Glenfiddich’s Distillery Manager as he shows me around the still houses. “Glenfiddich on the other hand has direct-fired stills (naked flame)...
Glenfiddich’s stills are very small as opposed to The Balvenie’s larger ones [bought originally from Lagavulin and Glen Albyn].”Ian Miller was born in Aberfeldy, home of John Dewar & Sons – real whisky country. He quickly decided that his life would be spent working within a distillery and, after graduating from the apprentice class of ‘89 (with other notable figures from the industry such as Dr Bill Lumsden, David Robertson, Alistair Robertson and David Hardy), he gained 14 years of experience from Blair Athol before he moved to Mortlach and then Linkwood. Two years ago he was offered the position as Glenfiddich Distillery Manager and has never looked back. “I love my work and I love what I get to do,” Ian tells me. It certainly appears to the enthusiast as a dream job although I wonder what hidden stresses exist in working for the biggest selling single malt distillery in the world. There’s certainly a lot to look after with every aspect of the distilling process being carried out on the site: everything from traditional floor
maltings in Balvenie and an on-site cooperage and bottling hall within Glenfiddich. The one thing missing from Glenfiddich is a duty paid warehouse meaning all of the whisky is shipped to Glasgow after bottling before being returned to be sold in the visitor centre. After the impressive sight of the 28 stills gleaming in the afternoon sunlight I am shown through to the bottling hall. The bottles are initially washed out with whisky to prevent any dust remaining before filling. This continual exposure of Glenfiddich whisky to the air has left the bottling plant smelling of chocolate liqueurs and heather. This has to be a good sign for the taste of the whisky. All of the Glenfiddich whisky is bottled on site and all small batches such as The Balvenie 15-year-old single cask and Ladyburn are painstakingly bottled and labeled by hand.Glenfiddich do not appear to be sitting on their laurels and have completely revamped their product range. In the last couple of years
Special Reserve has been replaced by a 12-year-old. A vintage and rare series including limited bottlings of exceptional casks has also been introduced. Their biggest experiment though has been a 15-year-old Solera Reserve single malt. This whisky is a marrying of 15-year-old traditional oak (ex-bourbon) and 15-year-old sherrywood casks that are then left for a limited period of time in new oak. I was given the chance to try from each of the three cask: the sherry, the bourbon (traditional) and the new wood cask. The 15-year-old sherrywood was my personal preferance, a whisky that that had spent a further four months in new wood. A love for single batch bourbons will probably explain why I enjoyed the mix of vanilla, cream and sherry. The Solera Vat is never left less than half full and is surrounded by work-in-progress vats that keep Glenfiddich in touch with consumer demand. Eventually my tour leads me to David Stewart, Master Blender. He is a humble and introverted man that won’t seek an audience – he is content to lets his whiskies do the talking. However I was fortunate enough to talk with him, thus allowing him a chance to explain what he thinks are the main qualities of the Solera vat: “(It is) rich, sweet and full flavoured, due to the mix of the different woods. The new wood adds colour, oak and vanilla notes, combined with the sherry oloroso top note, that provides the sweet fruit notes. The traditional oak [oak previously used in bourbon barrels] provides the balance of flavours recognised in all Glenfiddich products – pear notes and delicate fragrance.”Sales of Glenfiddich Solera Reserve 15-year-old are growing steadily. It seems there’s no stopping its success – testament to the age old traditions that are still adhered to today. As Jens Tholstrup said: “Although Glenfiddich today is the biggest malt distillery in Scotland, it is also known as the home of traditional whisky, simply because we still make whisky the way we h ave always done.” If they continue to do so I’m sure the sun will continue to shine and the Gods will continue to smile upon Glenfiddich.