Living The Whisky-Making Dream
Few people ever get to make their own whisky. Even fewer get to help create a bottling that is sold all over the world. One my great whisky experiences involved doing just this with Glenfiddich Project XX in the Experimental Series. But I didn’t do it alone.
As a Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador, I was involved in the creation of Glenfiddich Project XX. It’s a name often mispronounced as ‘Project Ex Ex’. XX is Roman numerals for the number 20 and is pronounced at ‘Project Twenty’. This is not an arbitrary point – 20 refers to the 20 Brand Ambassadors involved. It couldn’t be called ‘Project 20’ as that would contravene laws on using of numbers that look like age statements.
Each year Glenfiddich Brand Ambassadors gather for a conference, at least part of which is held at the Glenfiddich distillery. Widely referred to as “the best week of the year” by Brand Ambassadors, one year was particularly special. Without explanation we were let loose in a warehouse, with a stick of chalk, to each select casks. We couldn’t choose by flavour or aroma as the casks were sealed tight. All we could see was age, type and sometimes a little information on the previous use of the cask.
In that entire warehouse there were three port pipes sitting in a corner. Not wanting to be too greedy, I selected two port pipes and a range of bourbon barrels. The next day we were given a sample from each of our selected casks and asked to choose our favourite. At the end the group had 20 favourite casks, one for each Brand Ambassador. Sadly, my two port pipes were disappointing, but one of by Bourbon barrels was a delight so that’s what I chose.
Enter the Master Distiller of Glenfiddich, Mr Brian Kinsman, who came to lend his expertise. Mr Kinsman nosed each of our samples and vatted them in different proportions. There were 17 bourbon barrels, two sherry butts and a port pipe, for the port pipe chosen by another brand ambassador was superb. Once Mr Kinsman was satisfied, we all tasted his creation and were very impressed. And that, as far as we knew, was the end of the project.
Fast forward to the next conference a year later and the marketing team had a surprise waiting. They revealed the coming ‘Glenfiddich Experimental Series’ which was to include our creation, named Project XX. As you can imagine we were excited, and grew more excited with each new detail. We loved the concept, the bottle design, the higher ABV, that is was non-chill filtered and finally the price point. There was a buzz in the air. We were going to have our names attached to a new Glenfiddich bottling, and it was one that we loved!
Next, another lesson in whisky creation from Mr Kinsman. You can’t roll out a global SKU from just 20 casks as there is just not enough liquid. Mr Kinsman had recreated the liquid from a wider array of casks and we tasted three samples.
- We refreshed our memory with another taste of our experiment from a year ago
- We tried a recreation of our experiment following the exact recipe. Kinsman had remade the whisky using the same casks types, ages and volumes. It was notably less enjoyable than the original and honestly quite disappointing.
- Then we saw Kinsman’s exceptional skill in play. The final whisky was a recreation of the original using the casks Kinsman saw fit. Rather than following the recipe, he used everything at his disposal to recreate the aroma. Side by side the first and third whisky were just barely distinguishable. Having them at different times it was near impossible to tell the difference. And that was it, Glenfiddich Project XX was officially born.
Kinsman, the nose behind some incredibly successful whiskies, said that he would never have selected the casks we selected. That’s probably why the grand plan for the project was not revealed from the beginning. If we’d created a terrible whisky it would have been quashed. Thankfully, all the people involved felt the whisky was a success, worthy of a permanent place within the Experimental Series. The tasting notes of candy floss and fresh apples were unique as well. Apples and pears are common in Glenfiddich bottlings, but nothing else holds the candy floss note that help make it unique.
It’s no longer really a project so much as a fully-fledged whisky. It’s something I always have in a place of pride on my shelf at home as a great regular drinking dram. Even better, I also have a cask strength bottle of the cask I selected! That of course, is extremely limited, and only for very special occasions.