Grind Time: Vintage Cave toasts Glenfiddich 50
BY JASON GENEGABUS / firstname.lastname@example.org
There are few things in life more satisfying after a hard day’s work than a comfortable chair and a glass of fine whisky.
It’s all relative, of course. Some folks may prefer a folding chair in the garage and a hearty pour of Kentucky bourbon. Others might opt for their living room couch and a Glencairn glass filled with the latest and greatest from a craft distillery that’s gained a cult following among fellow whiskey nerds.
And then there’s the type of person who doesn’t blink an eye when it comes to dropping thousands of dollars on a meal — or on a single pour of 50-year-old Scotch. It happens more often than you might realize at Ala Moana Center, where fine dining restaurant Vintage Cave serves up award-winning cuisine under the direction of new executive chef Jonathan Mizukami.
Last week, the restaurant upped the ante even more with the acquisition of a bottle of Glenfiddich 50, one of just six bottles made available in the United States this year. With a price tag of $30,000 per bottle, it’s obviously the first (and most likely the only) time we’ll see this stuff in Hawaii.
To celebrate the occasion, Glenfiddich brand ambassador Mitch Bechard returned to Honolulu to host a VIP toast on Nov. 4. An intimate group of Vintage Cave members, bar industry leaders and invited guests got to meet-and-greet with Bechard over Scotch and small bites from the kitchen.
“Not every distillery can boast having liquid this old,” Bechard explained. “It comes back to the fact that (Glenfiddich) has been family-run for the last 126 years and never sold to anyone. When you get to changing hands at distilleries, what tends to happen is the (whisky) stock gets sold as well.
“That’s never happened at Glenfiddich, so we’re sitting on these incredibly old stocks. For us, it’s incredible for us to have something like the 50-year-old.”
William Grant founded the Glenfiddich distillery in 1887 after quitting his job as distillery manager at nearby Mortlach and purchasing used stills from Cardhu distillery. With help from seven of his nine children and a stone mason, Grant’s dream to own his own family business was realized and has remained operational in Scotland’s Speyside region ever since.
Originally distilled in 1959, the whisky used to create Glenfiddich 50 was stored in two casks: a 750-liter sherry butt and a 250-liter American bourbon hogshead. Both were second-fill, meaning they had been used once before to age distillate and therefore wouldn’t impart as much of the flavor of the liquor originally stored in them.
Here’s how Glenfiddich describes the special juice:
“This is the fourth release of the second vatting of Glenfiddich 50 Year Old single malt whisky; the first release was in 2009. A total of 450 bottles were produced for the limited collection. Glenfiddich will be releasing 50 limited edition bottles each year between 2009 and 2017. 150 bottles have already been released over the last five years. By 2017 every bottle from this vatting will have been released.”
Bechard called the 50-year a “timepiece of Scotch whisky,” explaining that part of the reason so few bottles are released each year is due to the time-consuming nature of the production process. All the packaging is created by hand, from the hand-blown glass bottle and hand-carved sterling silver name plate to the hand-stitched leather presentation box and impossible-to-open fisherman’s fly knot that secures the stopper atop each bottle.
So how does it taste? At $6,000 per shot, there’s no way the newspaper would sign off on me filing an expense report with that receipt attached. Bechard himself was the only one at the toast with a dram of the actual Glenfiddich 50 being introduced that day. Everyone else in the room was treated to a sip of a different Glenfiddich 50, one that was vatted in 1991 using nine casks distilled between 1937 and 1939 — one for each of William Grant’s children.
While the new Glenfiddich 50 sports a floral note on the nose and, according to Bechard, hints of mango and pineapple when tasting it, the ’91 vatting was a completely different animal. Since the whisky was originally distilled during World War II, there wasn’t as much coal available to dry the barley used in production.
“When we made this one, we used a lot more peat,” Bechard said. “It’s a bit more robust. There’s a lot more going on … you get a little bit more of the smokiness coming through that you don’t get with the new 50-year.”
Still, the Glenfiddich 50 is nothing like the peat bombs currently produced by Scottish distilleries. The extended period of time spent in barrels helps to ease the alcohol burn that typically comes with a sip of Scotch; there was a fantastic balance between the smokiness imparted by the peat and the refined, almost delicate flavor of the Glenfiddich that’s easily recognizable by those who enjoy the distillery’s standard expressions.
Berchard had another surprise to share, asking me at one point in the evening if I wanted to sample the distillery’s latest creation — The Original. At a suggested retail price of about $100, this new expression has no age statement and pays tribute to Glenfiddich’s 1963 Straight Malt. Back in the ‘60s there was no such thing as single malt Scotch sold to consumers; up until then distilleries would blend various whiskys to create the flavor profile they were looking for.
That changed when William Grant’s great-grandson, Sandy Grant Gordon, decided to market Glenfiddich as a single malt and set out to create an advertising campaign to educate the public. More than 60 years later, malt master Brian Kinsman recreated the “celebrated fresh and fruity taste” of the original by pulling distillate aged in sherry casks. The result is whisky with “the hallmark Glenfiddich pear (flavor), followed by lively fruit notes (that is) biscuity with a soft vanilla oakiness and deliciously dry finish.”
In other words, it’s a great introduction to single malt Scotch for the uninitiated. The Original is an approachable spirit with attractive packaging and a compelling backstory. While I’ll personally stick with my favorite expression, Glenfiddich 15, the new expression will make a great gift for the Scotch drinker in your life.
Check out the video below to see Bechard open his fourth bottle of Glenfiddich 50 with assistance from Vintage Cave bartender Chieko Grimm.
“Grind Time” is always looking for the latest places to get your grub on. Email Jason Genegabus with restaurant, bar or any other food/drink-related item at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter and Google+.