Round two in the Glenfiddich Taste and Talk series was held on October 22nd, 2009 at the comfortable confines of One Up Lounge on Dundas Street West on viciously windy Thursday night.
Upon arriving, we were treated to a rather unique scotch cocktail with notes of citrus and almond (certainly the least offensive I've ever tasted) as well as a healthy sampling of the Glenfiddich 12 year old, all paired rather expertly with samplings of various finger foods & tapenades, the most successful of which was without question the green curry blend.
While this was our second delightful event with Glenfiddich, this was our first encounter with Glenfiddich Global Ambassador and Master Distiller, Ian Millar, who would anchor the evening by taking the group through the full range of Glenfiddich. Prior to Ian taking the floor, guest speaker Rich Poplak gave a thought provoking presentation of his adventures observing American pop-culture as it is consumed by the Muslim world. The powerpoint show contained plenty of unnatural mixtures and juxtapositions of culture, the first being the most striking, an image of the great Homer Simpson witnessing a plane impacting tower 1, the silhouetted image captured in his left eye.
As we worked through the flight of Glenfiddich's offerings, ranging from 12 year old to 21 year old expressions again, the clear winners were reaffirmed as the 15 and 21 year old drams.
All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening which all at ScotchBlog.ca are very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend.
But the rewards of the evening did not end upon our departure, as the following night at Whisky Live, I had the chance to catch up with Ian Millar for an interview.
Below are some excerpts from that interview, which proved to be even more candid and informative than I had hoped.
Matt: Given the desire of many of the larger distillers to expand into the vast potential market in China, will the mindset at Glenfiddich be to increase production to match demand or is it leaning more towards increasing prices?
Ian: Historically, you've had your 3 streams - single malt, your blends, and others' blends. Once upon a time Glenfiddich released 99% of its malts to others for their blends. Now, no one else gets these malts and there is even much less released to go in our blends (Grants, for instance). Now we have reversed that trend towards 99.9% being released as single malt.
Matt: So is it safe to say that the focus of Glenfiddich is now squarely on producing single malt whiskies and therefore production is being increased in this stream?
Matt: Given what we've seen in terms of reducing the availability of "The Classic Malts" (Lagavulin, Cragganmore, Talisker, et al) by Diageo to service larger, and in their eyes, more lucrative markets, is there any pressure for Glenfiddich to follow suit?
Ian: Diageo is under immense shareholder pressure to maximize profits at every turn. Pricing directors are looking at how much profit per case can be obtained globally and act accordingly. So they remove volume from the 'bottom markets", and divert it to top 10 markets. However, thus far India and China are not delivering as Diageo thought. At William Grant and Sons, since we are family run, our focus will be to maintain our traditional markets and if these other markets expand and start ordering more of our products, then we will look at what needs to be done.
Matt: Are there any plans to develop specific malts to suit particular regional markets and tastes, such that these malts will only be available in specific places?
Ian: Yes. We are currently producing different and stronger ABV (alcohol by volume) expressions to release to travel retailers so they have something different from the everyday.
Matt: What can the Ontario market expect from William Grant and Sons in the near future?
Ian: The LCBO decides what will be made available. While there are some loopholes, our hands are almost tied. However, in the 4th quarter of 2010, Ontario should look for some new releases (30, 40, and 50 year old expressions). We are always trying new things. For instance European versus American oak. We're always tweaking brands to make them more appealing, and to keep consumers excited. This is the responsibility of our whisky development team in Scotland.
Matt: That's excellent news. Now on to the actual consumption of a single malt. How do you prepare for a nosing?
Ian: The right mood is important, and so is practice. I take samples home to ensure that I am in the 65-85% consistency range. At Diageo, if you drop below 85% (consistency) they kick you off the team. When you're nosing, ensure there are no other smells in the room. Don't use a dishwasher to wash the glasses you are going to use, as that will taint the nose and taste (because it leaves a film on the glass). Also, be sure to rinse the glasses with water before. The ideal ABV to nose at is 27%. To achieve this with your standard bottle of single malt this is done with 2 parts whisky to 1 part water. For cask strength bottles, the ratio is inverted to 1 part whisky to 2 parts water.
[Just make sure the water used to reduce it to 27% is distilled water. Ian and Matt know this but don't mention it. -Ed.]
Matt: A great piece of wisdom for all the single malt fans out there. Lastly, a personal question. What makes a single malt register 10 out of 10 for you?
Ian: My all time favourites are second fill sherry butts, as 1st fills are overpowering, done in a Speyside style, and aged between 15 and 20 years.
I would like to extend my thanks to Ian once again for his time, and be sure to keep an eye out for other parts of this interview in later articles, especially my forthcoming Christmas Gift Giver's Guide, which I hope to have ready in the next few weeks.