*Sincere thanks to MB from Glenfiddich and William Grant & Sons for the sample!
Those that know me well know that I’m a scathing, occasionally ranting cynic with a big ol’ softy heart…either that or a big ol’ easily weepy softy with a small, cold lump of coal for a heart…sometimes both, which sounds just as confusing to me as it does to you, I’m sure. So in the context of this post and blog in general, what this means is I’m always prone to greet whisky marketing schemes with a leery shake of the head, a squinty eye, and a hollow bark of a laugh…but I’m also occasionally prone to buying into it, hook, line, and sinker. Making up stories or at most (least?), twisting a bit of truth rarely, if ever, makes a whisky taste better. You can tell me that extracting the last drops of…oh, let’s just say bourbon, from some oak is somehow the business of Satan himself, thereby making it mysteriously good stuff, just don’t expect me to believe it, or even treat it with the respect it may or may not deserve. On the other hand, name a whisky after a shipwreck or a whirlpool or covering the bottle with black on black alchemical symbols and it takes a certain amount of self-restraint on my part to not run out and buy cases of the stuff. Sure, I’ll admit that’s inconsistent of me, and more than a little hypocritical, but…whatever, I don’t really care. As you can imagine, as a relatively newish father, this big ol’ softy bit really kicks into high gear when it comes to anything that could remotely be tied somehow to my son and I.
So it was back in April 2011 when I attended one of Glenfiddich’s Cask of Dreams press events/tastings. The marketing angle behind this one had Glenfiddich reps rolling 12 empty new American Oak barrels through several U.S. cities and hosting events where attendees were given the chance to inscribe their hopes and dreams on these well-traveled barrels before they were sent to Scotland to fulfill their whisky-making raison d’être. Kind of a cheesy idea, but also an effective, fun, and interactive one, it’s worth mentioning that they also awarded a portion of the marketing money to the National Geographic Explorers Program. I, instead of curling a sardonic lip at the whole campaign, leapt with a leaping heart and sharpie in hand at the chance to wish the world for my son on the side of a whisky barrel.
The truly interesting part of the Cask of Dreams release begins with the whisky-making. Once these dozen graffiti-ed casks found their way to the Glenfiddich distillery, they were filled with mostly 14-16 year old whisky (from both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks) and allowed to finish for three months. Now, new, unused American oak casks are rarely used for maturing malted barley spirit, the thought is the influence of the cask is too strong for the new juice and would overwhelm it completely over a long Scotch-like maturation period. On the other hand, finishing a single malt in a new American Oak cask is done slightly more often with interesting results. The Cask of Dreams release was 3500 bottles strong and bottled at a significantly higher proof than Glenfiddich’s core expressions. It was only released in the U.S. and initially retailed for around $100-$120.
The Nose: Bracing and rich, in some ways, this has an almost bourbon-y nose. Vanilla cream soda, crisp, juicy apples, and butterscotch to start. There are also nice notes of honeyed malt, dark chocolate, stewed fruit, a little buttered toast with cinnamon and sugar, and a bit of peanut brittle. Quite a bit of spice and wood influence is apparent as well. Fresh cut oak, vanilla bean, dusty allspice, with subtler notes of old cedar and pine shavings. A little bit of water softens the spice and wood, while coaxing out some cocoa powder and a bit more smooth vanilla.
The Palate: Creamy mouthfeel with apple syrup over vanilla ice cream. The first wave of spice is nutty, malty, and kissed with unsweetened chocolate. There are some rough edges of raw oak here, and while I wouldn’t count it as a negative in this case, it does make for a rather rugged palate. More spice develops quickly with coarse vanilla bean, crushed clove, cinnamon stick, cardamom, and touches of gentian and sarsaparilla. It doesn’t necessarily need it but a bit of water really smooths out the rough oak, nicely draws out all those spices and just makes it that much more drinkable than it already was in the first place.
The Finish: Nice, lingering, sweetened malt with clove, vanilla bean, oak, and just a touch of that salted nuttiness.
Thoughts: I’m never shy about being a Glenfiddich fan, even more so the last couple of years as they’ve expanded out of their core range with some special releases. I liked the Snow Phoenix quite a bit, and I think that I like this one even more. Rich and complex, there’s an excellent balance and progression throughout. While there’s plenty of Glenfiddich character, it’s definitely a showcase for the casks used, full of vanilla and spice. That rugged oak palate is bracing on its own, and the ABV is not so high that it needs it, but for me it really shines with a bit of water. As is typical with a malt as popular as Glenfiddich, special releases like this tend to sell out fast; however I do see a bottle still out there from time to time. Highly recommended.
Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams 2011, Speyside
Happy birthday, my boy, 19 years to go before you get this one! Love, yer dad.