It’s so much easier to write about a malt when you have a glass of it in your hand. I had no intention of sitting at the keyboard, I was just sitting by the fire on a cold evening sipping, but words overtook me. Glenfiddich is undoubtable the best known malt in the world and for good reason, owner William Grant was there at the start of the malt revolution, they were also the first distiller to open a visitors centre and of course their 12YO is the world’s highest selling malt. The 12YO is the baby of the stable and has the reputation of an everyman’s malt, a nice drop but not challenging. It’s true, when I tasted it at the distillery it paled in the company of cask strength, 15YO and 18YO we tasted at the same time. But tonight it comes across much better, a light golden colour and soft on the palate. There is a good balance between vanilla and citrus and a light almost Balkan Sobranie aftertaste.
The distillery is in the heart of Spey-side in pretty Dufftown. Glenfiddich is Gaelic for valley of the deer and it is easy to see why the site was chosen, it is very scenic countryside, the rolling fertile fields are jam packed with barley, though today there is a fair amount of Canola as well. Dufftown is the home of Balvenie Castle, built in the 13th century for strongman Alexander ‘Black’ Comyn. It became a stately renaissance home and later had a stately mansion incorporated in the mid 16th century. If you get to Dufftown do give the castle a visit, it makes a great prelude to a visit to the distillery.
As I said Glenfiddich is a very popular malt and the visitor centre is equally popular, tours are organised with military precision, that said once on the tour one is made most welcome. This is distilling on a monstrous scale, there are 25 washbacks, 5 wash and 8 spirit stills. It is housed in beautiful old buildings that are kept very clean, neat and tidy. This was the only distillery we visited that did not charge for the tour, yes there are more in depth tours and tastings on offer for a price, but the one we took was free. The guide was well informed and helpful, to the point of advising the best place to stand to take pictures! The Glenfiddich process is the same as all the others we visited, but on a much larger scale. Distilling is not a labour intensive industry and even at this scale more people are employed in the office and for customer service than were to make the whisky. Once the distilled spirit is put in the casks it goes into bonded warehouses. At this stage it is called spirit because legally it can only be called whisky after it has matured for a minimum of three years. It stands to follow that when making such a large volume of highly flammable liquid and then storing it for many years there is a risk, one fire could destroy a multi-million pound business. It is now common practice for distillers to mature their stock both at home and with other distillers so in the event of a disaster the risk is diversified.
As I said the tour was free, and we also were treated to four drams in the tasting room, so by any measure this is generous behaviour on behalf of Glenfiddich. I will discuss the 18YO in the future, it is a very different dram to the 12YO, and should be drunk with friends. Meanwhile I will continue to enjoy a nip of 12YO whenever I please, just like millions of other people around the world.