Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: Glenfiddich 15 year old 'Distillery Edition' Single Malt Scotch

Glenfiddich 15 year old 'Distillery Edition' is the result of a master blender's decision to combine ex-bourbon casks with ex-Oloroso sherry casks, which have been aged for a minimum of 15 years, and bottled at the sky high ABV of 51%.  No open flames near this bottle please.  Actually, you would expect that one could spontaneously combust given such a high level ABV, but this malt is surprisingly drinkable.  I wouldn't call it "smooth," but rather very vibrant and a wee little astringent at times.  But, more about that later.

This bottling I believe was first released around 2010 into the Duty Free shop network and also sold at the distillery.  Two years later, distribution expanded to conventional brick and mortar liquor stores.  It finally made its way to my humble spirits emporium.

Nose (undiluted)
Strong notes of grapefruit, exotic citrus, pineapple and wood.

Palate (undiluted)
Powerful, bursting with blackberry flavor, deep caramel, spiced orange peel, black pepper.

Finish (undiluted)
Black pepper, malt, salt and oak.

At 51% ABV I really think the addition of water is a must.  How much is open to your personal tastes, but my suggestion is have a single pour, and add 1/4 of a teaspoon of water.

The water really opens this whisky up.  The flavors of sherry become much more textured, velvety, 3-D if you will.  Here is my tasting note with a little water added:

Nose (diluted)
Water brings out much more friendly scents of sherry and vanilla.  Peat and sea air become present.

Palate (diluted)
Velvety and interestingly textured sherry flavors emerge.  The American oak bourbon casks contribute a creamy oak note, which is a nice counterpoint to the sherry.

Finish (diluted)
Drying across the palate with dark red fruits like strawberry and black grapes, malt, salt and wee black pepper.  Some smoke emerges now that was hidden when consumed neat.

General Impressions

Glenfiddich 15 year old 'Distillery Edition' is a perplexing malt.  You can see my enthusiasm with this malt in the above video, but I must say that it took me a while to figure out how to best enjoy this spirit.  Unlike some Scotch whiskies that are mind blowing from the get-go, this particular malt let's you know from the start it is good, but you might not think it is incredible or going to make your top ten favorites list.  Why?  Because it is hard to judge how much water to add such that you unlock the complexity.  Too much agua and you could risk over-dilution and end up with a taste akin to strawberry sorbet.  So, the challenge for you is find the proper amount of water that brings the sherry notes to their zenith.  I know because you are reading this post that you are up to that challenge.

Target Audience
I would not recommend buying this single malt as a gift for the newbie or casual single malt consumer because of the 51% ABV.  Buy this for a friend who may think that Glenfiddich is just the 12 year old release and therefore can't be any good.  Prove them wrong.

Distillery Edition vs. Solera
Some people may also wonder how this single malt stacks up against the 15 year old Solera release by Glenfiddich.  My answer would be that these are two very different single malts.  The Solera is pears that are drizzled with wild honey, vanilla, and white chocolate.  Light as a rainbow and almost as elusive.  Meanwhile the 'Distillery Edition' is very robust and a sherry biased malt.  If you like GlenDronach 12 years or 15 years, you will certainly enjoy this punchy malt.  Fans of Glenfarclas will also enjoy the 'Distillery Edition.'  Are you a Macallan 12 fan who places all your praise on the smoothness of that sherried tour-de-force single malt?  If so, you may not be as excited about the 'Distillery Edition.'  You might find the DE too coarse.

If you like Glenkinchie 12, Linkwood, Cragganmore, Auchentoshan and other lighter bodied, honeyed and delicate tasting whiskies, then the Solera will be your preference over the Distillery Edition.

Until next time, I remain your faithful friend in whisky.


Jason Debly 


  1. Jason,

    Another entertaining and informative review. I like that you did both video and written versions (although you did seem a bit more positive about the malt in the former than the latter). I've never noticed this malt at a store in my area (DC), but I'll keep an eye open going forward. Hope everything is well with you and your family.

    - Josh

    1. Hi Josh! You are correct that my written comments may be less positive. What I failed to convey in writing is that this whisky is good, no obvious flaws, but not incredible. It is not a Highland Park 15 or 18 or a Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban. I like it, but am not over the moon about it. I may edit my comments in light of your observations.


    2. Josh, I think I will correct myself further and add that the Distillery Edition can be incredible if a person can judge the proper amount of water to add to the dram.

      Consumed neat, you taste the quality but will rightly not recognize it as being great or incredible. However, add the correct amount of water that brings out the texture and complexity of flavors and whamm! She is a magical. But it is hard to decide how much to add. This is not like some whiskies that knock your socks off the moment you take a sip. Water is needed!

    3. Thanks for the additional info, Jason. Sounds like the right amount of water is important to this malt. I'll keep that in mind if I ever come across a bottle.

      Speaking of water, I usually add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon to my normal Glencairn pour (1 to 1 1/2 oz). But I recently tasted a malt (Glen Garioch Founders Reserve) that I did not enjoy neat or with my usual amount of water. Not wanting to concede defeat on a new bottle, I tried adding even more water (until I reached around 1 1/2 teaspoons total). Surprisingly, the malt completely opened up and was much more enjoyable (to my tastes). Granted, the Founders Reserve is bottled at 48% abv, so the need for a little extra water is probably obvious. But the amount I needed to add was surprising because it was much more than I'd ever added to a malt before (including a few at cask strength). I guess the lesson I learned was to never stop experimenting, especially when I am underwhelmed by a new bottle.

      - Josh

  2. Jason thank you so much for another great review, I really enjoy your writing it is so informative and helpful.
    Have a great summer and please continue to review.

    1. Thanks Laurent! Happy travels and be sure to continue to blog about it!

  3. Thanks Jason for yet anither frank and interestingrp review. Tried this in Taiwan back in February. It's a steal there. Liked the complexity and strength. Spotted on about adding water and the sherry part.

    1. A little water makes all the difference. Thanks for commenting!