The story of Glenfiddich is a story of maverickness. Ever since the first drops of spirit dribbled out of the new-found distillery’s pot stills in 1887, the family-owned company has been striving to do things a little different. In 1963 they jumped into a blue ocean when they became the first distillery to sell single malt whisky outside of Scotland. And in 1998 they did again show pioneering spirit when they were the first whisky producers to adapt the criadera system of the Spanish sherry makers to their own craft. But that is not all. Before, after and in between these towering milestones, Glenfiddich has also never been shy to challenge traditions, cross borders and take the occasional leap of faith.
This audacity is a trait Glenfiddich’s charismatic brand ambassador Markus Heinze shares with the company he represents. Thus, the former bar keeper told us at the beginning of yesterday’s 4-hour tasting event in Hamburg, he always tries to offer the attendees of his masterclasses something out-of-the-ordinary. A promise he more than lived up to! Not only did Markus present us with an incredible line-up of whiskies (consisting of five original bottlings plus two cask samples), but he also took us on a field trip from Christiansen’s whisky bar to the nearby ÜberQuell micro-brewery, where we paused our dramming session for a craft beer interlude and pizza feast.
Located in River-Kasematten, an architectural complex that served a million purposes over the years (including being a rehearsal room for The Beatles in the early 60s), ÜberQuell is a pleasantly down-to-earth combination of brew pub, summer terrace and pizza place. According to co-founder Axel Ohm, the young business aspires to bring forth “exciting things inspired by the city of Hamburg”. And their craft beer creations, which were introduced to us by barkeeper extraordinaire Pät Barten, were indeed exciting! While I very much enjoyed all of the five brews we were served, the exotic World White IPA was my favorite. That super-yummy coconut note struck all the right chords for me!
After this craftbeer-iffic intermezzo, we returned to the drams Markus had selected for us. Let me shortly introduce them from the beginning: Back when we were still at Christiansen’s, we started the evening with Glenfiddich’s elegant and easy-to-drink figurehead whisky 15 Year Old Solera Reserve and then continued with an exclusive Cask Sample that was matured in a refill bourbon cask for 13 years. Bottled with an ABV of 61.2 per cent, it was by far the brawniest ‘Fiddich I ever had. After that, we set over to ÜberQuell. During the short walk, we bridged the transition from whisky to beer with a glass of Glenfiddich’s new IPA Experiment, which was finished in special IPA casks for 12 weeks. This short but significant refinement strongly promoted the hop notes in this number one bottling from the distillery’s Experimental Series. Of course, we also got to taste part two of that range. Project XX is a vatting of twenty hand-selected casks, each of which was picked by one of Glenfiddich’s twenty brand ambassadors. All in all, this wonderfully complex Scotch was composed from the well-aged contents of seventeen bourbon casks, two sherry casks and one port cask. Markus contributed a whisky that slumbered in American oak for no less than 18 years…
As we had already degusted quite a few drams and beers by that time, a little snack was more than welcome. We got it in the form of a mouthwatering Neapolitan brick oven pizza that came in three varieties: margherita, salami and veggie. Not a single slice went back into the kitchen and when the plates were picked up from our tables again, all of the ~30 attendees agreed: The guys and girls of ÜberQuell know their pizza just as well as they know their beer!
Reinvigorated, we were then proffered two beautiful rarities, namely a 21-year-old Glenfiddich with a rum cask finish and a 26-year-old Glenfiddich called Excellence. The first turned out to be strongly influenced by the Carribean wood it was enhanced in and the latter (which is currently the oldest expression from the distillery’s core range) definitely did its byname justice! But how do you still up the ante after such a treat? Of course, you produce another Cask Sample that is otherwise impossible to get hold of. And that is exactly what Markus did when he served us a 14-year-old Peated expression from a sherry cask! Full of dried fruits, smoked ham and intense spices, this chestnut-colored masterpiece derived significantly from the smooth and fruity drams we had before. But that is also what made it so special and put a glowing “wow!” expression onto the happy faces of all those who were lucky to try it!
Glenfiddich 15yo Solera Reserve (Single Malt / Scotch / 15yo/ 40% / ~38.00 Euro)
Glenfiddich 13yo Cask Sample “ex-Bourbon” (Single Malt / Scotch / 13yo/ 61.2% / not for sale)
Glenfiddich IPA Experiment (Single Malt / Scotch / NAS/ 47% / ~65.00 Euro)
Glenfiddich Project XX (Single Malt / Scotch / NAS/ 47% / ~65.00 Euro)
Glenfiddich 21yo Rum Cask Finish (Single Malt / Scotch / 21yo/ 40% / ~150.00 Euro)
Glenfiddich 26yo Excellence (Single Malt / Scotch / 26yo/ 43% / ~380.00 Euro)
Glenfiddich 14yo Cask Sample “Peated” (Single Malt / Scotch / 14yo/ 56.4% / not for sale)
Überquell Original Helles (28 IBU / 5%)
Überquell Lieblings Imperial Lager (40 IBU / 5.6%)
Überquell Palim Palim Pale Ale (39 IBU / 5.3%)
Überquell Supadupa IPA (50 IBU / 6%)
Überquell World White IPA (41 IBU / 6.2%)