Former DI editor Patience Gould on Glenfiddich

There’s something quite transfixing – almost hypnotic – when it comes to looking at the latest brand figures for spirits around the world. You cannot stop. More particularly so as there seems to be so much cause for celebration in the 2011 round-up. There’s Johnnie Walker scotch whisky on an incredible 18 million cases; the Irish whiskey Jameson’s posting a 20%-plus increase and now nudging the 4 million case-mark, well I could go on, and on. But one result has really warmed the cockles of my heart – and that’s William Grant’s single malt scotch whisky Glenfiddich.

The brand closed the year on 1.3 million cases and as such is now a fully fledged member of The Millionaires’ Club – and the first single malt to make the grade. Huge congratulations must go to William Grant, for it’s a feat which is thoroughly deserved and one that is down to a dedicated and single-minded approach – pun totally intended – which has guided Glenfiddich through some ‘singular’ dramas.

For years Glenfiddich has been the international standard bearer for single malt and, in the days long before the industry fully recognised the true potential of marketing a distillery’s single expression, it must have been quite a lonely furrow to plough. But the brand’s popularity grew to such an extent that the age statement had to come off the bottle – as demand was exceeding supply, remember an age statement refers to the youngest whisky in the ‘blend’.  

So Glenfiddich’s age statement – 8 Years Old – had to be removed from the bottle. At the time there was much rumour-mongering that it went down to a youthful 4 Years – more likely it was 6 Years, but the conjecture doesn’t matter as neither of these age statements would have sufficed at the time.

Indeed, by the late 1980s more and more single malts were coming on to the market and the age of a single malt was becoming increasingly, but erroneously, a hallmark of quality, so although still by far the leading single malt in the world Glenfiddich’s ‘image’ was under siege. In short its very popularity was proving to be its undoing. 

It puts me in mind of a happening the other day. I was waiting at a bar to put my order in and got chatting to a fellow who announced that he was absolutely passionate about gin.  

My ears pricked up and I asked “So which is your favourite gin?” His reply was instantaneous: “Gordon’s.” Ho hum... but then it was the same feeling you would have if you were beginning to get on to the single malt bandwagon back in the mid-to-late-1980s – Glenfiddich was not the ‘admitted’ choice of the so-called connoisseur.

However, in the 1990s this aspect changed significantly and over the ensuing decade-plus Glenfiddich’s credibility and quality image was underlined, together with a reworked ‘standard’ entry of 12 Years Old. The core range now comprises 12, 15,18, 21 and 30 Year Olds, but alongside these is the range of rare and reserve whiskies, which includes the Vintage Reserve Glenfiddich’s, ’74, ’75, ’77 and ’78. These are chosen each year by a selected band of nosers and tasters – an exercise which is enjoyed by all and one which further underlines the depth of Glenfiddich’s offering.  

As a result today no one in their right mind would be embarrassed to ’fess up that Glenfiddich topped their single malt league.  The single malt is available in 180 countries around the world, and it’s most fitting that it was the first to cross the 1 million case mark not by cheapening its product offering, but by embellishing it. And it’s most telling too that to buy Glenfiddich 8 Year Olds from the ’70s and ’80s you will need to lash out hundreds of pounds. Proof indeed of Glenfiddich’s quality standing today.