Glenfiddich's done something really interesting to its famous whisky - added beer flavours

Glenfiddich’s experimental series.

Glenfiddich, the family-owned scotch distillery owned by William Grant & Sons has gone a little crazy lately under malt master Brian Kinsman, having a wee bit of fun along the way.

Just in time for Christmas, the single malt distillery has produced two “experimental whiskies”, including one finished in India pale ale (IPA) craft beer casks.

Kinsman said he wanted to work with like-minded “mavericks” to explore the possibilities, and these are the first two of what promises to be an adventurous series of whiskies.

The Glenfiddich IPA Experiment is a collaboration with the nearby Speyside Craft Brewery, which opened just four years ago under a young chemistry graduate, Seb Jones.

While there’s a long tradition of maturing whisky in former sherry, port and bourbon casks – and in Glenfiddich’s case, Caribbean rum casks to finish its 21-year-old single malt – no one had tried a cask that contained beer before, so first up, they had to design a new IPA in a sort of reverse engineering process to make sure the hop flavours complemented the scotch.

They experimented by producing three separate beers with different strengths and hop levels, searching for a complementary rather than contrasting style. Kinsman then used the IPAs to season nine American oak casks at a time, varying the amount of time the beer spent in them and thus the level it imparted its own flavours in the wood, before the whisky went in.

“The idea was quite unusual but one we were passionate about – we wanted to really play with the flavours to see what we could create. The result is a liquid with a zesty citrus note followed by soft, sweet vanilla and a hint of fresh hops. The innovative flavour comes from carefully hand-selecting the right malt whiskies to complement the extra hoppy notes,” Kinsman says.

If you like IPAs – and judging by the fact that nearly every brewer is pushing out one in Australia this summer – then you’ll know what to look for in the Glenfiddich IPA Experiment – a slightly tangy edge to the vanilla sweetness, the citrus lifting the green apple, pear and floral notes.

Kinsman’s other whisky is what you might call crowd-sourced. It’s called Project XX (pronounced “20”), and is the result of the malt master inviting 20 whisky experts from 16 countries to head to the Glenfiddich warehouses in Duffton and pick a cask they liked. While he didn’t tap an Australian on the shoulder, the others came from as far afield as Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, Russia, South Africa and China.

All up, they picked 17 first fill bourbon casks, two sherry butt and one port pipe cask.

Here’s a map of how it all came together and who was involved:

The Project XX story. Source: Glenfiddich

Kinsman’s task was to then weave it all together and says the end result defied his expectations.

“Bucking the tradition of malt whisky being chosen and vatted by only a malt master, we set out to create an unpredictable whisky by involving 20 whisky experts in the process. The final liquid was exceptional – it has the warm summer fruity character of a classic Glenfiddich but then its ‘multiple personalities’ are revealed as the flavours of candyfloss, cinnamon spice, almonds and rich port tannins kick in with the odd hint of liquorice,” he explains.

It also carries a kick at ABV 47%, while the IPA Experiment is ABV 43%.

Both whiskies have gone on retail sale this month. The Glenfiddich IPA Experiment is around $130, Project XX, $140.

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