The connection between the bucolic location and the spectacular liquid being launched was the whisky’s maturation process; Winter Storm was finished in Icewine casks from Canadian boutique vineyard Peller Estates. It continues the distillery’s Experimental Series, which has previously seen a whisky finished in IPA casks and the Glenfiddich XX, the collective work of 20 distillers from around the world.
The limited release Winter Storm is the pick of the bunch, taking an already premium liquid, the Glenfiddich 21-year-old into even more rarefied territory by finishing its maturation process with the lush tropical fruit and lychee notes imparted by the Icewine casks. Only a robust whisky with deep and forceful flavours could stand up to the much sweeter notes of the Icewine casks but with the Winter Storm it is a noticeable but subtle tone.
Only a robust whisky with deep and forceful flavours could stand up to the much sweeter notes of the Icewine casks but with the Winter Storm it is a noticeable but subtle tone.
Origins of Glenfiddich’s Winter Storm
The Winter Storm expression came about when Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman visited the Peller Estates in Canada.
Craig McDonald, Head Winemaker at Peller Estates, says he thought of Glenfiddich, as a long-established brand with a fascination for pushing boundaries and creating novel expressions, as something of a kindred spirit but never expected the two to collaborate.
“I never knew (Glenfiddich) was so nimble and open to such unique trials,” he relates. “Knowing how big they are, it was inspiring to see how intrigued Brian was with finding inspiration with our Peller Icewine casks for his finishing.”
As McDonald points out, the skillful balancing of different flavour profiles is quite the high-wire act. “For those that know the 21-year-old you will really feel Brian’s mastery here,” he explains. “He’s really done an impressive job showing great restraint and striking the perfect balance between sweetness and allowing the fine character of the whisky to shine through.”
For Glenfiddich Ambassador Luke Sanderson, the cross-continental alliance is a match made in whisky heaven. “Being able to collaborate with likeminded mavericks and pioneers from other industries, that’s very important to us,” he says. “People are very important to us. We’re still a family-run distillery, one of the very few, and it is the people who make the liquid.”
Something like a delicacy in the world of winemaking, Icewine can only be produced in highly specific and challenging conditions. The rock-hard grapes need to be harvested at -8C (or 17.6F) and each yields just a single drop of sweet liquid. McDonald says the logistical challenges of mobilising a picking crew in the early hours of the morning, especially around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, are considerable.
“It’s the unpredictable nature of the Icewine harvest that makes it both exciting and challenging, sometimes with false starts,” he explains.
“Sometimes we may only see a few hours of pick time before the sun comes up and the temperatures start to climb! In the end, we truly are a servant of the weather and it’s that natural process of freezing on the vine that gives Canadian Icewine its distinct character and intensity.”
“We truly are a servant of the weather and it’s that natural process of freezing on the vine that gives Canadian Icewine its distinct character and intensity” – Craig McDonald, Peller Estates
The finished product has a zesty, almost sherbet-like quality. For Sanderson, the influence of Icewine on Winter Storm can be detected in the “luscious sweetness” and “underlying wine tones”. He also finds notes of candied fruit and Turkish Delight. There’s all that and more and the nose, with alternating notes of sweetness and faint smoke, is a truly intoxicating introduction.
Winter Storm is ideal in cocktails or drunk neat
At the Australian launch, a bespoke menu bearing the influence of molecular gastronomy made for a suitably eclectic series of whisky matchings. There were scallops studded with glossy yuzu pearls and bottarga, a smoked duck breast with a range of gels and purees, a passionfruit mousse with a coconut panna cotta and even a ‘whisky air’ concoction of fairy floss like consistency.
Collectively, the menu made the point that this is a whisky that can pair successfully with all kinds of outsized flavours. It can also make for an outrageously decadent cocktail ingredient.
One of the offerings was the Moon Shadow cocktail which put the Winter Storm to sparkling effect in a beautifully balanced concoction with plum vinegars and yuzu plum wine. Sanderson crafted the drink with Matthew Linklater of world-class Melbourne cocktail spot The Black Pearl and says the idea was to create a showpiece for the liquid’s unusual fruity notes.
“We wanted to use the citrus and acid balance that you don’t normally see, just to diversify the boundaries of whisky cocktails,” he says.
Alternatively, of course, you can enjoy the Winter Storm neat and lap up its tantalising, heady aroma and symphony of flavours.
Even the packaging, a sleek snow-hued bottle and winter-themed box, breaks the mould. “We wanted to do something disruptive,” Sanderson says. “That’s how we look at things, disrupting and changing this category in terms of unlearning whisky. The striking nature of the bottle is part that whole ethos of unlearning whisky and those stereotypes.”