Subtle flavour makes Glenfiddich whisky popular
RICK MCGINNIS/METRO TORONTO
Peter Gordon is the fifth generation of his family to work in the whisky business, and he’s sitting at a boardroom table in a downtown Toronto office with a bottle of 40- year-old Glenfiddich, which was only recently allowed to leave the warehouses of William Grant & Sons, the company his great-greatgrandfather founded in 1886.
The bottle, which sits nestled in a wooden box, is 10 years older than the oldest Scotch whisky bearing the Glenfiddich name, and it’s not for sale. He’s on tour with the bottle as a sort of goodwill ambassador for the brand, letting select connoisseurs (and the occasional journalist) have a taste. By way of talking about why whisky tastes the way it does, we get to talking about barrels.
Wooden barrels are integral to the making and maturation of a good whisky, but they’ve become rare commodities in our modern world; the invention of the aluminum barrel for beer, for instance, changed the scotch business. “That was simply an invention that took out three quarters of the supply of wooden barrels around the world from the ‘50s and ‘60s onward,” Gordon explains. A second major factor was the decline in the market for sherry and port — “women’s drinks” as they were once known. Many whiskies are finished in used port and sherry casks, but they became hard to find.
“The third influence was the end of the Second World War — Scotch was the way of paying off the lend/lease arrangement, and therefore Scotch came over and the containers came back bourbon barrels, and all of a sudden the combination of those three events meant that Scotch got that dominant note of vanilla that you get from bourbon casks that’s in almost all Scotch that you get today. That’s a fundamental change ... that happened without anyone noticing, really.”
We finally get around to tasting the Scotch in the bottle, which was put down when this writer was two years old. It’s remarkably light in colour, and complex in flavour, without the overpowering smoke or caramel that you’d expect from such a long time in the barrel. “It doesn’t have that sweetness,” Gordon observes, “but it still has more of the Glenfiddich fruitiness that was originally there ... It’s still got that cereal thing, and it’s also got that fruit — what we call the apples and pears of Glenfiddich. And that is why we think Glenfiddich remains popular — even though they are subtle flavours, they are still there after 30 or 40 years.”
Gordon is also in the country to release another rare vintage — a $170,000 cask of 1975 Glenfiddich that’s available exclusively through Willow Park Wines & Spirits, a Calgary company. There’s rare, of course, and then there’s rare, and the 40-year-old in the bottle on the table isn’t meant to make money, Gordon explains, but to make a point about the brand that his family has been building carefully for more than a century. “It’s not about selling,” he says, “because ultimately it’s about building people’s perception of what Glenfiddich can be.”