Glenfiddich 21yo “Havana Reserve” (40%, OB, Circa 2003)

And here we have an old, and somewhat controversial, Glenfiddich that was totally matured in boxes that once held cigars. Oops, I mean, casks that once held Cuban Rum. Cuban Rums is a light Spanish style Rum which doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of aroma. Rum casks weren’t used much for finishing Whisky, and even today distillers and bottlers tend to prefer the obvious Bourbon and Sherry casks. Especially today, other casks are used as well, from fortified wines like Port and Madeira and red and white, sweet and dry Wines. So a Rum cask you say? Yes, we have had more of those on these pages. A fairly recent Benriach comes to mind, to name but one. Controversial? Yes. Problems arose when Whisky like this was sent to the US of A. They still had an Cuban Embargo, so more cigars for us, as can be read on these pages as well, oops I slipped up again. There still was an Cuban Embargo back then, so no Whisky with the word “Havana” on the label was allowed into the country.

Glenfiddich and The Balvenie have the same owners, William Grant & Sons. Yup, those from Hendrick’s Gin as well. Bad boys down there! Bad boys since they also decided to sue our beloved New Zealand Whisky Company for blatantly stealing the “Double Wood” words and misguiding the poor public, who now must believe that Balvenie Double Wood is the same as the NZWC’s Doublewood, and New Zealand is somewhere in the Speyside region…

William Grant was looking for the perfect Rum casks for their Glenfiddich and considered casks that once held Rums from Venezuela (Spanish style), Guyana (Demerara Rum a heavy English style Rum) and some others. Finally Rum from Sancti Spiritus was chosen to fill up the casks for two years, After two years the Rum was replaced with Whisky for a six month finish.

If I’m not mistaken, the first release was called Havana Reserve and the second was called Gran Reserva. Rumour has it, that for this second release the same casks were re-used, thus explaining reports of the Gran Reserva being lighter than the initial release. A third version was released. Just to be absolutely sure, this Whisky was not finished in Cuban Rum casks, but in casks that once held Dominican Rum. The label now mentions Carribean Rum finish in stead of Cuban Rum finish. Later, subsequent batches simply were called Rum cask finish, so absolutely nothing could be misunderstood and when changing Rums the label can stay the same.

Glenfiddich 21yo Havana ReserveColor: Full gold.

Nose: Very aromatic. Creamy, toffee, nutty, thick and chewy. Next a floral layer which at times is quite perfumy, with great earthy undertones (given by the Rum cask). Vanilla and restrained wood. Half dried grass is noticeable, but covered under a thick semi-sweet layer of aromatics. Fruity, baked banana and dried sweet apricot. In the distance there is even a hint of licorice. But the Rum, is the Rum noticeable? Yes If you know the style of Rum the Cubans make, and you know this Whisky is finished in Cuban Rum cask, than yes, its noticeable, otherwise you must have some experience in tasting to smell and taste it. The Rum upped the aromatics and the chewyness a bit, as well as the sweetness. Great nose.

Taste: Sweet with lots of toffee. Earthy and “green”. Broken off branch and fresh tree sap. The baked banana returns. It’s a big Malt. It is overwhelming in fruit and floral notes. Has some bitter wood and slightly burned edges to it. Wood obviously. Oak, fresh oak and even some pencil. The body of the Whisky already shows it will not be as complex as the nose. However the biggest problem, relatively speaking of course, is the partial disintegration towards the finish. It’s like a band just before breaking up. Some aroma’s don’t want to work with each other anymore, and get separated from each other. Still in the fold though, but more apart. Underneath the woody bitter note and on top some acidity. Short finish, which surprised me since it’s a bigger Glenfiddich than usual, and this has aged for a whopping 21 years, you know. Not a lot happening in the aftertaste. So on entry I was quite happy with the performance of the 40% ABV. but the finish needed some more.

This is a beauty. Excellent smelling Glenfiddich. Tastewise, well, not at the same level of greatness as the nose, then again, it was (since it was bottled some time ago, and since has been discontinued) a mass-produced Whisky aiming at the public already gained by the rest of the Glenfiddich bottlings, without scaring them away. With this in mind, they did what they could, to keep this public and at the same time be a bit more adventurous.

Points: 84


Glenfiddich 18yo “Ancient Reserve” (40%, OB, Circa 2003)

Glenfiddich. Often scoffed at, but never really disappoints. I’ve tried quite a few and all are decent daily drinkers. Older expressions (expensive!) can be really stellar. Sure, Glenfiddich is often reduced to the max, 40% ABV, but sometimes, some more alcohol is possible too, like the Distillery Edition that was bottled at 51% ABV. The higher alcohol, transports the flavours well, so I’m a firm believer in upping te ABV with Glenfiddich to show people with a prejudice against Glenfiddich, that it actually is not that bad. Sure, often not a super-duper malt as well, but surely nothing to scoff at. Today we’ll be looking at an 18yo that is no longer with us, but should still be available if you look closely enough. The 18yo “Ancient Reserve” is blended from Whiskies from Sherry and Bourbon casks, but in this case also from virgin oak casks. The tree are married in a large Solera Vat, using the Solera system.

Glenfiddich 18yo Ancient ReserveColor: Full Gold.

Nose: Waxy and extremely creamy, with definitely quite some Oloroso Sherry influence. Smells quite good. Traits of all casks are clearly noticeable. Vanilla and creamy Bourbon wood and some thick Sherry. Candied apples. I can’t say if the Sherry is from European oak or not. Not a lot of tannins happening on the nose. Sweet peach yoghurt. All aromas are nice and creamy and integrate very well. Waxy fruit. Candied fruit mixed with a hint of yoghurt like acidity and some fresh air. A mere hint of toasted cask in the background and even a tiny hint of waxy apple skins. With air it becomes more dusty and dry. Creamy vanilla holding it’s ground. Not the most complex of noses, but very pleasing nevertheless.

Taste: Very smooth and waxy again, but that dissipates quickly. Well even before I can write down what else I taste, it’s already gone, as is the finish as is the aftertaste. Wow, quickest Malt I have ever tasted, and no it’s not a bad sample. Will this be another story about reduction? Well let’s take another sip, and another, better keep focussed now before it’s all gone. Waxy, nutty and woody. The wood is slightly acidic. Sherry influence, and … Wait a minute, it’s gone again, will have to take another sip. Bare with me. Creamy Sherry and an instant of sugar. Sweetish, Sherried and fruity. The wax carries a woody bitterness towards the end. Smells better than it tastes, although the taste isn’t bad, mind you. Vanilla powder, candied fruit, dried apricots. Nice development. But very weak going into its finish. Funny enough, in the aftertaste some bitterness appears. New wood?

40% ABV is to low for this profile. For the US market this was bottled at 43% ABV. Still quite nice, and better than the current 18yo. Alas this Ancient Reserve was discontinued in 2008. If I could find it for a decent price, I would get it, but I fear it would also be quickly gone. A real shame this got discontinued, especially since the current 18yo is no match for this one.

Points: 85

Glenfiddich 19yo “Age of Discovery” (40%, OB, Madeira Cask Finish)

After an (alas imaginary) short break on the beaches of Barbados, back to Scotland again. From the oldest Rum brand in the world we now focus our gaze at the Whisky that started it all for Single Malts, Glenfiddich. Up ’till now lots of Glenfiddich have found their way onto these pages. The Whisky at hand is the first of three “Age of Discovery” bottlings. All three are accompanied by little stories about traveling and discovering new territories by usage of tall sailing ships. This particular Madeira cask finished Glenfiddich is about discovering the isle of Madeira (and Madeira Wine). The other ones are about sailing up the rivers of America for Bourbon casks (not a Bourbon finish, but wholly matured in Bourbon casks) and finally a Red Wine finish with the story of Darwin visiting the wine making regions of Argentina. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and have a look at this Madeira finished one first.

Glenfiddich 19yo "Age of Discovery" (40%, OB, Madeira Cask Finish)Color: Full gold.

Nose: Funky and acidic. Where is this going? Some wood, rotting wood. Barley and grainy in fact. Waxy.  I’m getting a lot of wax lately, so maybe that’s just me. Luckily with time the aroma’s start to gel a bit. Started out very unbalanced, but the balance returns. Still the whole doesn’t seem to be very complex and obviously is very light. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to reduce it to 40% ABV. Mint & toffee come next. Unbelievable how malty this is after 19 years.

Taste: Sugar water with mocha, toffee and more sugar-water. So yes, quite sweet and appealing. Did the Madeira do that? Lots of vanillin from the American oak. Creamy. Pudding. Custard. Caramel, Toffee. After that it falls flat on its face. Short finish and hardly any aftertaste save for some creamy sweetness. Sure it’s nice and very, very easily drinkable, but hey, where is the development, where is the complexity? It’s a shame this got reduced so much because it tastes like nothing special now. It’s nice, but it is in no way better than a good Malt that costs much less than this one does.

I don’t know if this was meant for travel Retail? A lot of those big box Whiskies that are meant for travel Retail are 40% ABV. Why? Is the industry afraid the traveller at hand will open and drink the bottle on the spot? On the ferry or on the plane? Well, if that’s so, a traveller will get pretty plastered drinking a bottle at 40% ABV as well. So no need to put so much water into the Whisky bottle I would say. I guess you pay for the packaging this time. It’s nice, but could have been so much more. Expect to finish this bottle very quickly, because it drinks like lemonade, but alas also has the complexity and length of a lemonade.

Points: 81

Glenfiddich 18yo “Married in Small Batches” (40%, OB, Batch #3404)

Slowly but surely we move on up (and down) the rather large collection of Glenfiddichs, the mother of all malts. Earlier we’ve already covered the 12yo “Special Reserve” (80 Points), the 15yo “Solera Reserve” (82 Points) and the 15yo “Distillery Edition” (83 Points). The odd one out was a Vintage 1974 (91 Points) bottled for the nice people of La Maison Du Whisky in Paris, France. This time around we’ll up the age again and move from 15yo up to 18yo and with that, we arrive at a bottle that was married in small batches. The latest offering of this bottle is now called Small Batch Reserve, maintaining the 18yo age statement.

Glenfiddich 18yo "Married in Small Batches" (40%, OB)Color: Full gold

Nose: Malty, waxy (like in old bottles), and very fruity. A fruit mish-mash since no specific fruit is discernable. A vegetal and new wood smell. Nice and elegant. Dusty but also creamy. Nice combination between vanilla and the waxyness I mentioned before. Not overly complex for a malt of this age, but it does have great balance and is well made around good maltiness, the wax and the fruit.

Taste: Waxy and lots of woody notes. Wood, oak, cardboard and just the right amount of bitterness. Next toffee, caramel, creamy not sticky nor sweet. Hints of the wax is in here too. Malt and old cellar notes. Peanut skins and maybe walnut skin bitterness right at the back of my tongue. Vanilla, but typical vanilla you get from American oak. Definitely a Glenfiddich with some (wooden) balls. OK at 40% and definitely is presented as an old (18yo) malt. Like the nose, this is not overly complex, but very drinkable (even with this wooden bite). This lacks the fruit I got in the 15 Distillery Edition, and lacks the acidity I got from both 15yo’s. This is definitely older and spicier (like it should) and placed in the range as such. Despite the oak, this has a short finish.

Often scuffed at and I never got that. Even if it would taste lots worse than it actually does, I still love the history and the pioneering work done by this malt. But it doesn’t taste bad, and it is pretty good stuff. Why does it have a bit of a reputation then? Sure the 12yo is pretty simple, and most of them are bottled at the lowest strength possible. Most anoraks prefer “the other” Grant brand Balvenie. Yes it’s not complex, but very enjoyable nevertheless and very inexpensive to boot.

Points: 82

For Tony, Mr. Glenfiddich!


Glenfiddich 15yo “Distillery Edition” (51%, OB, Litre)

Glenfiddich is still the mother of all Single Malts and deserves our respect, even when snuffed about by connoisseurs. That in fact would be very unfair, since a lot of (older) Glenfiddichs have proven themselves to be more than great. It has been more than a year and a half when I reviewed the 15yo Solera Reserve and now comes the time I’ll review another 15yo. This time the 15yo distillery edition.

Glenfiddich 15yo Distillery EditionSome time ago there used to be a 15yo Cask Strength, which was exactly 51% ABV too, just like this one, so I can’t help but feel this is it’s replacement. Who else in their right mind would think that all Glenfiddichs at Cask Strength come out at precisely at 51% ABV? The 15yo is also a pretty special age statement for Glenfiddich, since all hand bottled Glenfiddichs were released as 15yo’s.

Color: Copper gold

Nose: Spicy and creamy sweet. Hints of, slightly soapy wood and quite heavy on the caramel. Damp earth, fresh-cut grass and quite some Sherry influence. Typical sugared vanilla note from ex-Bourbon casks. Vegetal but also dried meat combined with wood-spice. Sawdust and dry. Whiffs of fresh air drift by. Not bad at all…

Taste: Starts with sweet wood and a spicy and slightly acidic red wine note, although this probably hasn’t seen a wine cask. Sherry must have “done” that. The sweetness sticks and stays right through the finish. Licorice and vanilla. Full and nutty body. Nice fruitiness shows up in the finish.

A nice Glenfiddich aided by higher strength, showing this has more potential than the usual 40% ABV Glenfiddichs. I know Glenfiddich is seen by many as an easy and simple entry-level Single Malt, but if you are able to look past that there is a lot of potential here. Definitely a mixture od ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks (which is also stated on the label). Like so many Glenfiddichs this is decently priced, and considering this is 15yo, comes in a litre bottle, has 51% ABV and still doesn’t cost much, this would be a stong contender for any bang-for-you-buck award. Recommended.

Points: 83

Glenfiddich 15yo “Solera Reserve” (40%, OB, Circa 2003)

Solera is an ageing system for Sherry (and other fortified wines), in which younger wines in upper rows of casks are used to top up casks of older wines stored below. Every time a batch is bottled, the wine is taken from the bottom row. Not everything though, usually up to 30% of the cask is bottled. After this, the casks in the bottom row are topped up with the wines from the casks in the row directly above, and that row is topped up with wines from the row directly above that, and so on. After a startup period this system gives wines of a consistent age and quality, even if one particular vintage is weaker than the others.

Color: Light copper gold.

Nose: Very malty, and immediately recognizable as a Glenfiddich. It has a lot of traits of the 12yo “Special Reserve” I reviewed earlier. Lots of vanilla. There is also a light Sherry influence. Waxy. But overall it’s quite flowery and light. When tried blind, a definite Lowlander, (which it is not). Likeable.

Taste: Creamy, and very malty. In the back there is a little bit of mint, which makes it fresh and lively. Ice cream, winegums and apples. It starts to break down late in the mouth, where it shows an added sour note. The finish is short. Where the nose was more floral, the taste is more fruity. Loveable.

I don’t know if it’s a step up from the 12yo “Special Reserve”, but it is most definitively a variation. And yes, I think it’s better, and it’s extremely drinkable. Again nothing wrong and again a perfect malt to get you into Single Malts. It’s well made. Even if it’s the only Single Malt at the hotel bar, I would still pick this over any other drink available. But when spoiled for choice, well, it’s a great malt to get you into Single Malts.

Points: 82

Glenfiddich 32yo 1974/2006 (47.3%, OB, Private Vintage, for La Maison Du Whisky, Cask #10260, 198 bottles)

Let’s continue with Glenfiddich. Known for their big out turn and fairly priced Whiskies. No cheap entry-level Glenfiddich this time, like the 12yo “Special Reserve” I reviewed earlier, but a super-duper premium Glenfiddich that costs a fortune these days. Cask number 10260 was bottled for the 50th anniversary of La Maison du Whisky. Who hasn’t visited one of their fabulous shops in Paris & Saint-Denis (France) or Singapore? There are a few pretty great 1974 Glenfiddich bottled, even one for Playboy (Cask #10245) and H.M. Queen Elizabeth II (of U.K. fame). So not a bad club to belong to. Here Majesty’s Cask was #2336 (not quite a sister cask of the Playboy one, I would say). Or maybe Glenfiddich filled a lot of casks in 1974. Who knows?

Color: Full and dull gold.

Nose: Old bottle. Oceanic and creamy. Wow. Musky and organic, with fatty old wood (not dry wood) mixed with newer plywood. Clay. Absolutely stunning wood smell. Smelling this you know you have something special on your hands. When smelling this for a prolonged time, you get in the territory of cardboard that has been added to the wood that is more upfront. Through the wood and the cardboard is also something clean, fresh and lively like lemongrass, cola, mint and old lemon skins, but also the more heavy shoe polish and clean wax. Great complexity and balance.

Taste: Again old bottle. Spicy toffee with clay. It’s sweet and has hardly any wood at first! Full mouth. Chewy and waxy. Fantastic. Slightly sour, somewhat thin and papery finish, and the wood came in late, but it is there. It’s more the spice from wood, than the wood itself. Clean and elegant.

Well, obviously you can’t really compare the über-standard 12yo to this, can you? Because all the time when I was trying this, you can clearly see where this is coming from, and it does have a big family resemblance. This definitely is the father of the 12yo.

Points: 91

Glenfiddich 12yo “Special Reserve” (40%, OB, Circa 2003)

Looking back I’ve reviewed here a lot of old, priceless or impossible to have malts. Let’s counterpart that decadence a little bit with some malts that are interesting when crossing over from blended whiskies or other types of distilled drinks. The first that comes to mind of course is Glenfiddich. Glenfiddich is up there with their Single Malts since 1964. Already in 1964 they have sold 48.000 bottles of Single Malt Glenfiddich and today they still outsell anybody. Today they sell around 12.000.000 bottles annually. That’s a share of about 20%! Lets have a go at this Glenfiddich 12yo. A bottle that was bought ten years ago. Today the “Special Reserve” doesn’t exist but it is replaced by a normal 12yo in the same colours. It’s probably the same.

Color: Gold

Nose: Very malty and grain alcohol. Grass and lemons. Hay with mocha. If I had done this blind I would have said that it’s almost like a blend or a Lowlander. In part very clean, but sometimes also some hints in the depth that make it a bit dirty, syrupy and waxy. Soap-like perfume. Fresh apples and light peppermint. Not very complex, but it has its balance.

Taste: Green and grassy. Grainy again. Hints of tarry toffee and apple compote. Very light and fruity. Easy drinkable. Finishes a little bitter. Altogether the finish is short. There is more to the nose than the palate.

Perfect start for people wanting to cross over from blended whiskies into Single Malts. The transition will be a smooth one and no shocking differences will emerge. People who scoff at this are wrong. This is not a bad whisky. I have tasted far worse than this. It’s completely inoffensive and yes, not a high flyer. But it isn’t here to fly high. It’s here to get you there…  Often the only single malt whisky in a bar, but easily the best drink available. An honest product.

Points: 80