The First Taste of the Glenfiddich 1978 Rare Collection Single Malt

Emily Arden Wells 
October 15, 2015

It is not every day that guests are invited to one of the world’s most prestigious distilleries and asked to play “master taster.” But this last spring, was given the opportunity to do exactly that.

In April, I was invited to Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland, to be part of the first outside selection committee for the Glenfiddich 1978 Rare Collection Single Malt ($3,500 a bottle)—made available today exclusively in the United States—the latest release of a limited-edition series designed to showcase vintage barrels from the Glenfiddich Distillery. The committee included writers, passionate whisky connoisseurs and collectors, representatives from notable auction houses, select brand ambassadors, and the Glenfiddich malt master Brian Kinsman—an intimidating room of whisky experts to say the least.

Our mission was simple: Select one cask that best represents the clarity of flavor, structure, and character of Glenfiddich Scotch whiskies. The malt master had done most of the hard work for us by preselecting five exceptional barrels of Glenfiddich 1978—all of which embodied the core character of the Glenfiddich portfolio and the extraordinary quality required for the Rare Collection.

We were poured a small dram of each of the five delicious finalists at cask strength, then asked to rate our selections on a 10-point scale, assigning the most points to our favorite, and finally splitting the remaining points among the runners-up. Each dram revealed distinct tasting notes, some more fruit-forward—typical of a Speyside single malt—and others more tannic. As we tasted each dram, different flavors became more and more apparent, some crisper and some more muddled. Mandarin orange, apple, and toffee—the signature flavors of Glenfiddich—prevailed in all of the final five, while other flavors like coffee, fresh herbs, and pineapple shone in some of the barrels. Kinsman guided us to select the barrel that presented a range of easily distinguishable flavor profiles, and to disregard those with a singular dominant flavor. So this is what it must be like to be a master taster!

Interestingly, when it came time to vote, the majority of the group selected the same barrel—the roundest and sweetest of the finalists. I had the privilege of being one of the first to taste the 1978 Rare Collection and can attest to the uncommon complexity comprising the delightful dram.

The cask selected was No. 28121—a second-fill, American-oak hogshead barrel that once contained bourbon, more than 37 years ago. On the nose are delicate fruit flavors of apple candy, orange, mango, and chocolate, with layers of toasted straw, caramel, vanilla, and a touch of cinnamon. The first sip of the 1978 is reminiscent of a creamy chocolate tart with flavors of toasted almonds, green apple, freshly cut grass, and ripe mandarin oranges—and finishes dry, with notes of chocolate mint and black peppercorn. Just a few drops of water beautifully release robust flavors of ginger, orange brûlée, coffee, and toasted coconut.

Fortunately for collectors with an eye on rare single malts, cask No. 28121 was the largest of the finalists, yielding 150 bottles. But unfortunately, this also means that only 150 bottles of this rare liquid gold will ever be produced. So, whisky lovers should move quickly to claim their share of the historic release.