(This is the second post by spirits writer, Scott Eason, who loves him some whisky.)
Let me get this out of the way first. I’m not much of a traditionalist. If I find a newer, better way to do something, I’ll do it. That’s what progress is all about, right? Raise your hand if you think I’m writing this on an IBM Selectric type writer. Why hold onto out-dated, obsolete practices just because someone a few of the generations before you thought it was a good idea? Case in point: the Porsche 911. Just because Ferdinand Porsche stuck the engine in the boot and created an iconic sports car doesn’t mean Porsche has to keep sticking the engine in the wrong end of the car, does it? Maybe it does.
This brings me around to Scotch. How, you’re wondering, do I connect the flat-6 German supercar with fine, barrel-aged spirits from Scotland? They have more in common than you might think. Like everyone else in this modern, globally out-sourced economy, manufacturers of every conceivable product are looking for ways to improve efficiency and quality and thusly improve the bottom line. After all, it’s the sacred bottom line that keeps the shareholder happy. And who’s more important to any business than the shareholder?
Except maybe (hold on to your MBAs) the customer.
A few weeks ago, I was privileged enough to be invited to a slightly flawed Scotch tasting sponsored by Glenfiddich (side note: the pronunciation is glen-fid-ick – the ‘ch’ is hard like Loch Ness). The original plan for the dinner and tasting was to preview the upcoming release of Glenfiddich’s Snow Phoenix, a one-time only blend of whiskies which survived the great roof collapse of 2010. (Following a rather heavy week of snowfall, four of the warehouses where Glenfiddich stores its barrels of aging spirits suffered a slight structural issue. The four feet of accumulated snow brought down the house and destroyed many fine casks. The surviving casks were then blended into a rare bottle called the Snow Phoenix which should be available at high-end retailers sometime this month.)
Unfortunately, I can’t offer a review of this unique blend because the both shipments from the distillery were broken in transit by one of those world famous overnight shipping companies. But as we sat around lamenting this horrible tragedy, I had a chance to learn a bit about the 125 year old family-owned company, like they still employ a full-time coppersmith to care for copper pot stills. And he’s been there over 52 years. Rather impressive in the age of contractors and consultants. But it’s that sort of tradition Glenfiddich holds onto despite what the accountants are surely saying. Should I mention the guy who takes care of the barrels has been there 49 years?
Glenfiddich uses only water from a single spring which they of course own. They still use peat to smoke-dry their barley instead of more modern methods. They still bottle everything on site instead of shipping loaded tanker trucks to bottling factories. And what does all this inefficient labor and production method get them? It gets them a proper hand-crafted whisky that borders on artisanal. Okay, it’s produced in quantities that make it available the world over, but Glenfiddich has made a serious effort not to embrace the corner-cutting, streamlined, computer-controlled processes that make everything look and taste the same in the misguided pursuit of perfection.
Because maybe perfection isn’t the answer, maybe what makes something great or memorable or simply unique are its hand-crafted flaws or its stubborn refusal to accept the same easy path everyone else has chosen. Maybe it’s those lingering imperfections that give it the personality to stand apart from all the over-engineered, focus group-tested, consumer researched, mass-produced… everything. So what if your iconic sports car is prone to dangerous amounts of oversteer. So what if the efficiency experts don’t understand the importance of having your own coppersmith on the payroll. You do.
McClelland’s Single Malt: Islay is one of four McClelland whiskies focused on one of the major Scotch regions. The Islay single malt has a rich but not overwhelming peat smoke flavor with a salty, vanilla finish. If you want a whisky that really represents the coastal Scotland, this is a good choice. It’s smooth and enjoyable despite it mostly phenolic flavor. $20 Retail. 4 out of 5 stars.
Glenfiddich 21 Year Gran Reserva has a secret. It’s aged in old rum barrels instead of the traditional used bourbon or sherry casks. And it makes a world of difference. This very pricey whisky has a deep nutty, caramel, crème brulee flavor with hints of butter and banana giving it a beautiful Caribbean warmth. $150 Retail. 5 out of 5 stars.