Scotch Tasting: Yes, Please!

May 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today’s post is by guest blogger, John Prugh (above). Thanks, John for covering the event (haha…of course, I was there too!).

The Glenfiddich distillery hosted an event at the National Geographic Society in Washington, the purpose of which was to promote their new Cask of Dreams campaign.  Glenfiddich is lugging casks of whiskey through the streets of cities worldwide and encouraging innocent passersby to write their dreams on the barrel.  I would have prefered that they encourage people to write jokes on the cask, resulting in a barrel of laughs, but I suppose dreams are okay too.  Once Glenfiddich has collected everyone’s dreams, they will ship the casks back to Scotland and blend the contents with aged whiskey to create a special bottling that they will put on sale next year.  I was officially told that Glenfiddich will donate one dollar from each bottle sold to National Geographic’s Young Explorer program that provides grants to help pay for “field project costs” for young people interested in things like astronomy, archaeology, geology, etc.

For those who do not know, scotch is a type of whiskey that is distilled only in Scotland.  Most scotch is a blend of whiskeys from many distilleries (Johnny Walker is an example).  Single malt, on the other hand, comes from just one distillery (such as Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Macallan).  Each distillery produces scotch with unique characteristics.  These traits can vary based on a lot of factors, such as the barrels in which all scotch is aged, the location of the distillery, the qualities of the water used, etc.  Sophisticated scotch afficianados can usually identify the region in Scotland, if not the actual distillery, of any given single malt.

Glenfiddich is the largest and, so I was told by their PR folks, the most-awarded of the Scottish distilleries.  The representatives of Glenfiddich took great pains to try to dispel the image that many have of Glenfiddich as the mass-market single malt.  I certainly had this perception going into the event. Afterall, Glenfiddich usually takes up the most shelf space in liquor stores and, unlike some other single malts, it is widely available in smaller formats than the traditional 750 ml.  The small bottles give the consumer the perception that Glenfiddich is appealing to the less-sophisticated whiskey drinker, offering single-malt prestige on the cheap. 

Glenfiddich did much to emphasize the distillery’s scotch snob credentials at the Cask of Dreams event. The distillery was quick to bring out its big guns.  The first tasting was of their 21 year old whiskey, meaning it had been matured in the cask for as long as it takes an American to reach the (legal) drinking age.  It was indeed a fine whiskey, certainly not for the mass market.  At over $100 a bottle, it certainly is not for the average scotch drinker.

Next we were treated to a special 15 year old whiskey that was a combination of spirits aged in old sherry barrels and spirits that had matured in new American oak casks that are typically used to age bourbon.  Glenfiddich told us that this was an ideal scotch to drink on the rocks, since it could stand up to melting ice and not loose its character.  This statement is a bit surprising because sophisticated scotch drinkers will never drink scotch on the rocks.  The appropriate addition, if any, is a drop or two of spring water to bring out the nose and flavors, not an indiscriminate deluge of melting ice of questionable origin.  

Two cocktails made with 10 year old Glenfiddich were available to thirsty attendees throughout the evening.  They were good, but I cannot understand why anyone would make a cocktail with single malt whiskey.  If whiskey is required, why not use something cheaper, or something you wouldn’t mind ruining by adding other ingredients?  The characteristics that the whiskey spent 10 years acquiring were completely obscured by the sweet and sour flavors of the cocktails.  Clearly, this was an effort by Glenfiddich to appeal to people who normally don’t like scotch.

Overall, Glenfiddich did an excellent job of breaking me of the misconception that it is a single malt for the mass market.  The distillery nonetheless has mass-market appeal, something that Glenfiddich encourages with campaigns like the Cask of Dreams and softening some of the more snobbish aspects of scotch-drinking.  Glenfiddich tries to be all things to all drinkers, and for the most part succeeds.

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