What is it with whiskey these days? For some reason, as the summer starts to swelter, it’s all we want to drink. Whether it’s bourbon and ice clinking in a cool glass with a charred orange peel, or Manhattans on a patio, we have whiskey fever. (Which you may recognize as the desire to whip off your shoes and shout at the top of your lungs once you’re a few cocktails deep.) In that vein, we sent Annie Webber to a whiskey tasting to get tips on summer sipping from Glenfiddich whiskey expert Brian Kinsman.
Annie’s whiskey journey:
I like to think I know a thing or two about single malts, but the reality is frankly, I do not. Brian Kinsman, on the other hand, does.
His job within the world of Glenfiddich is to look after quality, and his number one objective is to make sure all the 12-year olds taste the same. As he describes it, it’s like having a huge chemistry set – only full of whiskey. We begin with a 12-year old bottle, a fresh-tasting whiskey with notes of pear: Spring. While my tongue does the two-step and my brain clicks on (it’s 11:30 on a Tuesday morning), my soul is whisked away to rain-drenched streets and the first blossoms smiling at me from the trees.
We find ourselves next in the last luscious days of autumn, sipping an 18-year old whiskey, the grown-up version of the 12, both in literal terms and in terms of taste. Fresh pear no longer, we’re drowning our taste buds in baked apple and a real kick of oak. Like the walk home from a county fair, sun on your back and the year’s last warm breeze.
We take a few steps back in time to the 15-year old bottle, and plunge into sweetest summer. It’s a spicier, deeper whiskey, with notes of cinnamon and crisp oak (from the virgin oak barrels). A warm July evening under twinkle lights and sparklers, feet dipped in the lake. While the 12-year old whiskeys must have absolute consistency, each batch of the others varies slightly, though each of the 15-year olds is uniquely related back to the previous batch. The alcohol content is taken from a 35, 000 litre vat that hasn’t been opened since 1998 – “an incredibly perfect smell,” as Kinsman puts it. It is emptied halfway each time, then refilled, creating something of a family line of 15-year old whiskey perfection.
The last bottle we open carries us into deep and snowy winter. Two winters ago, the Glenfiddich distillery was hit with day after day of snow and very little wind, allowing the snow drifts to pile up on the rooftops. The roofs started sagging until one day the beams broke, leaving hundreds of barrels beneath beam and snow. While none were lost, many were damaged and the Glenfiddich team “worked their socks off to mark it in some way.” Nature selected which casks were affected, Kinsman was nosing 400 a day, and soon enough they had a blend of 13- to 30-year old whiskeys, creating a unique blend, higher in alcohol content (47%), disastrously delicious and charmingly light on the palate – and hopefully never to be repeated – family crowded around a fireplace and visions of sugar plums dancing in your head: The Snow Phoenix.
If you can’t take the heat neat (meaning no ice, for those of you as unequipped in whiskey-slang as my former self), try one of these recipes.
Glenfiddich Cocktail Recipes
Sonic Boom Serving for one
• Crushed ice
• 50 mL (1.5 oz) Glenfiddich 12 Year Old
• Equal parts Soda and Tonic Water
• 1 slice of lemon
*Served in a long glass
Method: Pour all ingredients over crushed ice and stir. Garnish with a wedge of lemon.
Margarita Serving for one
• crushed ice
• 50 mL (1.5 oz) of Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Reserve
• 25 mL (0.75 oz) Curacao or Grand Marnier
• Half of a squeezed lime
* No salt trim
*Served in a rocks glass
Method: Mix all ingredients together in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and then strain over crushed ice.
The Summer Nectar Serving for one
• 2 oz (4 tbsp/60 ml) Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky
• ½ ripe pear, chopped
• 3 raspberries
• Orange for garnish
Method: To a cocktail shaker, add pear and raspberries. Muddle or mash with a long spoon. Fill the shaker with ice and add Glenfiddich. Stir to mix and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a burnt orange twist.
~ Annie Webber