Monday, 20 April 2015

Spirit Log: Glenfiddich 15 Solera Vat

It’s funny how these coincidences happen; you read about something perhaps, that you’ve never heard of before, and then the same subject pops up a few days later out of nowhere. Just last week I was describing the Solera aging process on a visit to a winery, and when I look today, to see what I have scheduled for this week’s post... it’s the Glenfiddich Solera Vat.On we go.

There’s a test you can use should you ever need to decide whether you really want to buy something: walk away. If you walk away and you keep thinking about it, then you really want it, so you need to go back and get it.

I applied this test recently, when I saw a couple of Glenfiddich expressions on special offer at Morrison’s when we were booze shopping for the upcoming Glastonbury Festival. Scotch certainly wasn’t what I’d gone for, but around £5 off of the 14 year old Rich Oak and the 15 year old Solera Vat was very tempting.

Not wanting to suffer an episode of whisky guilt I told myself no, but over the next couple of days I came to realise that I had more than sufficient funds remaining in my monthly booze budget – and what’s a surplus for if it doesn’t allow you to take advantage of price reductions from time to time?

You see, I’ve been buying scotch in a very deliberate way recently; rotating the various regions and types of expression to vary the kinds of things I’m sampling. It has meant that I’ve gone from not knowing what to buy next, to knowing what I’m going to buy sometimes two months in advance. While that gives my exploration a purpose, it has also meant that I’ve been cheated of some of the unexpurgated joy of just stumbling across something and making a surprise purchase.

So there I was at work one day thinking, I wonder if there’s a decent sized Morrisons around here?

There isn’t.

A few minutes later I thought, I wonder if those same whiskies are on offer anywhere else…? told me that they were – at the Asda in Hulme that is a mere 10-15 minute walk away, so off I went and in the end, chose the 15 year old over the 14 year old.

It’s a sad 40% ABV, but it is interesting in that it has been partially aged in the Spanish solera style, which is what they use in brandy (and indeed sherry) production. The Glenfiddich method would seem to differ somewhat though, in that the spirit is first aged in sherry, bourbon and new oak casks before being married in a large pine tun that is always kept half full. So if you’re new to this whole concept, the aged spirit is blended in a big pine tun. Some of the contents of the tun is bottled (leaving at least half) and the tun is then refilled. This process is ongoing so in theory, some of the whisky in the tun dates back to when the process began… though presumably they will never be able to label it at more than 15 years since you can only count the years it spends in a cask. It may continue to age in the pine tun to some degree, and that might have an effect but in scotch production you can’t increase the age statement since it always has to reflect the age of the youngest spirit in the mix.

Now, this is quite an interesting method, but one thing that piqued my interest is that one of the intended effects is to foster consistency in the spirit. That doesn’t entirely make sense to me since, rather than blending from a number of casks to achieve a certain taste profile, this method means slapping a whole bunch of stuff into one vat where spirit of different vintages will marry  - but surely the flavour you achieve in your bottled product will develop over time…

Well, to be fair, how much do I know about the results of the solera process? I haven’t been drinking products made in that way for decades, so I can’t tell… maybe it does result in consistency. Whatever, we’ll come to see what it tastes like and try to draw some conclusions later.

It is presented in a fancy red leather-like case that features a press-stud clasp. When you lift the bottle in or out of the case, the light creates an interesting effect that I tried to film for you, but failed. You’ll just have to try it for yourself. In the bottle it looks a lovely deep red colour. I’ve heard talk of caramel colouring, but who knows?

I didn’t wait too long before opening this one – a matter of only two weeks. I’d been having a shit day at work, and just thought it would be nice to try it while we started the second series of Boss. I like Boss; most of the time you don’t really know what’s happening, but then something really intriguing happens. It doesn’t seem like anyone else in the world has actually watched it, but I assure you, if you haven’t, you’re missing out – especially if you like House of Cards. Boss is better – less silly.

Anyway, I’d been doing a bit of research online – all the various blogs have regurgitated the same shit about the aging process – and I decided I wouldn’t let this one sit in the glass for 15 minutes before tasting it as one of the blogs suggested it would have opened up enough already. I kind of like the waiting, but it does mean you have to plan somewhat – or just sit there. In fact, when I did wait on one occasion, then had a second glass for which I didn’t wait, the first glass appeared to be better.

The immediate reaction on the palate was something I wasn’t expecting; a massive hit of oranges – like when you have an orange that seems a little dried out, but you bite into a segment and the juice runs out onto your tongue. Huge impression of orange. It did fade as I got used to it, but I hadn’t tasted a whisky quite like this before, and it wasn’t a taste I could quite get on board with. It is quite light bodied, but it does sit pleasingly on the tongue and, as I say, once the orangey hit has subsided it is pleasant.

This orangey hit seemed to fade over successive tastings and I started to wonder whether this was due to my decision to finish this bottle ahead of all others in readiness for opening something new. With no other whisky to compare it to there were times it seemed ordinary and uninsteresting though, remarkably one night when I followed up a glass of the Carlos I brandy with it (also aged in the Solera style), it performed well once more.

I think if there’s anything to learn from this, it is that it is beneficial to have numerous whiskies and spirits on the go at once and delve liberally into them, rather than focusing on one over another. That way individual nuances and characteristics come to the fore, and the experience can be prevented from becoming ordinary. That’s my take on it, anyway.

All in all, this has been quite a unique whisky experience that’s well worth a try, and at £30 or thereabouts for 15 years, it’s decent value.

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