The story of Glenfiddich Scotch whisky starts in 1886. William Grant, together with his 9 children started to build a distillery by hand. The building work took about one year to finish and in 1887 the distillery was ready. On Christmas day on that year the first drops of Glenfiddich were produced.
The name Glenfiddich is Gaelic for “Valley of the Deer”. The distillery is unique because it’s one of the few single malt distilleries which is still family owned and it is one of the largest producers of Scotch whisky in the world.
The Glenfiddich distillery is set in the Speyside region of Scotland, which is the very heart of whisky production. Speyside boasts the largest proportion of whisky distilleries. It is a beautiful part of Scotland and any visitor to Speyside cannot help but be impressed with the location of Glenfiddich.
Over the years not very much has changed. The same warehouses built by William Grant & Sons are still in use today. The family is able to draw on the years of experience that has been passed down from one generation to another.
History of Glenfiddich Distillery
One of the most difficult periods of whisky production was during the 1920s. Prohibition was in force in the United States and because of this, many whisky distilleries went out of business. In fact, at the end of prohibition, only 6 remained. One of these was Glenfiddich. Using astute foresight Gordon Grant (grandson of William Grant) actually increased production of whisky during that time. This meant that when prohibition ended, the distillery was able to meet the demand for whisky in the United States.
Then in 1957, William Grant’s son-in-law arranged that coppersmiths are brought in to work full-time at the distillery. This has helped to keep production at the distillery and also to produce some fine whiskies. Glenfiddich is one of the few distilleries which still have full-time coppersmiths on site.
In 1961 Glenfiddich started using triangular shaped bottles. This was the inspiration of 20th century designer Hans Schleger. The concept is based on the 3 properties that are needed for good single malt – barley, air and water.
The triangular shaped bottles of Glenfiddich are used for both Grant’s blended whiskies and Glenfiddich single malt whiskies.
It is an interesting fact that the most popular blended whisky – Johnnie Walker – and the most popular single malt whisky, Glenfiddich use uniquely shaped bottles.
Glenfiddich was also the first single malt whisky to be promoted outside of Scotland. Up until that time, most whisky producers concentrated on promoting blended whisky. It was felt that the unique and specific taste of single malt Scotch whisky wouldn’t go down too well. However, Sandy Grant Gordon, William’s great-grandson saw things differently. His vision paid off. More and more people started to appreciate the delicate tastes and flavours of single malt whisky.
Rare Single Malt Whiskies
Over the years Glenfiddich has produced some finest rare and collectible single malt whiskies. In 1987 to celebrate their 100 years of whisky production they bottled a special centennial single malt.
Find Rare Single Malt Whiskies at the Whisky Exchange
One of the rarest Glenfiddich single malts was produced in 1991. Whisky from the nine casks that was distilled in the 1930s was used and brought together. The nine casks were to represent each of William Grant’s children. They were married together to produce this 50-year old whisky. There are only 500 bottles of this produced and they will be only released 50 per year.
Then in 2001, Glenfiddich released their oldest whisky, a 64 year old single malt. So much spirit had evaporated over the years since 1937 that only 61 bottles were left in the cask.
New Technologies Used by Glenfiddich
In 1998 Glenfiddich use a system called the Solera Vat to produce their 15-year-old expression. This is a process usually employed in the production of wine and brandy. At the distillery, they keep a large vat full of whisky and it is never less than half full. This is constantly topped up with newly produced whisky.
So it means that there are whiskies there which are much older than the 15-year-old age statement. Then every so often, whisky is removed for bottling. Glenfiddich uses 15-year-old whiskies from three different types of casks – bourbon, sherry, and new oak. Glenfiddich have also been know to use cider casks for whisky production.
How Glenfiddich Produces Single Malt Whisky
Of course, the production of single malt whisky at Glenfiddich is similar to how all whisky is produced. First of all barley is soaked for 2 days in which time the barley starts to germinate. The barley is removed and the germination process continues for 4 to 5 days. During this time the starch in the barley turns into sugar. It is then dried in a kiln.
The malted barley is then ground into a coarse type of flour and is mixed with heated water from the nearby spring. This is then poured into ‘mash tuns’. In these, the liquid is constantly mixed and lifted and this ensures that all the starches turn into sugar. The sweet liquid that is left is now called ‘wort’.
The next step in the process is the fermentation. Yeast is now added and it is fermented in vessels called washbacks. What is unique with Glenfiddich is that they don’t use stainless steel washbacks, but wooded ones made from Douglas fir. The liquid is heated to 33c and the bubbling froth produced is kept down. This happens for around 64 hours until the froth subsides.
The next step is the distillation. The liquid is transferred into large copper pots. The ones used at Glenfiddich are exactly the same as the ones used by William Grant, including all the bumps and dents. These are heated up and the alcohol starts to turn into vapour. This rises and flows through the narrow neck at the top of the still. It then cools down and the process happens again, only this time in smaller stills. The resulting liquid is now spirit of around 70% alcohol – a new Glenfiddich is born. This is then reduced to around 63% by adding natural spring water. It is then transferred into oak casks.
Casks Used at the Distillery
Casks that have previously held spirit, usually sherry or American bourbon are used. The oak wood allows the spirit to breathe. It’s the job of the coopers to re-assemble, inspect and care for the casks. They assemble around 25 each day. They are then tested and at the distillery using sherry, not water to test them. This ensures that the casks aren’t compromised.
The next step is the waiting game – maturation. Scotch whisky as to mature for a minimum of three years. However, in order to produce a high-quality whisky, the spirit is left to mature for at least 12 years. The casks are left in dark, damp warehouses.
This is the best environment for maturing whisky. Also during this time the whisky breathes – it absorbs the surrounding air (that is why whisky from distilleries near the sea have a distinct saltiness to them) and also gives off vapour. This is why many distillery warehouses are black on the outside – it’s a chemical reaction of the vapour and the stone. Around 2% of whisky is lost in this way.
Glenfiddich is the only single malt which is ‘married’. Each distillation is different. So in order to produce a high quality whisky, the whisky from the different casks are poured into at Marrying Tun. The whisky is kept in these Tuns for around 9 months. This helps the distillers maintain a consistent flavour, aroma and palate.
Bottling Single Malt Whisky at Glenfiddich
When the whisky has matured for the specific amount of time, it is now ready for bottling. Spring water is added to this to reduce the alcohol to around 40% ABV. Glenfiddich is unique in the fact that the distillation, maturation and bottling all happens on-site. Only water from a single spring is used.
The entry range Glenfiddich single malt is 12 years. They also produce single malt whiskies of 15 and 18 years old, as well as older and rarer whiskies.
The Glenfiddich Family
In 2009 Glenfiddich released their 50 year old whiskies. These are in individually hand blown bottles with a hallmarked silver plaque and finished in hand-stitched leather.
Click here to find out more reasons why Glenfiddich is a unique Scotch whisky. Check out our list of 10 Unique Factors About Glenfiddich Single Malt Whisky