Standing out in the Scotch whisky market can be incredibly tough, with its growing cast of new brands, limited editions and demanding consumers who constantly seek out the latest, the interesting, the unique. Which is why it’s somewhat refreshing when one of the mavericks of the industry makes waves with a new product. True innovation, it seems to say, can be found within.
Glenfiddich is one of the world’s most awarded single-malt scotches and for good reason. Since the late 1800s, the Speyside brand has embraced an ethos of experimentation and exploration. Today, 130 years after William Grant and his family built the distillery, it continues to push the envelope, producing what might just be the next great thing in the spirits world.
“We have around 100 experiments going on at any given time,” says Brian Kinsman, the malt master for William Grant & Sons. “Some will work, and some will not, but that’s the great thing about being family-owned and not beholden to shareholders. I am able to get stuck and try new things.”
He adds, “Some of the most unique whisky I’ve tried at Glenfiddich cannot be bottled as it is—it’s not right for the distillery character or brand or maybe it’s not the right time to have it released. That’s what my nine years of apprenticeship under Sir David Stewart were all about—becoming a custodian and baton holder for the Glenfiddich distillery style.”
When asked about standout casks, Kinsman says, “On any given day, I’m nosing 200 to 300 whisky samples, and probably one per day really stands out as something interesting and out of the ordinary, something to keep an eye on.”
Kinsman says he has never had one he would always go back to, although a French semillon white wine cask “had me for a while—the cask experiment intrigued me.”
Winter Storm has been a couple of years in the making following an introduction to the winery from Glenfiddich brand ambassador Beth Havers, who would become Kinsman’s collaborators in this experiment.
The casks previously held Peller Estates ice wine, a unique wine largely produced from naturally frozen grapes in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region of Canada. The wine tends to be thick, sweet, juicy and indulgent. After four months in these casks, the whisky takes on some of that sweetness and luscious tannic qualities to create something special.
The flavor is one of the old Speyside classics. The tannic notes enhance the 21-year-old whisky, with hints of soft smoke you’d expect from ancient Speyside pours, solid citrus and pear notes and hints of the ice wine’s sweet, silky profile, without being overbearing. The flavors of the wine are present but delicate, with a creamy mouthfeel, giving the whisky a new, old feeling.