While I might enjoy a good scotch whisky, I’m a bourbon drinker at heart. Those rich, dark bourbon flavors are what really got me interested in exploring spirits in the first place. For a scotch, though, Glenfiddich seems to have a proclivity towards those rich, dark flavors — and the bottle we’re reviewing today should be especially bourbon-ish, since it was aged in bourbon barrels.
In 1886, William Grant invested his entire life savings (and the help of his wife and their nine children) into opening the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown, Scotland to make scotch whisky. He had been working at the Mortlach distillery but dreamed of opening his own facility one day. The first whisky was successfully run through the Glenfiddich stills on Christmas Day 1887, and the business was launched by selling to distributors who combined this product with that of other distilleries to make the blends that were popular in those days.
His business was successful, and in 1892 he decided to expand to another facility and started converting the Balvenie mansion into a distillery. The process took fifteen months and on May 1st, 1893, the first distillation run at the new Balvenie distillery took place. Like the Glenfiddich distillery, for the first 78 years of operation the whiskey would be combined with other distilleries’ spirits and used to produce blended scotch.
Over the years, William Grant & Sons (as the company would be known) would have many firsts — the first “single malt” scotch from the Glenfiddich distillery, as well as the first distillery to open up to the public for regular tours among others. The Balvenie distillery would continue to receive upgrades and enhancements, including a modern malting floor in 1929, and produced its first single malt whiskey in 1971.
Nearly a century later, in 1990, the Kininvie distillery would finally join the three distilleries that William Grant & Sons continue to operate to this day.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
What we’ve got here is an interesting combination of the Scottish and American whiskey traditions.
This starts out as a standard single malt scotch whisky, as required by Scottish law. Malted barley is ground and cooked before being allowed to ferment, creating a mildly alcoholic beer. That beer is then passed through two pot stills, which concentrate the alcohol content and leave us with newly made white whiskey.
The next step is maturation, which is when the whiskey is funneled into oak barrels. Glenfiddich seems to follow the usual pattern from other distilleries and puts their newly made whiskey into previously used American bourbon barrels. American bourbon requires a fresh barrel each time, while scotch has no such requirement — so Scottish distilleries will typically buy those used barrels, wash them out, and use them a second time for way less than the price of a new barrel.
For this release, Glenfiddich stores their whiskey in those previously used barrels for a period of 14 years, and then swaps them into brand-new charred American bourbon barrels for the last year — just like what an American bourbon would see.
So, basically, this is a well-aged Scottish whiskey that has been treated like an American bourbon.
I really like the bottles that Glenfiddich is using these days. It’s a nice, modern twist on a classic design — with just enough eccentricity to keep things interesting.
On first glance, this isn’t really much to write home about: a slender body bottle with a gently rounded shoulder and a medium length straight neck, all capped off with a wood and cork stopper. This sounds like any number of dozens of bottles, but what makes this a bit different is that the bottle has an interesting triangular cross section instead of just being circular. That small change makes the bottle feel different and unique among the rest of the field.
(It’s also a very intentional design choice. This design was created in 1961 by Hans Schleger as an homage to the “holy trinity” that goes into making scotch whisky: water, air, and malted barley.)
On the bottle is a nice looking label — large enough to be noticeable, but not so big that it obstructs our view of the contents. The branding is bold and distinctive, but without being flashy. And I’m a fan of the royal blue, white, and metallic gold color combination that’s going on here. It feels modern in its minimalism, classic in it’s color palette.
This spirit is a beautiful dark amber color, almost closer to a bourbon than to a traditional scotch whisky. The aroma isn’t much changed though — there’s the cereal malty note that shows up first, followed by some honey sweetness, a bit of lemon peel, and something just a touch floral. But the more you sniff it, the more a caramel or toffee component starts to mix in, something a little richer that you’d normally expect from a bourbon.
The flavors in the spirit follow the same pattern as the aroma. At first, you get a lot of the typical Highlands scotch components like honey, lemon citrus, flower blossoms, and sourdough bread. But those bourbon flavors start appearing near the finish, adding some deeper caramel, brown sugar, vanilla, and toffee components that help evolve the flavor in your mouth and keep things interesting. Near the end and on the finish, there’s just a slight wisp of a smoky, peaty flavor… but it doesn’t stick around very long.
Typically, when you add a bit of ice, the lighter and sweeter components of the flavor profile drop out of the running and just leave behind the more forceful notes. That’s exactly what has happened here, and I think what it’s done is brought this much closer to meeting the flavor profile of a traditional American bourbon.
I’m getting a lot more of those barrel aging notes here — specifically, the caramel and vanilla have deepened to the point where it’s probably more apt to call it “charred oak” as a flavor. There’s more force to it now, without the lighter components to balance it out. I’m still getting a bit of that malty cereal flavor coming through, which is elevating things, but the honey and flower blossom has been left completely in the rear view mirror.
This is an interesting bottle. It has a lot of the components from both bourbon and scotch traditions that I like, and the flavor profile weaves the two together pretty nicely. I like how the flavor develops in your mouth after you’ve taken a sip, adding more complexity to something that was already pretty delicious.
If I had one negative thing to ding it for, it’s probably that the bourbon barrel flavors get a little too loud when this is taken on ice. The result almost makes things feel a bit bitter or harsh — which is strange, because added ice should mellow that whole situation out. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, though… just keeping this from being a 5-star scotch.
|Glenfiddich 14 Year Bourbon Barrel Reserve|
Produced By: GlenfiddichProduction Location: Speyside, Scotland
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 14 Years
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $52.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A bottle of scotch that blends some old world and new world traditions, adding depth and character to a Speyside scotch.