Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Glenfiddich Distillery Experience

Last week I was invited to the launch of the Glenfiddich Distillery Experience, a new tasting tool for their global ambassadors that will allow them to take guests on a very personal guided tasting tour of the distillery in Dufftown, Scotland. Created by acclaimed design agency Purple Creative, it is an innovative virtual journey, filmed from the point of view of a visitor, allowing guests to experience the magic of the distillery from anywhere in the world.  

The event was held at The Moving Picture Company in London's Soho, and I used up my last half day of annual leave so I had time to get home and take the train down to St Pancras station and take a slow walk down to the venue. Yes, I walked from St Pancras! Google maps said it should take me around 30 minutes, and they were pretty accurate. I took the Tube back afterwards and it took roughly the same time 'door to door'

Global Ambassador Ian Millar introduced the invited few (I think I was the token blogger) to The Glenfiddich Distillery Experience, a virtual distillery tour, that takes you through the whisky making process from the mash house, to the marrying before bottling and encompasses many of the other warehouses and processes at the distillery through a clever interactive map of the distillery.
The main screen and interactive map of the 'virtual distillery tour'
The Glenfiddich team approached design agency Purple Creative to bring this idea to life in what is claimed to be the world’s first virtual whisky distillery tour. The Glenfiddich Distillery Experience is a virtual journey, filmed from the point of view of a visitor to the distillery. Ambassadors can talk their guests through the production while clicking on the different areas of the distillery, taking people into the mash house, still house, cooperage and warehouses, revealing videos of filmed footage which very cleverly blends from an animation into real footage, following the staff at the distillery as they go about their work.
Seamless transition from animation to video - very clever!
Each whisky tasting can be tailored to suit, and our presentation had a flight of five Glenfiddich distilled spirits which were tasted as we reached certain points in our virtual tour. 

With the introductions over Ian launched into our tour and we started at the Mash House. Milled malted barley (grist) is shipped into the distillery for the start of the process, the mashing. As we are taken into the interactive map, the animated sequence seamlessly evolves into the video as we follow one of the staff into the building and through to the 'Mash Tuns' and onto the fermentation 'Wash Backs' where the first identifiable pear flavour, the signature note of the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old is created leads us nicely into our first dram of the evening:
The flight of Glenfiddich distilled spirits
Whisky Discovery #10

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old (40% abv)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Circa £20 –£30

It was one of the early whiskies in my journey and I'd forgotten how fresh and fruity this whisky is. With delicious floral notes, crisp pears, malt and honey on the nose it's light and easy to drink, being very smooth with sweet floral flavours and gentle spice on the palate. This is one of the world's best selling single malts, the famous green triangular bottle has become a fixture in just about every bar on the globe. This is the whisky that probably pioneered the entire single malt category that we know today. 
A still from the Still House!
The next stage of the story is the distillation of the wash and the interactive map leads us into the Still House. Following the same pattern of animation evolving into video, Ian introduced us to another staff member as he walks us through the stills, explaining the process in as much, or little detail, as required. We're shown the 'Low Wines' still and 'Spirit' still, how the process works, and it is at this point we are given the chance to nose/taste the 'new make spirit' as if it had just been taken from the Spirit Safe.

Whisky Discovery #343

Glenfiddich New Make Spirit (circa 70% abv)
Speyside Distilled Spirit
Money can't buy Dram #1

If you want to know about whisky I believe it is essential that new make must be experienced. It's not for the faint hearted though as normally new make is around 70% abv, and Ian suggested that we simply dipped our finger into it and then touch our tongue, I wanted a little more and so nosed and tasted it properly (and drained my dram) - all in the name of my voyage of discovery. Nosing this, very carefully you can pick out the dusty barley husks from a harvest crop and a pear juice concentrate, thick and sweet. The high alcohol content makes it difficult  to taste without burning the taste buds clean off the tongue, so again carefully sipping there's a delicious sweetness with a citrus edge underlying.

From the Still House we were led to the Cooperage and then onto Warehouse 6 where we learnt about the training required to become a cooper, the casks used at Glenfiddich, and the marrying process while being introduced to the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old
There is a great video of the cask being put together when you visit the Cooperage

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old (40% abv)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Circa £40 –£45

The 18 Year Old is a fabulous dram, and one that has been on my shelf since early on in my journey. With rich flavours of baked apples and cinnamon, the 18 year old is married in oak tuns for at least three months in small individually numbered batches of less than 150 casks, having previously matured for 18 years.

After leaving warehouse 6 we were taken into Warehouse 8, where the solera vat is housed, which led us perfectly onto our next dram, the Glendfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Vat
The unique Solera Vat

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Vat (40% abv)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Circa £35 –£40

I love the Solera Vat! Unique to scotch whisky, the Glenfiddich solera vat marries together whiskies matured in three types of casks. The vat is kept at least half full all times and creates a wonderfully rich complex single malt with delicious notes of heather honey and sweet dates. If you're not sure what a solera vat is, I go to some lengths to explain it in the blog post for the 15 Year Old

Leaving the solera we made our way to the archive, where the story of Glenfiddich was retold and we were introduced to our final dram, simply named retro on our tasting slate, this was specially created for this tasting session and based upon the Glenfiddich Straight Malt 8 Year Old, the malt that made history. Created in 1963 by Sandy Gordon, great grandson of the distillery's founder, it was the first whisky to be sold as a single malt in it's own right, creating the entire category we know today.

Whisky Discovery #344

Glenfiddich 'Retro' (circa 40% abv)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Money can't buy Dram #2

My ears pricked up on hearing about this creation based on the 1963 Straight Malt. Being a child of '63 I would be very interested in having a bottle of this, but unfortunately it had been created specially for this event and never to be made again according to Ian, but what was that the say? Never say never....

The nose was rich with sherry notes, dates, figs and rich toffee. It had a smooth and sweet entry on the palate before a quick burst of spice, plenty of cloves in this. The finish had notes of wood and leather. My final question of the evening was 'is there any more?' So while everyone was enjoying cocktails, I was 'mine sweeping' the spare drams of retro. Well I won't get a second chance will I?

Ian Millar went on to say "The Glenfiddich Distillery Experience is without doubt the most valuable tool our Ambassadors have ever had. It engages audiences, and provides an insight into our production processes that no verbal explanation could ever hope to achieve"

It certainly is a very clever tool, it won't ever beat going to the distillery to experience all of the sights, sounds and smells, but if you're the other side of the world, and get the chance to partake in a tasting with a Glenfiddich Ambassador, it's pretty darn close!

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