The Spanish Solera system is either one of the best things to be co-opted by the whisky industry, or the biggest marketing gimmick. Basically, selected whisky gets tossed into a single, gigantic tun. They then allow the whisky to marry and mingle in this creaky, stinky old container imparting extra flavours while blending them together. Then, the secret sauce: They never completely drain the tun, meaning it always contains some whisky. The idea is that this creates some core flavour profile in the tun itself, which just gets “topped up” with newer whisky and allowed to develop.
The imagination runs wild thinking of how old the oldest molecules of whisky are in there. Although we’re probably only talking like, homeopathic levels of ancient whisky. And if the homeopaths are right, then I suppose 3 atoms of 50-year-old whisky in a bucket of 3-year-old moonshine should make the most mature and complex whisky ever produced.
Anyway, the expression that really made a big fuss about using the Solera system was none other than Glenfiddich 15. Using a mix of (minimum) 15-year-old whiskies matured in bourbon, sherry and virgin oak and given the Solera treatment, it marks a (spoiler) pretty exceptional entry into the world of slightly more mature whiskies.
You get big waves of vanilla, and the glimmer of those Christmas cake notes that whisky snobs are after. Cherries. Guava. Stewed fruits. Peanut butter. Honey. Banana. And a little pineapple there as well.
Glenfiddich 15 is hot hot hot! It reminds me a lot of the 14-year-old. Sweet, chewy and salty, but the alcohol can really do with being dialled down a little…
…and here’s where it shines. Wowza. Candy apples. Berries. Toffee. Toasted oak. That complex, old oak you get from the Glenfiddich 18, with the youthful apples and pears of the 12. Incredibly moreish, and mouth watering.
In my mind, the best way to enjoy Glenfiddich 15? Ice, baby. A huge block of ice in a tumbler. That thing can melt for days and the whisky still tastes great, making it an easy-ish casual drink if you feel like waving a glass around and slurring your speech.
I’ve met a lot of whisky nerds over the years. I’ve been to tastings that included Glenfiddich, tastings that were about Glenfiddich and tastings that were hosted by Glenfiddich. And almost without fail, the consensus is that in the core vertical lineup of 12, 15, 18 and 21, the 15 is something special.
It nails it on both price and performance – a rich, sherried dram that tastes older than the label might have you believe, perhaps that Solera vat at work. But not so drenched in drippy casks that it requires introspection and mental energy. And it handles water like a champ, meaning you can get creative. Great stuff.