I recently had the opportunity to ask Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman a question on social media as part of a contest organized by Glenfiddich West Brand Ambassador Jenny Wren. We were allowed to ask any question we wanted and the best one would be answered on video. Lo and behold, my question was chosen. As a result, I was sent a whisky sample drawn from the cask Jenny chose to go into Glenfiddich Project XX along with some other wonderful Glenfiddich goodies.
Project XX is the second whisky released as part of Glenfiddich’s Experimental Series. The name is derived from twenty individual casks, each chosen by a different Glenfiddich rep, that were blended together to create the final product. Those who know me well know I love super small batch releases so this concept is right up my alley. Even better still is the transparency behind the casks that went into Project XX: seventeen bourbon barrels, two sherry butts, and a port pipe complete with cask numbers. The infographic below does a great job of illustrating the makeup of this whisky.
I asked Jenny a few questions about the cask selection process and learned a great deal about the both Project XX and the distillery in general. The following interview was conducted electronically:
Glenfiddich Project XX is a really interesting concept. Tell us a little bit about it. How were the participants chosen?
I believe the original idea came from this wonderful woman that works on our Innovations Team, KJ Wateridge, and then Brian Kinsman really embraced her concept and ran with it. The idea was to allow each Glenfiddich Ambassador on the team to create something wholly unique by choosing a whisky the best expressed their tastes and style.
It’s such precious liquid because one of the barrels was chosen by our former Global Ambassador, Ian Millar (who also served as our distillery manager for many years) in his last year and one was chosen by our new Global Ambassador, Stuart Grant Ralph, the year before he took on the “antlers.” There is literal Glenfiddich Ambassador history in that blend.
Walk me through the process of how you selected cask 21900. Was your decision influenced at all by the other barrels being selected? Do you think Brain Kinsman was surprised by the high proportion of ex-bourbon barrels chosen?
Well, first of all, the Glenfiddich profile in most of our expressions is built on American Oak. Brian is famous for saying that American Oak brings out the special “Glenfiddichy-ness of Glenfiddich.” So, it was no surprise to me that many of the Ambassadors gravitated to those barrels.
The process was actually in multiple parts over two days, with little to no idea of what the end goal was:
To me (and I’m sipping it right now for reference), this particular whisky was a delightful combination of fresh green pear (which is actually showing more with more age on it), lemon verbena, angel food cake with vanilla frosting, and toasted coconut aromas. The taste was far more mature than it’s mere 6 years showing enormous promise.
Also I am southern, spicy, and was the newest ambassador at the time, so a Virgin American Oak Cask seemed like just the right choice for me. 🙂
One more thing to note is that the fingerprint on the bottle is an ACTUAL computer generated composite of our 20 fingerprints and on the larger promotional posters the fingerprint is created from our combined, hand written tasting notes sent in from 16 countries in our native languages.
I take particular interest in very small batch releases like this and the Balvenie Tun series. I notice that a good number of the casks that went into this release came from very narrow ranges (for example, four bourbon barrels numbered in the 3800s and five other bourbon barrels in the 21880-21950 range). Based on proximity, I assume that these are all sequential casks from the same year. I find this odd as it seems that the goal of the project was to pull together whisky from a wide range of cask options. Did you find that the warehouse you chose from was too limited?
I can’t speak to KJ and Brian settling on Warehouse 2 initially, but there were actually an extremely wide range of ages and casks within the warehouse. We were only limited by our physical ability to get to the casks (it’s densely packed in there and many of the fellows took this as “a challenge”). The fact that the barrels chosen were in a tight range is all chance.
In other words, was there enough variety in that warehouse to allow all 20 participants to experiment before settling on a final selection?
Absolutely! There were many many Sherry Butts in the mix that got selected out by the individual Ambassadors. My second choice was actually a fairly old Oloroso cask.
I’m aware of at least two different batches of Project XX. Some quick napkin math and some big assumptions regarding angels’ share has me estimating that there were approximately 4000 liters of total liquid from the 20 casks selected. That’s, of course, before bringing the strength down to 47% which probably turned that 4000 liters into 6000-7000 bottles at 70-75 cl each. That’s a relatively small amount. Have the same casks been used for all releases thus far and have the proportions changed at all? Will this release end when there’s no liquid left or will new casks be sought out?
The initial release of Project XX was blended from the original casks, but all consecutive batches (since it’s a permanent marque) have been “recreations” of the original 20 casks blended for exact accuracy by Brian. The original 20 casks still have a significant amount of liquid in them and are kept in a place at the distillery so secret that I can’t even call it by name. (Yes, Brian Kinsman has a secret whisky bunker…) That’s how I am able to get you a sample – my original liquid is kept safe and used only for reference in our whisky library or for times like these. It is still sleeping in it’s cask.
From my research, this is the only “crowdsourced” single malt release on the market and it’s a really novel idea. Releases like Project XX, Cask of Dreams, and Snow Phoenix showcase the immense creativity of Glenfiddich over the past decade and at an affordable price to boot.
Auchentoshan created a “crowdsourced” whisky with bartenders in 2017: https://www.foodbev.com/news/auchentoshan-unveils-whisky-created-leading-bartenders/
(Editior’s note: Looks like Project XX wasn’t the only crowdsourced whisky after all. In this case, I’m happy to be proven wrong.)
Can you hint at any new creative ideas that are in the works?
HAH – I’ll never tell!! But you CAN note that Brian is messing around with some very different rums for aging than he’s played with before – headier, muskier, and dark. You will know why very soon. Also, he is always getting big ideas from his contemporaries around the world – wine producers, Japanese distillers, mezcaliers, beautiful cognacs, even luxury cars! He never ceases to surprise and amaze me with his experiments. He’s an incredible gift to Glenfiddich and is insanely talented and curious.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for me. Is there anything else you’d like to add about Project XX or the brand that we haven’t covered?
Wow. Great question – I have a pretty cool job, but every single time I look at the bottle I think two things:
1. I been given the gift of (literally) leaving my fingerprint on an incredible single malt and of working with some of the greatest talent ever to grace the industry. It is humbling.
2. There is a little girl out there who, when she is of age and desire to work in spirits, will never question for a moment that she is worthy and welcome in the world of Single Malt.
Coming soon, part 2 of this feature is my side-by-side review of Cask 21900 alongside Project XX.
Jenny Wren is the Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador for the US West. She can be reached on social media at @glenfiddichwren.