Some people are a little suspicious that anything Glenfiddich or Glenlivet could be legitimately good, and I can understand why. The two big Glens are typically the first single malt whiskies a person outgrows, so an extra-aged version ends up sounding like a "premium" Gummi Bear.
I'll say for the record that Glenlivet 12 and Glenfiddich 12 are perfectly fine. That's not a ringing endorsement by any means, but they're not bilgewater or hillbilly moonshine or anything that would warrant dumping the bottle down the sink. But, as others before me have argued, I do think both bottles are a little overengineered to mass-market tastes, which in some ways defeats the purpose of drinking a single malt.
Now, with all of that said, there are a few things worth trying among the product range of the two biggest Goliaths in the world of scotch. I wrote about my pick from Glenlivet, and today we're going to be talking about my pick from Glenfiddich: I think the 18-year is the absolute stand-out.
What became clear to me immediately was the level of depth in the smell alone. The 18 utilizes sherry casks as part of the maturation, and here it comes across as walnuts, raisins, and the smell of a forest after a light rain. I hoped based on the smell that there would be enough sherry to provide richness and sophistication, but not so much that it beat me over the head with it.
With respect to the sherry, I'd argue the middle-of-the-road nature of Glenfiddich becomes something of a virtue. It's not overkill, but the influence is definitely felt in moving away from a "house style" of pears and other light fruit. One of the strongest elements I got from the 18 is milk chocolate. Not the Hershey's garbage we have here in the US, no: I'm talking the Swiss stuff you hide from the kids. In addition to the cocoa, there's some teriyaki glaze, licorice, a small amount of lemon, and just a little bit of tobacco. It's a masculine set of flavors, but delivered at a pretty restrained volume.
Even though my bottle was only 43% ABV, I added a little bit of water just to see how the profile would change. I think when the Glenfiddich 18 swims just a little bit, you intensify the creamy chocolate and nuttiness, though it dials down some of the more angular tastes. That's not necessarily a bad thing at all—in fact, it makes a generally easygoing and tasty drink a little more of an easy "whenever" dram.
The only real knock against the Glenfiddich 18 is the price. I bought my bottle for about $70, which is a bargain among 18-year old scotches, but only mediocre in comparison to other whiskies that might be younger but are far more characterful. I'd really like it if the production volume of the Glenfiddich distillery allowed them to offer the 18 at a $55 price point, where I'd say having a bottle onhand all-the-time-always would be a no brainer. I suppose while we're wishing upon stars, I'd also like a Corvette.
If you're on the fence, Glenfiddich has a relatively novel tasting set of the 12, 15, and 18 in 200mL sizes for about $45, which I think is priced right. Most probably, you'll conclude that the 18 is indeed the best of the range going by taste alone. On the basis of that sampler, I ended up buying a larger 750mL bottle—The Glenfiddich 18 may be genial, but it is tasty. However, if you expect a more assertive whisky at this pricing tier, you'll most likely find other products better suited to your tastes.