When Glenfiddich Dared To Experiment With Its 21-Year-Old Whisky

The legacy whisky brand’s malt master, Brian Kinsman says that the Gran Reserva, finished in rum barrels, catches the spirit’s sweetness but is all whisky.

Published On Feb 13, 2023 | Updated On Mar 07, 2024

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Not too long ago, Glenfiddich, one of the world’s leading and legacy whisky brands, launched a 21-year-old Gran Reserva in India. Needless to say, it piqued ample curiosity among whisky drinkers. After all, a 21-year-old is a 21-year-old.

This particular blend has been matured in a combination of American and Spanish oak barrels with over 90 per cent American oak, says its Malt Master, Brian Kinsman. “We deliberately use a lot more of American oak, because I wanted to try to accentuate the sweetness in this whisky,” he adds, explaining how the American oak gives a lot of vanilla-toffee sweetness and really brings out the fruitiness whereas the Spanish oak lends a little bit of the chocolate mouthfeel, texture and some additional complexity.

And this is where the story gets interesting. Once the whisky turns 21, it’s poured into casks that were once used to age Caribbean rum. It is then left alone for four months. The end result is this delightfully vibrant whisky that is hard to resist. Incidentally, the last step was an experiment and not something the brand had planned. “I have to admit that it’s quite unique among our range of whiskies,” Kinsman says.

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But why rum, we ask, and pat comes the reply, “But why not?” Elaborating further, Kinsman says, “It all comes down to trial and error. This company is nearly 26 years old and one is constantly trying new stuff. Way back in the early 2000s, we got some rum casks and we thought, why not finish a batch in these casks? And we really liked the results.” He quickly adds, “I am not expecting you to taste rum in this whisky though. It’s not some infused blend. I would say that the 21-year-old is like antique furniture and the rum is like a really nice polish, to add a bit more life to the furniture.” 

Despite being part of an old-world brand, Kinsman notes how impressed he has been lately with some of the newer generations whiskies. “Whisk(e)y is going to places where it’s never been before. Newer world whiskies don’t have stringent rules of tradition so they make their own legacies,” Kinsman observes.

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He goes on to say how a lot of the newer brands are targeting the younger generations too. “The UK is a traditional whisky market and even in the rest of Europe, whisky is considered to be an older person’s drink. But now, some of the brands today are definitely aiming at the younger age groups, say those in their 20s and going into the 30s,” he adds. One of the brands that Kinsman mentions which could be used as an example is Monkey Shoulder. “Younger brands are trying to get rid of the baggage of history. Make it less intimidating and just celebrate good liquid,” he says. 

Cocktails, he says, are a good way to drink whisky. “I, for instance, love a good Highball. Maybe not when I am in Scotland because it’s almost always cold but if I was somewhere warm, I’d go for one. And my all-time favourite is an Old Fashioned,” he says.


Photo: Glenfiddich

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