It’s been all over the internet those past few days : Glenfiddich Grand Cru, a new 23-year-old limited release from the masterminds behind the famous Speyside distillery ! Let’s talk about this.
DISCLAIMER: I haven’t tasted this whisky, Glenfiddich may not be my favourite distillery of all times, I still have a huge respect for their work and have very much enjoyed some of their latest releases (especially the Fire & Cane from their experimental series), so this is no “distillery bashing” at all, just some thoughts that I want to share with you, because you could maybe know better.
You’ve probably seen the glittery marketing campaign (no negative criticism here, I do love my glitters… I even tend to wear shiny clothes or party-style eye shadow when I’m just going to the grocery store, so… No harm done here for me ;)) already, the shiny black & gold bottle that sweats luxury codes from very far, and I have nothing against any of that really. There’s a market for everything, I may not be the targeted demographic (I mean, you lost me as soon as I read “luxury malt French cuvée blablaba”) for this kind of bottlings, but that’s one thing, and it’s ok.
The issue that stroke me (beside the 40% ABV and the 200+ pricetag that I also found a bit “hmmm”, but again, maybe just not targeted towards me, so ok, and I haven’t even tasted the spirit, so can I really discuss this? I don’t think I can) was the lack of information and transparency about this release, especially the “French cuvée” casks in which the whisky was finished after spending some time in ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry. And that was also kind of surprising from Glenfiddich, which for instance did mention the name of the domaine in Canada they teamed up with for Winter Storm (ice-wine finished), or even the brewery they got their IPA casks from when releasing Glenfiddich IPA. But here, either the label or the official press release do not say much about those “French cuvée” casks…
Can it be Champagne we’re talking about ?
So yes, the branding is guiding us towards this obvious conclusion (and it’s probably meant to) : we’re talking about a whisky designed for “celebratory moments”, the glitters, the gold, the “Grand cru” mention… Everything points towards Champagne and its luxurious bubbles, it’s screaming Champagne ! And from a consuming point of view, I find it very wise actually, creating a whisky that could replace Champagne as the celebratory drink of choice. Why should whisky be restricted to just a fine tipple for the wealthy crowds, the old lonely grumpy man or the young adults getting shitfaced ? Celebratory moments can well be the quintessence of convivialité and togertherness. Bringing whisky into this consuming ritual sounds just very natural to me.
Anyway, you’re gonna be disappointed, because one sure thing is that NO, this new expression wasn’t matured in Champagne casks for the good reason that Champagne only becomes this famous sparkling wine only after a second fermentation in glass bottles, that creates dioxide, hence the famous bubbles.
But even though it cannot be aged in actual Champagne casks, is it still aged in casks that held wine meant to become Champagne ? Of that we cannot be sure either, maybe yes, maybe no.
As you probably know, “Champagne” is a protected designation (we call this “AOC” in French, for “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée”), you cannot use the Champagne brand as you please, and even if you’re using the same method to create your sparkling wine cuvée, you can’t call it Champagne if it’s not made in a specific location, in a specific way.
The thing is, there isn’t even the mention of “Champagne” in any communication from Glenfiddich, which should have been their selling point n°1 if this whisky was actually aged in wine casks meant to become Champagne, too tempting ! Although, I have found the mention of “sparkling wine” in different articles talking about this new bottling, a category which Champagne is a part of, but French sparkling wines can also include Crémant and many others (check this interesting article for more information). Champagne may be the obvious deduction, there’s still a lot of other options Glenfiddich could have explored.
I don’t know much about Champagne to be honest, well, I actually know nothing (John Snow) but what I do know is that you cannot use the “brand” Champagne very easily…
The most likely scenario behind this lack of information can simply be the restriction of using the term “Champagne”, as dicted by the Champagne official body, like it is for instance the case for many Armagnac-matured whiskies, that instead tend to refer to this Southwestern spirit by “Gascon Wine Brandy” or other evocative substitutes. Talking about “sparkling wine” and “French cuvée” could then be Glenfiddich’s legal pirouette to lead to Champagne.
Has the Scotch Whisky Association anything to do with that ? Maybe, because there’s recently been a similar story…
The Bunnahabhain case : the Islay distillery released a limited Feis Ile 2019 edition clearly stating “Champagne cask matured” and apparently, it didn’t go very well for them and that mention got them into trouble… Glenfiddich maybe learnt from its pairs’ experience and wanted to prevent anything like this happening ?
But this all Champagne Gate made me think about a whisky I did try a long time ago, Arran Grand Cru Champagne Cask – The specific origin (Henri Giraud in Aÿ) the casks came from is clearly mentioned here, so is mentioning the domaine the key to be granted the right to mention Champagne ? Maybe ! Transparency FTW 😉
Anyway, just my thoughts here, and I would be happy to hear yours 😀