Glenfiddich has announced an unusual series of experimental single malt whiskies. Experimental is not usually a concept whisky drinkers would associate with single malts, given many distilleries have produced the same single malt for centuries. Not so for Glenfiddich. The family-owned and operated distillery, in Speyside, Scotland, has been distilling whisky for five generations, a tradition that started with William Grant in the late 1800s.
This month the company takes a bold step towards combining this tradition with a little unorthodox creativity, with the release of the IPA Experiment; the world’s first single malt whisky to be finished in India Pale Ale (IPA) beer casks.
For Brian Kinsman, Glenfiddich’s Malt Master, the IPA Experiment – the first in a series of departures from traditional whisky making – is the pinnacle of their craft.
Seb Jones, founder of Speyside Craft Brewery, is behind the IPA beer used in the first experiment in the series.
“How do you make something that has depth and character, and is real and unique?” said Kinsman. “I feel very comfortable to stand up and present IPA on the back of 130 years worth of experience. We’ve got such a heritage and such a grounding.”
As Kinsman puts it, the IPA Experiment displays all the qualities of what he calls ‘Glenfiddichness’.
“It’s still authentically Glenfiddich whisky, but it has notes of an India Pale Ale.”
Breaking from tradition and producing an experimental new whisky wasn’t something that just happened. A little serendipity and the right chemistry played a great role.
The man behind the IPA beer used in the process is founder and owner of Speyside Craft Brewery, Seb Jones. After initial chats with Kinsman about potential direction, Jones was surprised to find the Malt Master as eager to collaborate as he was.
“When I called up Glenfiddich, wanting to speak to Brian, I didn’t think anything would come of it,” said Jones.
“But he called me back and we showed him our idea, then he came to us with his idea – both slightly different ideas, but we were willing to work together.”
While a career in oil and gas would await most people after pursuing chemistry studies at university, Jones had other ideas – to move home and brew beer.
After brewing his first batch he realised his skills were better than good. A short amount of time and a lot of research and planning later, Speyside Craft Brewery was born.
This is the world’s first single malt whisky to be finished in India Pale Ale (IPA) beer casks.
With over 300 customers throughout Scotland and a creative range of ‘weird and wonderful’ craft beers – “We have an elderflower seasonal beer, where we go out and pick the elderflower ourselves” – Jones presents the perfect qualities to add a little maverick to the IPA Experiment.
The flavour ‘notes’ of the whisky were tailored in the IPA brewing process, by choosing specific ingredients to augment the existing flavours of the base spirit, which Kinsman describes as “fresh fruit, pear and vanilla.”
“We used more complementary hops than contrasting hops, a type called Challenger hops,” said Jones, of the process used to reach the final IPA Experiment whisky.
“They have pear notes, so from that we now have added fruitiness. What results is a very light, subtle whisky. You get an initial sweetness from the hops, and afterwards there’s a nice, malty aftertaste from the pale ale.”
With this unique flavour profile, Kinsman is positive the IPA Experiment will become a hit beyond single malt drinkers.
“In the hands of a bartender, they’ll be able to play on those notes and do some interesting stuff to make it a great cocktail whisky.”
If the thought of drinking whisky finished in beer casks feels a little obscure to you, remember you’re in safe hands.
While Glenfiddich is a brand built on a legacy of craft and tradition, it’s also a company that knows opportunity wears many a guise and inspiration strikes when you least expect it.
In 2010, two year’s worth of snow fell on warehouses stocked with whisky ageing in Oloroso and American Oak casks. The roofs of four warehouses groaned under the weight, but eventually buckled and dumped tonnes of snow onto the casks below. Many were lost, a few survived.
To some, it could have been a major tragedy. Not for Brian Kinsman. He saw a chance to turn this event into Glenfiddich’s finest hour and so Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix was born.
Over four painstaking days, distillery workers laboured to recover as many barrels as possible from the now ruined warehouses. From these surviving casks, Kinsman set about blending a single malt whisky that would grace the earth but once: Snow Phoenix.
There aren’t many other whisky distillers that see the world this way; taking an unconventional approach to age-old methods and embracing new opportunities to create a truly unique experience for whisky connoisseurs.
For the maverick Malt Master, the ability to create products like the IPA Experiment is about acknowledging heritage and brand values.
“In some ways I think, yes, other companies could do it,” said Kinsman.
“But could they do it with the same credibility? Whether they get it right or wrong, that’s another question.
“Where we’re lucky is, we do this and we do it well. Family ownership lends itself well to scotch whisky – it’s a long-term process – that’s the part that nobody else can do.”
This element in particular is instantly evident at the Glenfiddich distillery. Every person in the chain of production is more than just an employee; they’re family.
The artisans know their craft, inside and out, because they’ve been practicing it for decades. Casks are still assembled by hand. Whisky is nosed over a period of months before blending. Even Dennis, the resident welder, who attended the copper stills for over 40 years, still drops in to check on his babies despite being retired.
This purity of craft and dedication to tradition are just some of the many qualities that give Glenfiddich scope to explore creativity and embrace new opportunities. The IPA Experiment is just one of these explorations.
If you’re still dubious, take it from Kinsman himself: “What I think we’ve ended up with … is a classic Glenfiddich.”
If you would like to secure your own bottle of Glenfiddich IPA from this interesting experiment visit MyBottleShop, Australia’s #1 Online Drinks Shop.