Glenfiddich is situated on the outskirts of Dufftown on Speyside, which forms the heart of Scotland’s whisky industry. The distillery is one of the few remaining in private hands and the Grant family can trace their ownership right back to the foundation of the distillery by William Grant in 1886. Since then, the distillery has remained within family ownership known today as William Grant & Sons, with several other distilleries now owned by the company including Balvenie and Ailsa Bay.
William Grant had an ambition to make the best whisky in this thriving region for whisky production. The boom had been triggered by the introduction of the Excise Act in 1823 that made the commercial production of whisky more viable and thereafter growing public appreciation. In the Speyside region the Act prompted the establishing of several distilleries including Cardhu and Mortlach. In fact, William had gained the valuable experience to distillation by working at Mortlach and in the summer of 1886 set about building his own distillery by hand with the help of his family and a stonemason. He purchased equipment from Cardow distillery (eventually known as Cardhu) and shortly afterwards was ready to distil. The first run was produced on Christmas day 1887. Given the location, he named his distillery the valley of the deer, or in Gaelic, Glenfiddich.
He may have gone onto build Balvenie in 1892, which resides nearby, but Glenfiddich is the original and today is the central point for all things for the family. The distillery offers a welcome assortment of touring options and a well-stocked gift shop with a variety of whiskies from the company being available. The family were the first to recognise the potential demand for distillery visits and opened their centre in 1969. There is also a welcome bottle-your-own option that offers the opportunity to experience a Glenfiddich in its natural state; without vatting or colouring and at cask strength. It’s an essential option whilst on Speyside, especially during the Spirit of Speyside Festival where a cask is specially selected. Often the choice is unusual with previous festivals receiving wine or sherry casks. For 2017, Glenfiddich’s master bender, Brian Kinsman, selected a 1st fill sherry butt that was peated; a true unicorn of whisky.
Around the end of the 1900’s, regular readers of the Abbey distillery histories will note, delivered the Pattison Crisis and Glenfiddich as one of the blenders major suppliers were unfortunately hit heavily by the fallout. They were not alone, but much like Glenfarclas a few miles up the road, used this setback as an opportunity to control their own destiny. For the Grant family that meant developing their own blended whisky released as Stand Fast. Since then the company has gone onto regularly receiving international awards and recognition for its whiskies. Part of its success is not only the whisky but the branding with the iconic three-cornered bottled being introduced in 1957. During this year, William’s great grandson decides that the distillery should employ their own coppersmiths and in 1959, a dedicated cooperage is also established ensuring Glenfiddich can ensure their vital equipment is in perfect working order.
The coppersmiths are kept busy in 1974 as 16 new stills are installed onsite, with the total number today being an impressive 31 overall. This results in an overall annual capacity of 14 million litres which is necessary as Glenfiddich are engaged in a battle with Glenlivet for the world’s bestselling single malt. Whisky history shows that inventory and stock are key components of any success, with levels of demand varying and extensive portfolios to support.
The Glenfiddich range is dived into many subcategories. At its heart you have the core components of the 12, 15, 18 and 21 year olds which are widely available and affordably priced compared to other rivals. A recent addition has been the Experimental bottlings of an IPA matured whisky and Project XX. These show a previously unseen side to the distillery and offer a chance to try something new. A wide variety of exclusives are available if you are flying abroad including select cask finishes consisting of bourbon, rum and a red wine cask. Then there are the luxurious aged releases that can reach 50 years or select vintages from an acclaimed year such as 1974.
A key component of Glenfiddich is its approachability as a whisky. The range will cater to most tastes and provide a voyage of discovery from this Speyside giant. The whiskies themselves are refined, notes of apples, malt and floral characteristics before more fruit on the palate and influences taken from the cask type.