Unexpected Oak

glenfiddichOne of the treats I had while on a recent trip to Cornwall was a shared bottle of Glenfiddich Rich Oak. First released in 2010, this is a 14-year-old single malt from the world’s best-selling scotch maker and it has an unusual twist. While it is first aged in the traditional cured oak casks for thirteen years, it then spends time in virgin oak casks – six weeks in American casks, then 12 weeks in Spanish casks. This results in a flavor that is, well, oakey and rich. Hence the name, I suppose.

It was unexpected. I’m not usually a huge Glenfiddich fan, but this bottle was a pleasant surprise. There was, for me, a bit of oak tannin bite which wasn’t unwelcome, as well as rich vanilla tones. It had an interesting dry quality I don’t remember experiencing before – again, having grown up in California, I’m not averse to big oak tastes and a woody dryness in my wines, and so this didn’t bother me at all.

According to Glenfiddich malt master Brian Kinsman (interviewed in Esquire upon the first release of the Rich Oak bottling), “The traditional sources of casks for maturing Scotch whisky are the American bourbon industry, Spanish sherry industry and also various other smaller sources such as port, madeira, wine, rum, etc.

“Our own coopers travelled to cooperages in Kentucky and Jerez to oversee the production of the casks.  The key for the flavour in this particular whisky is that the casks have held nothing before and have not been seasoned with any other spirit or wine.  The American oak casks are toasted and charred in the same way as they would be for filling with bourbon but sent to us directly with no bourbon filling.  The Spanish oak casks are only gently toasted and not charred, this maximises the rich oaky flavour.”

One of these days I’m going to have to do a post on oak casks. Sounds like a complicated business.

And yes, I will be buying Glenfiddich Rich Oak again, partly because it’s so unusual. In a good way.



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