Glenfiddich has been an important trailblazer in the whisky industry and helped to create the Single Malt Scotch category as we know it today. This prescience is reflected by its status as the World’s Most Awarded Single Malt Scotch brand as well as one of the most sought after and collectible whiskies on the secondary market.
History of Glenfiddich
William Grant is regularly described as the pioneer of single malt whisky. Fuelled by an unwavering ambition to create “the best dram in the valley” he built a success story for himself, from cobbler to whisky magnate.
In the summer of 1886, William Grant left his managerial position at Mortlach, the only distillery at the time in Dufftown, to make his long-held dream a reality. He acquired distilling equipment from the old Cardow distilling plant (now known as Cardhu) and obtained a lease for a field just north of Dufftown called Glenfiddich.
With his seven sons and two daughters, William Grant rolled up his sleeves to begin building his distillery, stone by stone with their bare hands. After a single year of intense labour it was ready, with Glenfiddich’s first spirit was produced on Christmas day 1887. To this day the distillery is owned by the same family, William Grant & Sons.
In 1909, Glenfiddich launched their first bottle with the William Grant & Sons coat of arms. At this point William Grant's son-in-law, Charles Gordon, had been appointed as Glenfiddich's first salesman and famously made over 180 calls before making his first sale. By 1914, William Grant & Sons had a thriving international business, however, the onset of war caused hardship for the company and the distillery was forced to shut down in 1917. By 1919, the distillery had restarted production and as Prohibition took its hold in many markets, William Grant optimistically increased production to meet demand when the crisis was over. This is just another example of William Grant's incredible foresight for the changing industry.
Introducing Single Malt To The World
By the 1950's Grant’s Stand Fast Blended Whisky was one of the world’s top 10 whiskies, but Sandy and Charlie Grant Gordon (William Grant's great-grandchildren) understood the requirement to differentiate themselves in what was becoming a very competitive market. The now-iconic triangular bottle was designed by influential 20th century graphic designer Hans Schleger in 1957. It was the first triangular bottle to be introduced and was inspired by the combination of water, air and barley, a trinity “expertly crafted to make Glenfiddich whisky”. Revolutionary at the time, this would become one of the most famous and distinctive bottles in the whisky industry. In a world of round whisky bottles, Glenfiddich stood out.
In 1963 Glenfiddich became the first single malt Scotch whisky to be promoted outside the UK, effectively introducing the world to the single malt Scotch whisky category. In a world of blended Scotch whiskies, it was also Sandy and Charlie who realised the importance in celebrating a whiskies provenance. A new concept at the time, the brothers began introducing references to their water source (the famous Robbie Dhu spring), barley type, cask type and age statements. This may not seem so radical now, but at the time, nobody in the industry was doing such a thing.
They began pulling resources behind their single malt, marketed in the 1950s as ‘Straight Malt’ or ‘Unblended’ whisky. By the early 1960s, Glenfiddich became the first single malt Scotch whisky to be commercially exported outside the UK, essentially creating the single malt category for the world to see. Charlie's favourite saying when travelling the world on business was “Dram by dram, bartender by bartender, bar by bar, we will grow single malt whisky”.
Renowned now as legends of Scotch whisky, Sandy and Charlie undoubtedly laid the foundation for what was to become the single malt category as we know it today.
In The Stillroom with Glenfiddich
The Glenfiddich distillery draws its water source from the famous Robbie Dhu spring. This exceptionally soft water flows from the Conval hills through both quartz and granite. The distillery features hand-built Douglas Fir wash backs, copper stills which are sculpted identically to those from 1887 and an onsite cooperage tending to around 126 casks a day. They are also one of only three distilleries in Scotland that remain directly firing some of their stills today, the others are Glenfarclas and Springbank. As a family owned-distillery, this has afforded Glenfiddich the privilege to pass through generations some of the most profound wisdom, retaining their traditions to ensure the consistent and exceptional quality of their whiskies.
Glenfiddich is renowned for its light, estery, sweet and fruity new make character, achieved with an early cut point despite distillation in small stills under direct fire.
Highest Rated Glenfiddich on WhiskyFun.com
WhiskyFun.com is the most authoritative online source for tasting reviews, featuring regular scores by Serge Valentin and Angus MacRaild. Below is a selection of their highest-scoring Glenfiddich expressions.
Glenfiddich 1956 Intertrade 29 Year Old, 50.6% - 94 points - WhiskyFun.com review.
Glenfiddich 1955 Cask #4221 for Hans-Henrik Hansen, 53.5% - 92 points - WhiskyFun.com review.
Glenfiddich 1955 Cask #4221 Private Vintage World of Whisky, 52.6% - 91 points - WhiskyFun.com review.
Glenfiddich 40 Year Old, 44.3% - 91 points - WhiskyFun.com review.
Glenfiddich NAS ‘Straight Malt’ 1960s, 43% - 91 points - WhiskyFun.com review.
Iconic and Collectible Glenfiddich Expressions
In 1999, Glenfiddich launched the ‘Vintage Reserve’ series. These whiskies were hand-selected by a panel of experts, previous panels have included a team of coopers and a team of international whisky journalists, from casks which were short-listed by Glenfiddich’s Malt Master. The Vintage Reserve expressions are a tribute to William Grant’s lifelong ambition to produce the ‘best dram in the valley’. In 2008 rebranding of the distillery’s portfolio saw the Rare Collection label revised to replace the Vintage Reserve line.
The Private Vintage series was a selection of single cask bottlings produced between 2001 and 2008. Each cask was exclusively selected for and bottled for a variety of private parties and whisky retailers. The first ever Private Vintage was produced for Fenton Tower, so unique, that the main label states “Vintage Reserve” not “Private Vintage”.
The Rare Collection is an unparalleled selection of Glenfiddich’s rare, vintage single cask whiskies. A selection of casks are reserved by Malt Master, Brian Kinsman, after being personally nosed and tasted to ensure its quality for the collection.
In 2001, Glenfiddich released the 1937 Rare Collection, a 64 Year Old single malt and the oldest Glenfiddich whisky ever put to bottle. Filled with spirit distilled on 17 July 1937 at Glenfiddich distillery, this unrepeatable cask was laid down to gently mature for over 60 years. It was not until 2001, that Cask 843 was declared ready to be bottled as one of the finest whiskies in the world. After 64 years, very thirsty angels left only 61 bottles of this whisky.
Snow Phoenix was a limited edition release bottled to commemorate a moment of drama in Glenfiddich's story. On 7th January 2010, twice a winter’s worth of snow fell in Speyside, causing a number of Glenfiddich’s warehouse roofs to collapse. This snow destruction was the inspiration that gave rise to the Snow Phoenix. A selection of Oloroso and American oak casks found buried under the eight of the frosts destruction were married to create the acclaimed whisky, composed of 13 to 30 year old malts.
The Grande Composition
Glenfiddich’s affinity with art and design can be traced back to the 1960s, after commissioning pioneering Modernist artist Hans Schleger to craft a defining new triangular bottle shape for the brand. This irrepressible spirit of innovation has manifested in various forms over the company’s wonderful history from the launch of the Artists in Residence program to the Experimental Series of whiskies. The latest shape this has taken is in The Grand Composition, an initiative which offers international artists a stage for the reinterpretation of their prestigious Grand Series. The unique collaborations bring together limited-edition art and limited-edition single malt whisky. The Grande Composition presents art lovers with the perfect opportunity to step into the world of fine spirits, and vice versa.
Top 3 Glenfiddich Bottles on Whisky Auctioneer
Glenfiddich 1937 Rare Collection 64 Year Old - £60,500 Hammer Price
Glenfiddich 26 Year Old Grande Couronne / Simon Berger - £22,722 Hammer Price
Glenfiddich 50 Year Old 1st Edition - £21,000 Hammer Price
Inside collector's tip from the experts?
Anything distilled pre 1973 is really interesting as before then we didn’t really standardize our still shape. It wasn’t until the building of still house 2 that we actually work with the size/shape that you see today.
Struan Grant Ralph, Global Brand Ambassador at Glenfiddich
Whisky Auctioneer regularly welcomes rare and collectible Glenfiddich expressions in our monthly auctions. Browse all past and present Glenfiddich lots or contact us if you are interested in selling a bottle of Glenfiddich.