There are, of course, a million different ways to design and market new whiskies, although I’ll be honest when I say that focusing around “occasions” tends to be one of my least favorite of them. As someone who almost universally would prefer to focus on the liquid within the bottle, my interest in “why did you choose this method” tends to be focused around figuring out what kind of flavor profile a company wished to achieve, rather than what kind of mood or occasion that process might evoke. It’s no doubt why I’m a writer, rather than a marketer.
Case in point: Glenfiddich’s new high-roller Grand Cru release, a 23-year-old single malt from one of the world’s biggest single malt brands. The theming of this release, which really pops from the swanky black-and-gold bottle, is of Grand Cru as a supreme “occasion” whisky, seemingly targeted at New Year’s Eve in particular. The fact that the whisky was finished in French cuvée casks (sparkling wine) only adds to this impression. It’s a whisky that seems to imply it’s the scotch equivalent of a plush bottle of bubbly you’re cracking open as the countdown to 2020 draws near. Our press sample, in fact, came in a tiny flask that seemed designed to slip into a tuxedo interior pocket, as if you’d be pulling it out for a surreptitious nip.
But as we typically do, let’s focus on the whisky itself. As previously stated, this is a 23-year-old single malt, bottled at a minimal 40% ABV (80 proof), matured in American and European oak before being finished for the final six months in French cuvée casks. The distillery says the following: “Rich vanilla, sweet brioche, sandalwood, pear sorbet and white grape build a beautiful harmony of flavors on the palate; enhanced by a long, opulent finish. Daring and unexpected, Grand Cru encapsulates the rich spirit of innovation and craftsmanship of Glenfiddich with the celebratory and indulgent character of sparkling wine.”
At a $300 MSRP, this is clearly in splurge territory, especially given the low proof, and it’s leaning on its age and unusual finish (I can’t say I’ve had many whiskies finished in sparkling wine casks) to yield complexity and attract attention. So let’s get to the tasting and see how it does.
On the nose, this release is quite rich and honeyed, leaning toward the more decadent side of the spectrum, as is probably appropriate for the occasion theme. I get moderately assertive notes of apple, pears in syrup, grass, cantaloupe/melon and nut-covered toffee. It certainly is an inviting bouquet; classically Speyside but richer than you might expect for the low proof.
On the palate, this is a silky-textured dram that drinks a bit bigger than its proof, which is always a good thing in lower-ABV special releases. Silky in texture, it features some nice flavors of milk chocolate, nutty toffee and spiced pears, with subtle hints of grass and earth in the back half. Honeycomb-like residual sweetness is moderate, and booze is very well hidden, which it should be at this age and proof. All in all, it makes for a moderately rich and fruity, somewhat sweet (but nowhere near too much) dram that is quite approachable but not lacking in complexity. A bit higher proof might have pushed these elements into even more rarefied air, but regardless, this is a very solid release that almost anyone would presumably enjoy. I have to admit that the occasion theming is accurate—it seems festive, and I would be thrilled if someone pulled this out as the clock ticked down to the New Year. So there you go.
If money is for some reason no object this New Year, Glenfiddich Grand Cru would make a lovely centerpiece to your party.
City: Dufftown, Keith, Scotland
Style: Single-malt scotch whisky
ABV: 40% (80 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $300 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.