisdom about the distillation and production of Glenfiddich, including some humorous ("New Make - it's great after the first pint") and some interesting (the 18 can contain malts as old as 28yo, with up to 38yo whisky going into the 30). Ian also told us about the oldest whisky he ever tried (a 1923 Balvenie, which was "atrocious") and mentioned an upcoming Glenfiddich release in the next 18 months that's so good, there's "no other way of putting it - you will shit in your pants".

Can't wait. But for now, it was time to work our way through the whiskies in front of us, starting as so many Speyside tastings do, with the 12yo.

Glenfiddich 12yo (40% ABV, 12yo, Speyside, Scotland, $368HKD)
A mixture of 85% American Oak and 15% European oak matured whiskies.
Colour: Golden sunset
Nose: Pears and vanilla ice cream
Palate: Some chocolate (milk, not dark), pears, apples and a hint of cinnamon.
Finish: Medium length, sweet, with residual cinnamon spice.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Still a solid, reliable, fantastic whisky. No wonder it's the world's number 1 selling single malt.

Glenfiddich 15yo Solera (40% ABV, 15yo, Speyside, Scotland, $598HKD)
Next up the 15yo Solera, which I was lucky enough to try direct from the (Solera) source in 2009.
Colour: Golden sunset
Nose: Pears again, but more creamy. Still sweet vanilla notes you'd expect from a Bourbon matured whisky,
Palate: More chocolate, more spice than the 12yo. More rounded, more "chewy", more full. Still a hint of Glenfiddich's signature apples and pears.
Finish: Medium to long, more cinnamon spice and less sweetness than the 12yo.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100.

Glenfiddich 18yo (40% ABV, 18yo, Speyside, Scotland, $898HKD)
Old faithful. Originally tasted way back as #3 on this blog, albeit in 43% guise. Contains 20% European Oak matured stock - up from the 12yo's 15%.
Colour: Vibrant gold orange.
Nose: Sweeter than the 15, with more chocolate, but bitter, dark chocolate this time.
Palate: Creamy, rich, lots of dark chocolate, but also some (minor) earthy characteristics I don't usually associate with Glenfiddich. Smooth, and just fantastic.
Finish: Medium length, with notes of dark, 70% chocolate.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. The same rating I gave it almost two years ago - how about that!? Consistent whisky, that's for sure, even with a lower ABV now.

Glenfiddich 21yo (40% ABV, 21yo, Speyside, Scotland, $1,888HKD)
I'd heard word a at a previous tasting that the 21yo wasn't able to be sold in the US due to its ties with Cuba, and the name "Havana Reserve". Ian explained that the naming issue was actually due to a perceived conflict with Pernod Ricard's "Havana Club", and that the US sales restrictions were actually intentional - they knew it couldn't be sold in the US from the outset, and went ahead anyway. Apparently the French market loved it! 
The 21yo sees three rums put into Glenfiddich's own casks for 6 months, then the 21yo finished for four months (tasted every week...because they can). 
Colour: Orange copper.
Nose: Toffee, demerara sugar.
Palate: Sweet, sugary, rich. Smooth, very smooth. Almost too much so. I'd love to try this at around 46-50% ABV. Some maple syrup.
Finish: Long, syrupy.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100.

Glenfiddich 30yo (40% ABV, 30yo, Speyside, Scotland, $4,900HKD)
30% European oak, 70% American oak.
Colour: Deep dark copper.
Nose: Strong notes of toffee and chocolate. A hint of pear, but it's subdued and almost non-existant.
Palate: Dark bitter chocolate, hints of sherry matured whisky showing through. Red berries, tobacco, even some leather. A real complex mixed bag - which I love.
Finish: Long, leather, cranberries and dried fruits.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100.

Glenfiddich Private Vintage 1972  single cask 33yo (51.9% ABV, 33yo, Speyside, Scotland, no longer available)
Ah, we're in for a treat with this one. A single sherry cask put down in 1972 and bottled in 2005 for the Taiwanese market. How would it compare with my 32yo Private Vintage bottle first tasted way back in 2012?
Colour: Light gold. Perhaps not from a first-fill sherry barrel then?
Nose: Toffee, banana chips. Smooth and not a hint of alcohol burn, considering it's ~52% ABV.
Palate: Full, rich mouthfeel. Toffee, chocolate, leather. ABV spot on for my tastes - enough to let you know it's not 40%, but not too much that it overpowers the various notes.
Finish: Medium to long. Some saffron, slightly earthy. Overall rich, fantastic and unmistakably Glenfiddich.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Yep, that good.

After another dram of the 18yo and a good long chat Ian (who was extremely personable, a trait it seems many of the William Grant & Sons ambassadors share, including Sam Simmons and James Buntin), it was time to call it a night, happy to see that one of my favourite distilleries is still producing whisky that's just as enjoyable as I remember it.


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