With my last article having covered one of the UK’s smallest whisky distilleries, I realise there’s a certain irony in turning my attention straight to one of the very largest. Boasting some 32 spirit stills and an output of some 13 million litres of alcohol per year, Glenfiddich was reportedly the best-selling single malt whisky brand of 2021. Impressively for a business of this size, it has remained family-owned since its founding in 1887, with the fifth generation of the Grant family now owning and running the distillery.
Those who have followed the Water of Life for a while may think that covering such a large and established brand is a bit unusual, given our usual focus on much smaller companies. In my first article for this website, written over a year ago, I used Glenfiddich as an example of a whisky that I didn’t find particularly interesting. In the interest of fairness, I thought it was about time to readdress this comment and examine a whisky that stands out from the rest of Glenfiddich’s range.
So, what makes Glenfiddich’s 15-year-old a bit different? When Glenfiddich changed the process of manufacturing this age statement in 1998, they initially dubbed it the “Solera Reserve”. Borrowed from the sherry-making industry, the solera process is a way to fractionally age an alcohol. Only a portion is drawn off at a time, which is replaced with a newer spirit. As time goes on, the average age of the liquid gradually increases, as the container is never more than partially emptied. Glenfiddich does this in their “Solera Vat”, which has never been less than half-full since it was started in 1998.
Another way to put this would be that the Solera Vat is, in essence, Glenfiddich’s own giant infinity bottle, topped up periodically as the whole contents gradually ages. Theoretically, this should make an expression containing at least a fraction of the original, now ancient, whisky, slowly improving over time. Is this actually the case? There’s one way to find out!
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
40% ABV; matured in ex-bourbon, new oak, and sherry casks.
Colouring and chill-filtration were not declared; however, specific mention of chill filtration on other releases suggests this has been chill-filtered. The internet suggests that it has been artificially coloured.
Nose: There’s an immediate fruit hit, with green apple, orange zest and pear drops, giving way to vanilla, honey, cream, marshmallow (flumps?) and a hint of burnt caramel.
Palate: Sherry notes emerge more on the palate, taking the form of raisin and fruitcake. Sweetness manifests as caramel and brown sugar. There’s also a slight spice from cinnamon and dried ginger.
Finish: A warm, medium finish. Sweet sherry notes are joined by an oak bitterness.
Opinion: Although the Glenfiddich 15-year-old doesn’t bowl me over, it’s a decent enough everyday dram. Although I’ve not touched on the rest of Glenfiddich’s Flagship range, for me, the 15-year-old is the standout, particularly at the sub-£50 price point. I do feel that it lacks a little in depth, and the slightly bitter note on the finish isn’t really for me. It’s not a whisky I’d break out for a special occasion, but it is still high enough in quality to enjoy and savour.
Does the Solera process add much to this whisky? Given its place in the Glenfiddich Flagship range and near ubiquity, it’s safe to say that there is a massive volume of 15-year-old produced each year. While the Solera Vat does, in theory, hold some of the very first batch from 1998, this is probably in quantities more familiar to homeopathists. I feel the process may help in establishing consistency between batches, but I doubt that it does much to enhance the flavours present further.
I’ve already mentioned the price point. I feel that this is a fair amount to pay for a whisky with this age statement, although for the same amount, you’d not struggle to find something younger of a higher quality. That said, there are less impressive whiskies with much higher price tags out there as well.
All in all, the Glenfiddich 15-year-old is a decent enough dram. While enjoyable, it’s not hugely complex. Consider buying, but maybe don’t rush out to grab a bottle.