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As the first drops of single malt flowed through the Glenfiddich stills back in 1887, William Grant inched closer to fulfilling his lifelong dream of creating the best dram in the valley. In that, he established a tradition of excellence that the family-owned distillery still swears by. Curiously, this tradition is marked as much by the freedom to break away from it, as much as the merit of the craft itself. Often, the result of this maverick slant is radical to say the least – whether it was the installation of uniquely shaped stills or simply bringing the joys of whisky to the world.
The Solera Vat, another industry-wide innovation, notes perhaps the greatest break from the traditional whisky-making craft. The essence of the process, captured beautifully in the Glenfiddich 15-Year-Old made the whisky the first 15-Year-Old to make the global top ten rankings.
Interestingly, this pioneering malt combines three casks of flavour chosen specifically by the malt master himself. The Spanish sherry cask is the largest of the three, giving it the rich fruity flavour that opens the whisky to you. Smaller, carefully picked American bourbon barrels are chosen to give it the complex aroma of sweet vanilla fudge. The malt master carefully times the release of aromas like heather honey from a few months before finishing. Virgin American casks are then chosen to give all these flavours the layers and the depth that is characteristic of the Glenfiddich 15-Year-Old.
All this, before they finally blend in a giant oak vat, the Solera Vat, which allows the flavours to mellow to the satisfaction of the malt master. The unique process ensures that this vat is always half full of whiskies aged at least 15 years, and it has been so since 1998 when the process was first developed. It is exactly how David Gordon, the inventor of the Solera Vat, intended for the notes to converge into the well-rounded single malt that the 15 Year Old is.
Intriguingly complex, yet stunningly harmonious, the 15-Year-Old reminds you of sweet heather honey and vanilla fudge as you nose it. The rich dark fruits in its concoction give a fascinating red hue to its golden. As you sip it, silky smooth layers come to be as it bursts with flavour. Sherry oak and cinnamon give it its characteristic woody sweetness, while marzipan and ginger give it a glorious hint of spice. It finishes with a satisfyingly rich and lingering sweetness. It takes a few sips to fully comprehend the range of its intensity and the depth of its flavours – but what makes it an incredibly rewarding process right from the start is the alchemy. Suffice it to say that it lies behind the scenes and within massive oak vats.
They say a little frozen honey awakens the sweetness that was mellowed during the 15-Year-Old’s intense marrying period. You could also take it neat, just like our malt master enjoys. Or simply break from tradition and find your own way. That, after all, is what exemplifies it best.