We’ve been so focussed on American whiskeys lately that we have neglected the single malt classics from Scotland that we used to enjoy. A few years ago the strong Euro/weak dollar exchange rate helped tip our hand to drink more domestic. So it was with this in mind that the female BarFly was intrigued by an invitation to attend a Women & Whiskey seminar held by Glenfiddich at the Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto.
Glenfiddich, family owned and operated since 1887 by fifth generation descendants of William Grant, claims to be the world’s most awarded single malt Scotch whisky. The parent company, William Grant & Sons, owns several well-known liquor brands such as Balvenie, Grants, Tullamore Dew (our favorite Irish whiskey) and Hendrick’s Gin; however, Glenfiddich is clearly the flagship as the best selling single-malt scotch worldwide.
They also happened to notice that 40% of all whiskey consumption is actually driven by women — whether it’s a bottle purchased for their boyfriend, husband, household or self. That statistic rings true, as we can attest that it is the female BarFly of this duo that does 100% of the brown spirits bottle purchasing and 50% of the drinking at bars. With this knowledge in place, along with the fact that they have three brand ambassadors that are women, they started an “outreach” program targeted to get the fairer sex more educated about whiskey.
This particular event, held in the patio of the Quattro Restaurant, brought women from all over the Bay Area together for a whisky tasting and educational session with Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador Jennifer Wren.
A table display showed the three Glenfiddich expressions that we tasted at the event: a 12 year, a 15 year and an 18 year. Also displayed were the specially designed whisky glasses that attendees got to take home as a souvenir from the event.
Quattro has been on our list to visit, making this sponsored invite doubly intriguing. Although it was a tasting event, a few bites meant to complement the whiskies were provided. Who can resist starting with this dessert, a Dark Bitter Chocolate & Whiskey Candy Bar?
The event was very well attended, with about 40 women and a few men as stragglers. Interestingly enough, in response to a query by Jen, there was only one “whisky virgin” amongst us (or perhaps the only brave one to admit it).
Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador Jen Wren was a perfect whisky teacher, taking the attendees through an educational process of the history of Scotch and tasting their three Scotch expressions. Jen’s Scotch knowledge and humor was so abundant that she had no problem keeping everyone’s attention and ended up speaking to the crowd for more than an hour.
She let us know that she has heard every way that Glenfiddich has been mispronounced (e.g. glen-fid-itch) and provided a rhyme for all to remember how to properly pronounce it: Don’t be a dick, drink Glenfiddich. It was a mighty appropriate saying for this crowd of whisky drinkers.
Apart from amusing ditties, she did go over whisky basics (it’s liquid wort that has been fermented then aged in oak barrels) and more importantly, the 6 steps to making whisky and how Glenfiddich is different:
- Grain: Only malted barley in the case of single malts
- Fermentation: Glenfiddich’s time is higher than usual at 70 hours (typical range is 40-72 hours). This tends to bring out the pear quality of the Scotch.
- Distillation: Glenfiddich is distilled twice. A distillation run is comprised of heads, hearts and tails (early, middle and late), and Glenfiddich’s ‘cut’ is to use 65% of the distillate — the sweetest part (which gives it the fruity quality).
- Maturation: The distillate, now at 70% ABV, is put in wood barrels, which provide 65-70% of the flavor. Most Glenfiddich is aged in Bourbon (American) or Olorosso Sherry (European) oak casks.
- Bottle: In other words Drinking!
We started with the 12 year old, as Jen took us through the process: gently turning the glass halfway and breathing the aroma, then sipping. There was definitely a strong quality of pear or apple in both the nose and taste.
With the 15 year old, we learned that Glenfiddich pioneered a new maturation process, whereby some of the aged whiskey is finished in new American oak, adding a richer coconut and spicy vanilla finish. Using the solera method borrowed from the Sherry making process of Spain, a “Solera Vat” is never fully emptied and kept half full with the older whisky while newer whiskey is blended in.
The 18 year old continued the tradition of Glenfiddich innovation. Malt Master Brian Kinsman, who was trained by his predecessor David Stewart (originator of the solera process for the 15 year old), hand selects 150 of their best aged barrels to ‘harmonize’ the 18 year old. It exhibits the most Sherry-like qualities and was the sweetest of the three expressions we tasted that day.
We were presented with a Scotch Kiss cocktail after the tasting. Made with the 12 year old Glenfiddich, Cointreau, strawberry compote, lemon juice and demerara sugar syrup, it was just a tad too sweet for this BarFly.
After the event, the male BarFly joined us just in time for a special treat from Jen: a sneak peak tasting of the now-announced 14 year old Glenfiddich. We marveled at her awesome Glenfiddich-branded flask and cups that fit over the top — a neat bundle that contained what was probably our favorite whisky of the day. After 14 years of maturing in bourbon casks, the whisky is finished in new Spanish and American oak barrels that have been hand-selected by Malt Master Brian Kinsman. It is the first virgin oak finished single malt whisky in the world and is a good addition to their product lineup. The oak was evident with a spicy aroma and a nutty caramel-like finish.
Jen provided several other anecdotes during her talk, such as an easy way to remember if it’s spelled “whiskey” or “whisky” is whether the country it came from has an “e” in it or not. For example, in Ireland and America it’s “whiskey” (George Dickel being one of the few anomalies), and in Canada and Scotland it’s “whisky.”
She also gave an overview of the different Scottish regions that make single malts by using her hand as a map. She noted that Speyside (home of Glenfiddich) Scotches tend to be lighter and fruitier than the peat-monsters that come from Islay, such as Lagavulin and Laphroaig. Framed by the river Spey water source, W. Grant founded his distillery by the valley of the deer, which literally translates to Glenfiddich, in 1887 during a period that was difficult to run a legitimate distillery.
She also gave advice that served as great parting words: the whole point of drinking whisky is to make us happy. So remember, don’t be a dick, drink Glenfiddich!
Postscript: Many thanks to Jen Wren who spent more than two entertaining hours with us, and Brianna from Allison PR who invited us to the event. We have since returned to the bar at Quattro and had a great time drinking and eating at the bar. It is expensive but offers what may be some the best cocktails in Silicon Valley.