International travel, often exciting in itself, has an extra kick for me since I got seriously into whisky. A resident of one continent with family on another, I usually fly a few times a year and it’s a great opportunity to avail myself of some duty-free bottles.
The duty-free whisky marketplace is an interesting one. Many brands sell “travel exclusives”, products you can (allegedly) only find in those fancy, well-lit, perfume-strewn shrines to consumerism littering our airports. Work your way past the gold-foil-wrapped chocolates, the Italian handbags and the pushy aftershave salesmen and you’ll often find a huge variety of tax-free single malts, blends and bourbons, a reasonable portion of which can’t be found outside of international departure lounges.
I must admit, I’m not entirely sure why travel exclusive lines exist. Is it done to raise the desirability of a whisky by limiting availability? Or could it be acting as a test market for a new line to gauge marketability before releasing it to the world at large? Whatever the reason, I confess that I have viewed the market with a bit of skepticism – if this stuff is that good, why can’t I walk down to my local shop and pick up another bottle?
But as any serious whisky drinker knows, variety is the spice of life that we all crave and I’m powerless to resist the siren call of a new experience. And, leaving the gloomy crooked eaves of paranoia and walking out into the gleaming glass spires of optimism, a lot of these exclusive lines are actually getting pretty damn good reviews.
It was in this spirit of optimism that I decided to buy this bottle from Glenfiddich sight-unseen. Well, I mean, I saw it, but wasn’t able to try it before purchase. You know what I mean. (Actually that brings me to another rant – isn’t it ridiculous that as whisky enthusiasts, we’re expected to pay out a lot of money for 700ml+ bottles without ever having had a chance to taste what’s in them? I’m not necessarily talking about standard distillery bottlings here that can often be found at tastings and events, but more specialized single-cask or limited releases. Could the companies not release miniatures or even half-sizes to be sold alongside the full-size bottles? Risking so much money in the hope I’ll find a winner gets old… is there any other hobby with as much gambling involved? Well, um, apart from actual gambling.)
This is the second release in the Age of Discovery line, following the Madeira-finished bottling from last year. Like the first edition the packaging of this bottle is quite beautiful, this time depicting Mississipi River scenes in blue and gold on a very large box. In fact it’s beautiful to the point of being a bit worrying, as if they were trying to distract you from the whisky itself. The bottle itself is almost black and hides the colour of the liquid, another ominous sign. However happily I can stop it with the doom and gloom now, as much to my relief (and probably yours by this point) the whisky is in fact quite delicious.
I confess to being a big fan of the Glenfiddich house style, which is why I felt able to take the plunge on the Age of Discovery in the first place. On another trip last year I picked up a bottle of their Gran Reserva 21-year-old, in similarly gigantic over-packaging, which turned out to be blindingly good (although admittedly expensive). What I was really hoping for with this bourbon-matured edition, without admitting it to myself, was something similar to an absolutely standout 16-year-old ex-bourbon-cask bottle I got from the Aberlour distillery last year. That sadly long-gone whisky was really incredible – somehow taking on many of the qualities of the bourbon it post-dated while still retaining the unmistakable light citrus/cereal character of a good Scotch whisky.
Amazingly the Glenfiddich is actually quite similar – a lovely glowing dark amber colour, lots of toffee, vanilla and honey on the nose, the taste giving up more of the same but adding cayenne pepper, burnt sugar and some faint pear. The finish is a little disappointing, being quite short and not especially flattering to the earlier sensations, but overall this is a very good showing from Glenfiddich and I’m really quite impressed. I do feel the price is a bit high at 81 UKP – I guess we’re paying for that packaging after all. The only other thing I’d complain about is that at 40% ABV the whisky is a bit gutless and lacking some punch, and I’d love to see it at 46% to get that extra oomph. My Aberlour was at 52.2% and was intensely good without water, and it’d have been nice to get closer to that experience.
But overall good show Glenfiddich, I’d rate this one a winner. Here’s to gambling, and traveling, and whisky!