I recently bought some Lagavulin 16 which has always been the king of kings and the holiest of holies for me, the earthiest, peatiest, smokiest of scotches, smooth and warm — but I was underwhelmed. The big blast of smoke and peat I’ve come to expect from Lagavulin was gone. It was as if the bottle had been left open for a month and diluted. Is it possible I got a bad bottling of Lagavulin? A huge disappointment.
My current #1 single malt scotch experience is the honey and vanilla smoothness of Aberfeldy 21. I had the impression that sherry was the dominate flavour but apparently that’s vanilla I’m tasting. The jury is still out on that one. Whatever it is, I love it because it’s opening my appreciation for the non-peaty scotches like Glenfiddich 12, a scotch I never expected to get into. I sampled the Glenfiddich 12 and was so impressed that I decided to go for the Glenfiddich 15. After reading mostly favourable reviews and watching Ralphy’s review of the 15, I expected to like it even more than than 12…
…but I don’t. If the Glenfiddich 12 is like biting into a big block of milk chocolate, then Glenfiddich 15 is like biting into an orange with the peel still on it. Perhaps the Glenfiddich 15 is part of a scotch family that I just don’t get yet. I don’t know.
The 15 is solera matured and I’m pretty that’s why it doesn’t work for me. The solera process more or less siphons off older whiskey during maturation and replaces it with younger whiskey, supposedly to create a marriage of flavours that keeps the whiskey fresh and spicy. It’s not a bad whiskey, but I can tell I don’t like spicy. The 12 has a slight bite but warms while it goes down. The 15 burns compared to the 12. The 12 has a sweet softness in the mouth and a slightly delayed old oak, aromatic sherry finish. (I appreciate any scotch that hits me with a delayed pleasant after taste.) The 15 has a sharp citrus delivery, overwhelming the sherry that barely makes it through to the finish. The 12 smells like an old musky log cabin where someone’s baking a chocolate cake. The 15 smells more like sap, though there’s a touch of sweetness hiding in the corner. I’m sure there’s more complexity to the 15 if you reach for it, but it doesn’t register on my palette. The Glenfiddich 15 seems only slightly more exceptional than, say, a Glenlivet 12.
A 750ml bottle of Glenfiddich 12 is $44 at my local store. The Glenfiddich 15 year old Solera is $56.
UPDATE (March 22/13): I had more of the 15 last night and it was a different experience. None of the citrus burn was present in the nose or palette. That seemed to allow room for a soft sherry sweetness to seep through, much like the 12. I’ll have to remember to hold off on judging a single malt until after I’ve let the bottle breathe a bit. I had a similar experience with a Glenlivet 18. The whiskey left a hard liquor burn on the tongue when I first opened the bottle, but it smoothed out considerably after about a week and a three or four drams had been removed. I’ll update again after I’ve given the 15 another go.
UPDATE (June 25/13): I didn’t think I would buy another bottle of the Solera 15, and I haven’t, but it’s not at all a bad scotch, definitely one I’d be glad to try again (and I’m pretty sure I’d would choose it over the unusual though not complex Canadian “Cask of Dreams” Glenfiddich). My first impression of the 15 wasn’t exactly a glowing review, but I’ve since learned that most single malts open up significantly after four or five solid drams have been removed from the bottle and that is clearly the case here. The Solera doesn’t have a long complex warming finish, but the nose is sharp and sappy yet sweet and deep, so pleasant that I want to keep smelling it. In the mouth, I taste toffee and fruit and fresh wood that melts into the tongue without burning. I understand now why Ralphy likes it so much.