All right, we’re taking the gloves off and packing them away for the long, hot Las Vegas summer. But if you’re thinking there isn’t a warm-weather friend among your Scottish whiskies and that you need to say farewell till fall, think again. From one of the country’s most prestigious, innovative and still-family-owned Scotch houses comes Glenfiddich India Pale Ale Cask Finish ($66, Total Wine & More locations), the first in a new Experimental Series that joined the brand’s permanent lineup in late 2016.
“When malt master Brian Kinsman’s not drinking Scotch whisky, he likes a little beer,” Glenfiddich national ambassador Mitch Bechard says. Two years ago, serendipity brought Kinsman together with brewer Seb Jones from Speyside Craft Brewery in Scotland, just minutes from the distillery, “and Seb said he just about fell over when Brian called him.” Empty casks were sent to the brewery, filled with IPA, rested for four months, emptied and then filled with Glenfiddich. “They weren’t successful at the start; some of the experiments just failed completely—which is great!” Bechard says. “You have to remember that what we’re doing with this expression has never been done before with single-malt Scotch whisky. After two years, the gentlemen nailed it.”
The trick, it turned out, was the beer; it had to be relatively low in bitterness. “Glenfiddich off the still is a very delicate spirit: pear notes, very clean, very fresh. What we always want to do whenever we’re aging any Scotch whisky is have that nice balance between distillery and maturation characteristics,” Bechard says. Accordingly, the finished spirit displays all the house attributes: fruit-forward on the nose, and vibrant on the palate with a pleasant sweetness, “but then right at the end, there’s just that little hop kick,” Bechard notes. The typically long finish—slightly cut short by the hoppiness—is at once satisfying and refreshing, not unlike a cold draught of ale.
You’ll find a suitable companion for the IPA Cask in a not-excessively-hoppy beer (about 20 to 30 on the International Bitterness Units scale), or, if you happen to be in Speyside, you can visit the brewery and ask to try the IPA, which in addition to lending its flavor to the finished Scotch, has picked up some of the whisky’s character.
“From its inception, Glenfiddich has always been pioneering and experimental,” Bechard says. “William Grant used his seven sons and one stonemason to build the distillery. Then Glenfiddich essentially created the single-malt category in 1963 with the first single malt ever to be marketed in a big way. It was the first distillery to open its doors to visitors as well. The solera process—Glenfiddich pioneered that. The 21-Year-Old—a Scotch whisky using ex rum casks—again something that had never been done before.”
And the innovation doesn’t stop there. To create Project XX, the second in the Experimental Series, 20 whiskey experts were invited to roam one of Glenfiddich’s warehouses, selecting a personal favorite from among thousands of casks for a blend that is a mosaic of finishes and expressions, and which is even greater than the sum of its parts. “And that’s what you’re going to see with Glenfiddich moving forward,” Bechard says. “We’re throwing the rule book out.”