Best of the Best 2011: Spirits: Glenfiddich 40 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

    Turning 40 can be a momentous occasion, especially at Glenfiddich, one of the few remaining family-owned distilleries in Scotland. This Speyside institution, founded by Wil­liam Grant in 1887, has amassed a sizable stock of whiskies awaiting their release. But 40 years is a pivotal age for these spirits: Those that reach this point without peaking or becoming "cooked" (woody) display enormous complexity. Yet this refinement comes at a price. Over the course of four decades, more than half the contents of the oak barrels can simply evaporate, making the remaining spirit that much more precious to Glenfiddich malt master Brian Kinsman.

    The current release of Glenfiddich 40 Year Old Single Malt Whisky (www.glenfiddich.com, $2,800) is, in fact, the sixth, the first having appeared in 2000. This newest bottling, like previous editions, is created through the process of remnant vatting and includes a small amount of the previous Glenfiddich 40 Year Old; in this way, each subsequent bottling can effectively trace its origins back to the first launch, which included single malts from July 3, 1925. A combination of whiskies aged primarily in European oak barrels (including Oloroso sherry casks), this 40 Year Old has the luminous golden color of seasoned yet well-oiled wood and varnishes the taste buds with glossy flavors of chocolate, cocoa, cedar, and citrus. However, as glorious as this single malt is to sip, one will not want to indulge in its pleasures to excess. Not only is this Glenfiddich rare (only 600 bottles exist), but it has been released at a cask strength of 91.6 proof.

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