The world of whisky, particularly Scotch, hangs its hat on age and tradition. The most revered single malts in the world have been mellowing in barrels for decades on the Scottish Isles and in the Highlands, with distillers borrowing from methods passed down through the generations.
But it seems the brewers behind Glenfiddich Scotch were feeling a bit itchy to buck tradition this year. Dear World, meet the Glenfiddich India Pale Ale Cask. It’s the world’s first single malt Scotch whisky finished in IPA craft beer casks.
While we’ve seen spirits finished in a number of unusual casks, from bourbon in Sherry barrels to tequila aged in Port barrels, this release goes farther than most have before it. The IPA used in conditioning the barrels for aging was specifically created for the project, and the initial idea came about nearly by accident.
“Seb Jones, head brewer of a local craft brewery in Speyside [in Scotland], was looking for a distillery to collaborate with on a completely separate beer project,” explains Glenfiddich National Brand Ambassador, Mitch Bechard. “He left a message for Brian Kinsman (Malt Master for Glenfiddich) and the two quickly hit it off. The idea of the Glenfiddich India Pale Ale Cask was born.”
Seb Jones began brewing a custom beer for the project, and tried out many different styles before he and Kinsman decided on IPA.
“The thought of marrying the inherent characteristics in both IPA-style beers and our single malt was an interesting idea to us, from an innovation standpoint. It’s never been done before in the single malt category, and a lot of the flavors in IPAs overlap with the floral, fruity notes that are classic Glenfiddich flavors, so we knew we had something cool in the works," adds Bechard.
Making it was an elaborate, meticulous process. Jones created three separate brews of different strengths and levels of hops, and Kinsman seasoned nine American oak casks at a time with these IPA beers. He took careful notes on the amount of time the IPA craft beer spent penetrating into the oak casks, then filled the casks with his whisky, noting the onset of specific flavor profiles. The whisky rests for a few months before bottling.
The resulting Scotch ($70) evokes pear, ripe green apple and vanilla oakiness with fresh herbs and aromatic hops. "It’s a neat experience to taste both flavor influences together in one dram and makes for a very premium Boilermaker," adds Bechard.
As for having a taste of this brand new bottling, you’ll have to hunt and hunt fast. It’s a limited release in 2016, but it will become more widely available next year. You should also be on the lookout for additional releases from the recognized whisky house, which is rolling out a larger “Experimental” series in the coming months.
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