In Hakkasan’s private dining room on September 15, Scotch ambassador Jennifer Wren debuted her portfolio’s newest addition, Glenfiddich 14 Bourbon Barrel Reserve ($50, Glenfiddich.com). Glenfiddich founder William Grant created the single-malt Scotch category at a time “when Granddad was still Dad,” and when most Scotch was blended, Wren said before launching into a flight of the brand’s core single-malt expressions.
Glenfiddich 12-, 15-, 18- and 21-year all spend time in both European oak ex-Oloroso sherry butts and American oak ex-bourbon hogsheads from Kentucky. The former imparts tannins and fruit flavors—fresh and dried in varying degrees. The latter gives a round character and rich flavors of maple and soft oak. All expressions are then harmonized in a massive tun.
However, unlike the entry-level 12-year flagship, the rich and sexy solera-aged 15-year, the small-batch 18-year or the rum-cask-finished 21-year, Bourbon Barrel Reserve does not touch ex-sherry wood. Instead, it is aged 14 years in ex-bourbon casks, then spends four months in deeply charred new American oak barrels from Kentucky.
This finishing (a technique pioneered at sister distillery the Balvenie by malt master David Stewart) imparts “high-octane vanillin,” and some bite, Wren says, as well as pays homage to the influence bourbon has had on Scotch making. After all, many Scottish and Irish immigrants helped create and establish bourbon as America’s native spirit. Years in virgin American oak could potentially overpower a soft Speyside Scotch, so after first use, many ex-bourbon barrels will make their way to Scotland, allowing both industries to thrive.
“It’s a ‘yes and’ experience,” Wren said of the 14. As in yes, it gives the bourbon flavor experience, and the luxurious finish of a 14-year-old Scotch. Malt master Brian Kinsman’s own tasting notes speak of “layers of creamy toffee, woody spices, candied orange peel and fresh toasted oak.” And at 43 percent ABV, it also brings a touch of that Kentucky heat.