Whisky and Words Number 86: Glenfiddich 15 Solera (vs. Glenlivet 15 French Oak)

Glenfiddich 15 Solera, deep color, rich aroma.

Glenfiddich is made by the same outfit that produce the Balvenie, and right next door at that, in the heart of Speyside. I find their 12-year okay, along the lines of the Glenlivet 12. In fact they duked it out in Glenfiddich’s 12-year review, the Battle of the Speyside Giants. The Glenfiddich 12 had a good nose, was not too sweet, sported some floral notes, was smooth, and not much of a finish. I covered the Glenlivet 12 here. Today however we’re stepping up a fair bit to the Solera Reserve 15-year. We’re a further $20 up the road from the 12, what’s the big deal?

Of course, this spirit has been 3 years in cask longer than the 12 but also developed from whiskies in a range of casks: the typical ex-bourbon, but also new oak and sherry casks. The new oak is a twist on the regular 12, but the big deal here is the vatting, where the selection of casks for the bottling are married. That’s where the Solera vat comes into play. As noted in the 12-year review, Glenfiddich uses oak tuns for the marry; furthermore, these Solera tuns are never emptied. As we read on the back of the carton, these tuns “host an infinity of malts.” William Grant also add a blurb about being family owned, which is quite remarkable for such a large producer.

The Glenfiddich design is clean, classic, with a little flair in the stag head in gold.

I opened the bottle in my front room, much larger than the little office where I usually write and uncork, as I had not photographed this yet. A quick run upstairs, initial shots, uncork for color compare, and wow, this really has a great and vigorous aroma; even in the bigger room it made its mark. The sherry is unmistakable, warm and mellow, buttressed with vanilla custard. Getting  a little closer and I get raspberry, closer in, slight cinnamon spice and nose full-in-glass, a really lovely boggy peat smell. They all blend well and it simply smells delicious.

The Glenlivet 15 ‘French Oak’ is a good competitor here, also has a lot of sherry on the nose but not as mellow. The Glenlivet’s got a lighter nose, with more fresh fruit (aromatic apple) and spice, not so much the vanilla angle of the Glenfiddich. I’m giving the nod at this point to the latter.

On the palate, Glenfiddich 15 is creamy, delivering vanilla, a balance of cinnamon spice, all carried by the mellow sherry. It is not overly sweet and has a very balanced spiced vanilla custard vibe, some nutmeg sneaking in as well. The finish dries nicely with just a touch of astringency and a finely applied touch of bitters from the tannin. It’s very well balanced, if the finish is a tad short. I’m struck at how consistent the palate is with the nose, where the Glenlivet, as I found in its review, hit me with more spice on the palate than hit hinted on the nose.

Two contenders battle it out. The Glenlivet 15 French Oak Reserve (l.) and Glenfiddich’s 15-year Solera Reserve (r.). Both richly colored, and similar flavor profiles.

Comparing the latter, the Glenlivet’s lively nose leads to some nice vanilla and sherry, with a good bit of spice. I found it less unctuous, lighter on the palate then the Glenfiddich and, in my previous review, a bit bitter. That bitterness is still there through not as much as I remember. The finish is slightly longer than the Glenfiddich but that’s mainly down to the heavier load of tannins. Overall, the Glenfiddich’s richer mouthfeel and creamy, spicy vanilla custard wins the day for me. If I’m spending for a treat, the Grant folks have this round, but only by a hair. Also–compared to the recently reviewed Balvenie Caribbean Cask, I think the Glenfiddich 15 is a better balanced dram, though shorter on the finish.

Glenfiddich Solera 15, Speyside single malt, 40% ABV

Nose: Mellow sherry with a vanilla custard backing. Notes of raspberry and cinnamon spice liven it up flavor-wise, along with earthy peat.
Palate: Very creamy: vanilla custard with sherry overtones, cinnamon and nutmeg rounding things out. Tannins are gentle, enough to balance, no more.
Finish: Not long, but well-balanced. Vanilla, cinnamon, just enough tannin in perfect balance.

Bottom Line: These are both good whiskies. The Glenlivet is a couple bucks more (currently $78) and I find the Glenfiddich a richer, more rewarding dram, due to the really nice creamy midrange and finer balance, whereas the Glenlivet is a tad livelier, spicier and fruitier. The Glenfiddich, at $73, is a chunk less as well. If like me, you like keeping a sherried whisky or two around for a mellow evening, or to treat a friend who can’t stand the peaty stuff, the Glenfiddich is a good choice. It’s certainly giving the $120 Glenfarclas 17 a run for its money. (Almost, the Glenfarclas has some magic in there.)

Author: H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.

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