Festive season in India is in full bloom with Diwali just gone by and the countdown to X Mas and New year well on its way. Amidst all festivities, I recently had the privilege of being invited by James Pennefather, General Manager William Grant and Sons in India for a vertical tasting of Glenfiddich whisky around a paired dinner at his residence. On most occasions, I have been attending or conducting wine dinners, so the invitation came as a unique opportunity to refresh my knowledge on whisky. It was only incidental that a few days prior, I had the pleasure of conducting a whisky appreciation session for a group of Executive MBA students from the Duke University USA, that has famous alumni like former US President Richard Nixon and philanthropist Melinda Gates on its honour rolls.
There is a great deal of similarity between wine and whisky tasting. Cynics may scoff at this comparison but the fact remains that appreciating any aged alcoholic beverage involves a set methodology. It is all about discerning the aromas, palate and finish in the backdrop of the beverage’s provenance. So much about similarity- now the differences. Whisky is a distilled product made from grains while wine is fermented from grape(s), hence there are different variability factors for both. I have endeavoured to summarise these in the graphic below:
Coming to the Glenfiddich dinner at James’ place, it was heart warming to be welcomed by him in the company of his cute son Richard who had just returned from a Halloween party with ‘scary’ paint et al on his face. This warmth continued with James carefully seeking to know my preferred way of enjoying whisky, which I specified as a 1:1 dilution with a couple of ice cubes. The party got rolling as the guests – a select group of whisky connoisseurs- started acquainting themselves with each other. The graceful Mrs Pam Pennefather too, briefly joined-in to make this ‘stags only’ (pun intended) gathering feel at home.
The muster was followed by James introducing the proceedings that lay ahead before we took our seats for the tasting.
Glenfiddich means “Valley of the Deer” in Scottish-Gaelic language. Situated in Dufftown (popularly known as “whisky capital of the world”), in the Speyside region, Glenfiddich distillery was established in 1886 by their founder William Grant, whose name is still borne by the family owned company. They also own the Balvenie and Kininvie distilleries in the same region.
In the course of James’ presentation, he showed an interesting image depicting the 1909 visit of Mr. Charles Gordon, son-in-law of Mr. William Grant to India with some of his staff on a horse carriage. On the lighter side James also showed a similarly themed image of his, albeit in an auto rickshaw!
The first whisky to sashay on the ‘ramp’ was Glenfiddich 18 Years Old (YO). With its enchanting antique gold colour the whisky had aromas of freshly baked apple pie with an unmistakable cinnamon touch. It was thoughtfully paired with the entrée course of parmesan sable with mascarpone truffle mousse and petit légumes which was innovatively served on a rustic stone platter.
James also emphasized that it is not always necessary to taste whiskies vertically in ascending order of age. It all depends on how one would like to highlight the subtle differences in each kind of whisky. In this tasting, he informed that the stress was on typical flavor profiles that were worked around the respective food courses.
Next was Glenfiddich 15 YO. Apart from being aged in new European oak and Sherry casks this whisky is further mellowed by a dynamic aging method innovated by their malt master, which is inspired from the ‘solera’ method followed in Sherry production. Only here, the ‘solera’ comprises of a single large oak vat (as opposed to a pyramid of interconnected barrels for sherry) that has always been half full since 1998. As the whisky is tapped from the vat, equal amounts are replenished from fresh batches, making it a continuously moving blend.
Paired with the main course of spice roast lamb confit with spiced jus, the ample body of this fruity and floral whisky stood in apt balance with the varying flavours and textures of the food.
The dessert course of decadent hot chocolate fondant with Baileys mousse saw the companionship of Glenfiddich 21 YO that carried rich aromas and flavours of fruit cake, caramel and dark chocolate. The USP of this whisky is its finishing in Carribean rum casks that originate from a special blend of rum made for the Glenfiddich distillery. With its deliciously warm character, this was my favourite of the evening (and therefore I requested for an additional pour too!).
Surprise (4th) Course !
As James briefly went inside the kitchen area, we thought it was for some routine instructions to his staff. Instructions he did pass- and they turned out rather special, as they culminated in the serving of Glenfiddich Anniversary Edition to us. The Anniversary Edition was specially created to commemorate 125 years of Glenfiddich and is available only in travel retail in selected outlets. It has a peated-fruity character commonly associated with Islay malts and if one were to taste it blind with other single malts whiskies, it could be a tough nut to crack. However mulling over it longer, I realized that apart from the peaty red herring, the underlying essence of Glenfiddich style is scrupulously maintained by the malt master. I hope that I get to taste it more often to face the blind tasting challenge sometime. The course was served with assorted cheese platter for us to experiment with the pairings. Truly the pièce de resistance of the evening!
Thus concluded our voyage on the “Glenfiddich seas” with reminiscences of flavours still on our palate. Freshly brewed coffee (which we all needed to get sober again) capped the malty evening as we bid adieu to James, drenched in the spirit of the Stag,
The spirit that is shared enough to make it the top selling single malt of the world!