by john heinz | September 1, 2009 | Food & Drink
Growing up in leafy suburban Connecticut, I can recall my impossibly sophisticated grandfather’s evening ritual—tucking into a Scotch on the rocks after a long commute home from his Manhattan office. It was always Glenfiddich, a brand I’ll forever associate with him—that triangular-shaped bottle with the deer on the label never seemed far from his reach. My default memory of him: lounging shoeless in his armchair and tailored suit, a lit Benson & Hedges in one hand and amber-hued tumbler in the other.
Of course, I’m not the only one with Mad Men-tinged nostalgia involving a grandfather and this particular brand of Scotch whisky. Glenfiddich is after all itself the indisputable granddaddy of single malts, and has been forever. Consistently the most famous, most respected, most purchased and most awarded, it’s been at the top of its game for well over a century, and you can bet it won’t be losing traction anytime soon. So what’s the trick to Glenfiddich’s persistent ubiquity and decades-long appeal? The answer is purely historical.
In Gaelic, glen means “valley” and fiddich, “deer.” The Glenfiddich distillery was founded in 1886 by William Grant along the River Fiddich in Scotland’s “valley of the dear.” At its inception, Grant implemented rigorous guidelines pertaining to the distillation, maturation and bottling of his phenomenal brew, and those traditions have been maintained by faithful legions of Glenfiddich malt masters in years since. To this day, Glenfiddich remains the only distillery of its kind to use a single source of natural spring water: the Robbie Dhu springs sit at the center of a 1,200-acre parcel of land now owned by William Grant & Sons, pristine Highlands backcountry on which even cattle and sheep are strictly forbidden to roam. In fact, all of the standards and practices Grant established are thusly guarded: The distillery is now run by his fiercely protective descendants, five generations later.
After 123 years in the business, the Glenfiddich approach to crafting the perfect single malt simply has not changed. The distillery grows its own barley and has its own maltings, retains its own coppersmiths and cooperage, and even uses the same copper still, faithfully replicating every minute design detail from the fabled original. Of course, the output has grown a bit. These days Glenfiddich produces 10,000,000 liters annually, aged variously from 12 to 21 years; it also boasts the Rare and Extraordinary Range, which are more difficult to find, aged at 30, 40 and 50 years.
This year, Glenfiddich rolls out its latest expression. The 15-year-old Distillery Editionis crafted slightly stronger than usual (at 102 proof), adding complexity to an original formula famous for its elegance, balance and accessibility. Its aroma of black pepper and vanilla gives way to notes of rich fruit and sherry wood, drifting to a seductive finish that’s at once creamy, sweet and delicate. Surely this is not your grandfather’s single malt. Or is it? 750mL, $59.99