Cask finishing is a huge part of Scotch whisky. It is used by distilleries to expand their offerings and experiment, using different spirits, wines and now beers to influence their whisky and create new and interesting expressions with which to separate us from our cash.
“Finishing” means to take a whisky that has been matured in one type of cask (usually a more traditional ex-bourbon cask) and transfer it into a different type for a relatively short length of time to impart further flavours to the spirit. This is generally intended to add depth to the whisky involved, but is sometimes employed to salvage whisky that has spent time in an under-performing cask and which is not quite up to the standard required to be bottled as it is.
The bottle I have to hand today is Glenfiddich 15 year old Solera Reserve. It is made from a combination of 15 year old whiskies matured in ex-bourbon, virgin oak and sherry casks which have then been vatted together in a “solera” vat and left to marry for an undisclosed amount of time before bottling.
The solera vat is a large straight sided oak cask of sorts, so large that you could walk around inside were it not full of whisky. The interesting point is that the vat is never less than half full (or half empty, depending on your disposition), even when bottling is taking place. They simply bottle half the contents and then top the rest with fresh 15 year old whisky.
As advertised on Glenfiddich’s website, this means that there still remains in the vat some of the whisky from 1998 when the process was first started, of which a small percentage will make it into your bottle. It must be an extremely small percentage by now however, so I wouldn’t count on there being too much 45 year old (15 years plus 30 years in the solera vat, at time of writing) whisky in your dram.
What is there, however, is enjoyable.
An interesting nose, we predictably have lots of sweet, nutty sherry. This is by no means a sherry bomb, it’s not that kind of whisky, but it’s dominant aroma and flavour is sherry. There are also the typical Glenfiddich notes of light honey, apples and pears however these fresh fruit aromas are very much in the background compared to their overriding presence in the 12 year old. Some light banana and creamy latte coffee also, which combines with vanilla notes from the virgin oak casks to give a Madeira style nose.
On the palate there is more sherry, creamy fudge and milky coffee. It’s tasty enough and there is some depth there which is to be expected from the combination of cask types used, but there isn’t particularly much “wow factor” to the whole experience. Being generous, the finish is medium in length, and doesn’t really feel all that much like a 15 year old whisky. Really I’d say it behaves more like a 12 year old at best.
Glenfiddich don’t seem to have gone too overboard with the artificial colouring thankfully, but chill filtration and watering down to 40% abv have taken something from this dram and diluted it down to a fairly standard experience. That said it is frequently available in the UK for £30-£35 so it is clearly made to a budget.
It is however a good introduction to obviously sherry matured whisky for beginners, and is still enjoyable for more experienced drinkers. I would recommend sitting with a dram of this with a glass of Oloroso or PX sherry and contrasting the two, searching out the characteristics that the two have in common if you haven’t done so before. It’s an interesting experiment which I carried out myself recently.