Glenfiddich 15 Solera vs 18 Small Batch Reserve

No journey is complete without visiting the Valley of the Deer. I’ve stopped by the Glenfiddich distillery this past July, and [even during this lockdown] received a welcoming tour [although it was mostly via a “visitor’s centre”]. Nevertheless, I’ve learned a few things, including the different processes of maturation for their 12, 15, and 18 year old ranges, two of which I will examine here today. In the process, I’ll try and remember what I’ve been taught at the distillery, but I’ve had more than a few of their samplings there, so who remembers, really? This is why I started capturing my thoughts on here. But first, music! Now playing: Taylor DeupreeMur.

If I remember correctly, all of the bottlings in the core range are essentially a blend of various casks of the whisky that spent the same amount of years in the American ex-bourbon oak and that which spent the same amount of years in the European ex-sherry oak. The only difference is the proportion of one versus the other in the marrying tun where they are further “mellowed”. In the case of the 15-year-old Solera, the whisky is married in a large Solera Vat, inspired by the bodegas of Spain and Portugal, which they keep topping up, and always keeping above the half-full mark. That means that there are whiskies in there from many previous years [possibly going back to 1998], continuously making a consistent blend. This is a fine and very much unique Glenfiddich dram, one which is sweet and playful, but which is also rounder than the 12. Its alcohol by volume is only at 40% [the lowest you can have by law to be called a Scotch], and so it goes down easy, silky smooth, and with a long and very satisfying finish. I love the Glenfiddich 12, and so, at £47 a bottle, I can drink this 15 all year round.

The 18 year old is yet another wonder. Right away it comes in with a rich and almost buttery flavour. The sherry here is even more pronounced. It’s due to a larger proportion of the ex-Oloroso cask aged whisky (80% bourbon, 20% sherry). If I have called the 15, “silky smooth”, then the 18 rips the sheets aways between the naked bodies. It’s rich, complex and spicy all at once, while soft and warm and nurturing together. Again, surprising that it’s only 40% ABV – I would not mind another three percent [which is what it is bottled at for the US market]. This single malt was made in small distinct batches, where the whisky is further married in an oak tun [for another three months] and bottled with a batch number on the label. As a result, it’s possible for the various batches to have subtle differences between them. The sweetness here is more like that of dates and maybe clover mixed with some demarara sugar. Plenty of ripe fruit, like red apples and pears. There is also a bit of marketing here on the bottle – I’m not so sure what I’m supposed to do with the word “reserve” – it is a £75 bottle you can purchase anywhere. Perhaps it’s meant to point out that the malt master, Brian Kinsman, “hand-picked” 150 casks to be selected for the tun. Being that the Glenfiddich is one of the largest (if not the largest) producers of Scotch, that could be a bit of an undertaking.

Because the 15 and the 18 are both coloured and chilled-filtered and then diluted down to 40%, I’d call Glenfiddich here a ‘classic’ Scotch. And given that Glenfiddich has the largest market share in the world [you can find a bottle of the 12 in pretty much any cubbyhole], the company does not need to revise their approach. They simply do not market for someone like yours truly. Although I must admit, I do possess a bottle of Grand Cru, and as I’m finishing this post I am re-visiting a 10-year-old from the 80s. I’ll give the 21-year-old Rum Cask Finish a try in the future, and I’m curious about Project XX in their Experimental Series. Still, very much enjoyed, and thus I’ll say that the 18 Small Batch wins this round.

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