Glenfiddich 12 year old is a whisky that everyone recognises - you’ll see it in supermarkets and liquor stores throughout the world, and your dad probably has a bottle in his booze cabinet right now regardless of whether he drinks whisky or not – it’s just always good to be prepared right? It’s a bottle that many experienced enthusiasts tend to write off all too easily - ‘too basic’ and ‘not flavourful enough’. But, this is not a whisky designed for the enthusiast – it’s perhaps the most iconic single malt brand for the casual drinking market – and it’s influence and significance should not be underplayed.
Glenfiddich has been the top selling single malt for many years. Though not the number one selling whisky overall – that, I believe is still Officer’s Choice – an Indian whisky that, despite only being launched in 1988 now sells somewhere in the region of 283m litres per year. That’s over 100 Olympic sized swimming pools. Holy moly. But, when a 750cl bottle costs less than £4 in India, its popularity is little wonder. Blends are still the powerhouse of Scottish whisky, greatly outselling single malts, but nevertheless, a lot of Glenfiddich is sold annually – over 1.21 million cases each year. The reasons for its success are varied, but come down to a combination of price, product accessibility, brand recognition and an easy-going flavour profile.
The 12 year old is certainly a bottling that I remember trying in my youth (probably via the paternal drinks cabinet) – long before the appeal of whisky had truly grabbed me. But, despite my palate developing and my tastes broadening over the years it’s still an expression that I have time for – not as a daily drinker or whisky that I reach for, but rather as a baseline – a marker to judge the relative qualities and nuances of other whiskies by. To my mind it represents the entry-point of sound, well-made single malt. Let’s take a look at why…
Nose: Light and fresh in style. Very orchard – apple crumble, Calvados and pear drops. Grasses and hays run throughout and are supported by some honey sweetness. There’s a touch of the metallic in the background – copper – this expresses even further after a short time in the glass. Quite simplistic, but not certainly not unappealing.
Taste: Juicy fruit and only a touch thin (I’ve tasted whiskies with much less weight than this at 40% ABV). A very similar profile to the nose for the most part – orchard fruits – a touch of lemon peel added – alongside honey sweetness. Golden cereals and barley sugars make for a malty, but sweet palate overall.
Finish: Short, quite drying and becoming progressively sour.
Let’s be quite clear - Glenfiddich 12 year old is not a bad whisky. It’s just an extremely generic and repetitive one. There are no actual faults here – everything is precisely as the blender has intended it to be (and as the no.1 single malt seller that should not surprise you). It’s gentle, inoffensive and setup to appeal to as broad a selection of palates as possible. Interestingly, this particular example (a 2016 bottling), feels somewhat better than when I last tried this whisky – the fruitiness is just that little more precise. For me, this is my reference point whisky – the standard by which I judge other single malts by.