Glenfiddich 2003 13-year-old Spirit of Speyside Festival

Sunday, April 30, 2017


One of features I enjoy most about whisky is the sheer unpredictability of the drams themselves. I’ve learnt over the years that the distillery name is merely a signpost or a limited pamphlet of IKEA instructions. These are never enough by themselves and much like that chest of drawers you’re trying in vain to build, it’s down to you to piece together the puzzle and ultimately the reward of satisfaction.

I’m down on paper as saying I find Glenfiddich to be the Ford Fiesta of whiskies, rather than a drive through a forest in a Maserati or whatever fine vehicle you prefer. This isn’t a criticism although the experience has established that several out there have brand loyalties not only to their cars but the whisky itself. The Glenfiddich we know today is extremely brand conscious and driven towards success. The presentation of the bottles and the associated imagery combines to create one of the finest portfolios in Scotch whisky. Dalmore is another example at the top of the tree and these successful distilleries have shown the vision and skill to establish themselves in what is a rip tide market, where only the strong and intelligent survive.

The control of these distilleries is rigid and complete which applies to their product as well. For those of us unable to afford the more lavish end of the spectrum (it’s debatable whether I’d pay such prices even if I was a Maserati owner), then we have to make do with the more core everyday exponents. Without that independent bottler option, we’re at the mercy of the official range and master blender. Hey ho, we’ve had the experimental releases that were a step in the right direction, but they were as experimental as trying to write left-handed i.e. short-lived and futile. In these situations, I always recommend seeking out the distillery bottle-your-own option if this is a viable route such as Auchentoshan and I was almost tempted to purchase the Strathisla offering the other day.

Thankfully as part of the Spirit of Speyside festival, Glenfiddich loosens that neck collar and relaxes the tight knot on the tweed tie and kicks back. Whilst visitors to the distillery all year around have the prospect of an excellent well priced bottle-your-own option. For this annual festival it’s a celebration requiring something special or unusual, depending on your point of view. Being a single cask edition means it doesn’t hang around too long and is very popular with whisky enthusiasts generally. Each year it represents the chance to see something secretive unleashed from the formidable arsenal within the Glenfiddich warehouses.

One thing I’ve noticed during our residency during this year’s festival is how many people actually read what I put down in these reviews. I’ve had discussions about the Talisker Skye intellectual land grab theory and that Ford Fiesta comment. So much so that I was photographed by one Glenfiddich fan purchasing this bottle as he wanted to capture the moment.

This year’s offering was priced at £125 and was distilled in 2003 before being filled on 5th December into a 1st fill sherry butt (cask #33646) and laid to rest in warehouse number 33. Bottled in April 2017 during the festival at a strength of 59% volume, this single cask was expected to provide around 400 bottles and I believe was pretty much sold out by the Saturday. My thanks to Mark of Malt-review and Whisky Magazine fame for offering his input on these notes.

Colour: cinder toffee
Nose: there's a melting pot of the wood tannins mixing with a drying ashy peat. A rich decadent honey combines with chopped walnuts, ginger and a hint of campfire smoke. This gives the vanilla a dirtiness I adore and added depth with dried cranberries, fig rolls, warm caramel, pork scratchings and almonds.   
Taste: it's a fruity peat that comes through initially and underpins the whole experience leaving a smoky finish with a hint of salt. In-between there's a hill climb (in a Ford Fiesta XR2 Mark 1) of flavours with caramel, brown sugar, all-spice, toffee apples, crackling and peanuts.  

Overall: much like the previous Spirit of Speyside 2015 bottling from Glenfiddich, the combination of the new make spirit and sherry cask have married rather than clashed, producing something harmonious and devoid of the aggressive wood that sometimes a 1st fill sherry cask can create. The peat really comes through on the palate and takes the experience in a whole new direction. I'm a BMW Series 3 kind of fella and this dram has the foreboding presence of such a vehicle appearing suddenly behind you on a sweeping Speyside road, only to vanish from sight. It's one of my favourite Glenfiddich's and a triumph; no not the car manufacturer.     

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