Interview: Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman and the story behind a new $4000 whisky

Glenfiddich’s Malt Master Brian Kinsman has selected, overseen and nurtured the latest expression releases as part of the extremely rare and sought after Glenfiddich Rare Collection Programme. The Glenfiddich 1977 Rare Collection Cask No. 15176, priced at around AUD $4,352 and released exclusively to travel retailer Heinemann Duty Free (in Sydney and Kuala Lumpur airports) and its partners, is a single cask whisky aged for 40 years, and it goes without saying that whisky enthusiasts have been awaiting this release for quite some time.

Kinsman hand-selects only a small number of exceptional casks for the esteemed collection so we caught up with the man himself to find out more about the particular story and character behind this expression. You can find our Q&A with the Malt Master below.

I’d like to talk about the processes over the last 40 years that have led us to this specific release.
Firstly, what was it about this cask – Glenfiddich 1977 Rare Collection Cask No. 15176 – that set it
apart from others that have been enjoying a similar ageing process?

Every cask is unique and the older the casks get the more diversity I find when I am sampling them.
This particular cask simply caught my attention with its beautiful combination of oak and core
Glenfiddich character. It has all the classic notes I associate with the distillery but perfectly aged and
moulded by 4 decades of ageing. There is a bit of instinct required when selecting a cask for a
vintage and although I can’t explain it easily in words I find it easy to know when a cask is ‘right’!

What is the process behind deciding how long a particular whiskey will sit in its cask and age for? Is it
something that is determined initially, or gradually over tastings and nurturing across the 40 years?

When we fill casks there is no specific expression attached to them. For example, all of the casks
filled in 2018 will cover all of our current forecasted demand (we forecast sales for the next 50
years). In 2030 I will review the stocks and decide which casks to use in Glenfiddich 12 year old and
which ones to leave to mature on. That will be repeated in 2033 for 15 year old, 2036 for 18 year
old, etc, etc. Then by 2048 when we are looking at Glenfiddich 30 year to be bottled that year I
should have ensured the profile of casks still maturing in the warehouse will be exactly what is
required to make each batch.

Talk me through a bit about your nurturing process. What has been your role with this particular
cask across the period of time you've had it in your care?

I joined William Grant & Sons Ltd in 1997 when this cask was already 20 years old. David Stewart
(my predecessor) and I would most likely have sampled the cask when it was between 20 and 30
years old and decided not to use it in the 30 year old in 2007. I track the progress of all of our ageing
stocks to allow us to decide when to use casks and when to leave them to mature on. The older the
casks get the fewer there are and therefore I get to know them all individually.

So much work goes into every barrel and every drop and every bottle of Glenfiddich – but is there a
particular release over the years that you're most proud of?

Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix was a very special expression. Firstly it marked a truly terrible time at the
distillery when some of our warehouses collapsed during a particularly harsh winter but, more importantly, it celebrated the pioneering attitude of everyone at the distillery where we could create an amazing whisky in the face of adversity.

My go-to whisky is Glenfiddich 18 year old. I enjoy the depth of oak that brings a little dryness on
the palate and counterpoint to the classic fruitiness of the distillery character.

Food wise, what would YOU pair the Glenfiddich 1977 Rare Collection Cask No. 15176 with?

It needs to be paired with something rich and complex otherwise the whisky will be too dominant. I
have found a high cocoa content dark chocolate truffle works well where the chocolate isn’t too
sweet and the richness of the chocolate is offset with the cut through of the alcohol and the sweet
vanilla oakiness from the cask

Let’s say there were five casks that had been ageing for 40 years, one is chosen for release in this
fashion – then what becomes of the other casks? Do they continue ageing? Are they also released? Or are there other processes that have taken shape over the last 40 years that may have seen some of those casks released at say, 30 years, so that by the time 40 years rolls around, it's the only cask that is being considered for release at that time?

There are no set rules but typically we would leave casks to age on so long as I think they will
continue to develop and hold their flavour. It is possible for old casks to get too dominated by oak
so I need to make the call of when that could potentially happen and make use of them prior to that.

You can purchase Glenfiddich 1977 Rare Collection Cask No. 15176 from Heinemann Duty Free (in Sydney and Kuala Lumpur airports) and its partners, with only 150 bottles available. For more information click HERE

Questions written by Larry Heath.