Glenfiddich’s Rare Snow Phoenix Arrives in Washington

Earlier this week, the people at Glenfiddich invited us up to the Columbia Tower Club for a big tasting, and even if we weren’t Scotch drinkers, we would have happily gone because the view is always different from up there.

This time, the view involved a large cask which the Glenfiddichers had been rolling through the streets of Seattle. It’s part of their Cask of Dreams contest, where you tell them “One day I will [fill in the blank]” and if you win, you get $15,000 to carry out your dream (Washington residents do, anyway, it varies state to state).

Glenfiddich believes Scotch drinkers are explorers and pioneers, so the idea is that they’re bankrolling your dream expedition. Further, the dream-inscribed cask is a very real cask, and will be used to create a special Cask of Dreams whisky, along the lines of the Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix, which is what I really want to tell you about.

The Snow Phoenix is a happy accident–a 2010 bottling of cask-strength, non-chill-filtered Glenfiddich whiskies (aged from 13 to 30 years)–that came about after four feet of snow piled on top of the roof of the Glenfiddich distillery and it caved in. The emergency bottling saved the spiritus interruptus, and the result is a startling demonstration of the range of whisky’s possible notes.

At 95.2 proof, it’s got a muscular but not rocket-fueled burn, and so the whisky carries nuances easily, with a brash, youthful sweetness forward, vanilla mixed with fruits, that turns slightly smoky, and lingers pleasantly. It’s not something I’d drink frequently, but only because it tastes like something rare, to be savored. Well, that and the $94.95 price point in Washington, while still a bargain, does suggest restraint.

The Scottish Pair included Glenfiddich 12-year, Hendrick's gin, pear juice, agave nectar, and lemon juice.

The tasting also included a range of Glenfiddich from 12 to 30 years of age, and two cocktails that, remarkably, were enjoyable enough that I skipped wondering how the good Scotch alone would have tasted. (I have had some regretful experiences with Scotch cocktails that didn’t improve at all upon a shot.)

The 15-year is the youngest, if I understood Brand Ambassador Mitch Bechard correctly, for which Glenfiddich uses the Solera process (about which, more here) and it makes a marked difference to what you taste.

For this process, whisky that’s matured in ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and new oak casks is married in a big wooden vat, always kept at least half full to give the result a stable taste profile.

The 15-year’s balance feels just right to me, that Glenfiddich apple-and-pear-and-honey weighted with darker tones, some coffee and chocolate. (I would bathe in peat if I could, and spend a good deal of time sampling in the Islay aisle, but just so you know, I have catholic tastes: a Glenmorangie, Talisker, Tamnavulin…I happily tramp all over Scotland by bottle.) There’s nothing wrong with the 18-year, of course, if someone else is buying.

In state liquor stores, it’s easy enough to pick up a Glenfiddich 12-year ($41.95) or $15-year ($58.95), but my local store (1605 12th Avenue) had just one bottle of 18-year ($83.70), requested by a restaurant. They had ten of the Snow Phoenix, which was produced in a limited, one-time run of just 12,000 bottles total. (My thanks to the store staff for actually pulling the bottles for me to look at.) If your tax refund has come, invest while it’s still in stock–you will not be disappointed.

For reference, in the Cask of Dreams competition, I’m rooting for the lunar explorer: