Whisky makers don't often give shout-outs across national borders, but Glenfiddich, the brand that fairly made the market for single-malt Scotch whisky in America, raises a glass to its kinship with American Bourbon in the second of its Age of Discovery releases.
Age of Discovery Bourbon Cask Reserve is a 19-year-old single malt aged entirely in ex-Bourbon barrels, a first for Glenfiddich. It follows an earlier Age of Discovery release that was finished in former Madeira casks. The company, which began exporting single malts to the United States in the 1960s, calls the latest issue "a toast to the American Bourbon industry."
In an instance of reverse emigration, the vast majority of casks used in Scotland today are born in the America as Bourbon barrels. The United States regulations for straight whiskey require that new charred oak barrels be used with each distillation. Stateside distillers can reuse them for blended spirits, but most are sold for aging other spirits, mostly Scotch.
Interestingly, the Age of Discovery marks the first time a Glenfiddich has been fully aged in Bourbon barrels. Single malts may be married from cask to cask, using wood used in other maturation, for instance former Sherry or Port casks. Another development of the last few decades has distillers "finishing" their spirits, which is a term for applying a short extra maturation in a different type of cask.
The imagery on the package, which maps the Mississippi River and includes such nineteenth century icons as paddle wheels and steam trains, is meant to recall the journey that Bourbon originally made from its birthplace in Kentucky downriver to New Orleans. It is said that this is one of the early instances when the beneficial effects of aging was noticed. By the time the raw, new-made whiskey made its way South, it improved in flavor. (Bourbon Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey by Charles K. Cowdery is a good read on the history of the era.)
The name Age of Discovery is perhaps quite apt as many anecdotes of people first noticing the amelioration of wood maturation come from the era when long voyages of exploration and colonization kept spirits in casks for months or years as they tossed on the water.
Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman has said, "This release celebrates the adventurous spirit we share with intrepid explorers." Whatever the prompting for this thawing of whisk(e)y relations, we toast it for creating another fine union between cigars and spirits.
(Cigar pairings on next page)
Glenfiddich Age of Discovery Bourbon Cask Reserve (80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume; 19 years; $149.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Light brassy color, slight greenish hue. Slow, fat legs.
NOSE: Elegant aroma of honey and flowers. Hints of sharp cheese.
PALATE: Hard candy with honey, fruit and butterscotch start the experience. Subtler and more nuanced notes follow, with herbs, spice and toffee, as well as a modicum of the cheddar from the nose.
FINISH: A sense of bread dough joins the honey and fruit of the palate on the finish. Bits of caramel chime in at the very end, recalling its Bourbon wood roots.
CIGAR PAIRING: Fonseca Cubano Exclusivo Belicoso (6 inches by 52 ring gauge, $8.50, 87 Points, Cigar Insider, November 19, 2013) Perfumey and woody in character, this box-pressed torpedo smokes evenly, delivering some toasty notes with a dry woody finish. The slight caramel on this cigar picks up on like qualities in the whisky and runs with them, emphasizing the American origins of the barrels. Bread dough notes also get larger, and the whisky makes the Fonseca rounder, heartier and chewier.
San Lotano Oval Connecticut By A.J. Fernandez (6 1/2 inches by 60 ring gauge, $9.95, 87 Points, Cigar Insider, November 5, 2013). Though quite thick, this oddly-pressed cigar sits comfortably in the mouth and draws easily, delivering nutty notes and a bit of spice with intermittent grassiness. The whisky is the star in this pairing, leaving the San Lotano much bolder in its wake. The doughy character of the Glenfiddich creates a toffee note in the cigar and distinct sweetness. For its part, the smoke gives the whisky added vibrance.