The Tasting Panel magazine

January / February 2017

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70  /  the tasting panel  /  january/february 2017 The finalists were flown to Scotland for the Grand Finale—a live presentation of their serve concepts before a panel of five judges, which included Global Brand Ambassador Struan Grant Ralph, Grant family member Kirsten Grant Meikel and Malt Master Brian Kinsman. "The winner," noted Ralph, "will be someone who draws inspiration from unexpected sources and best represents the innovative spirit of Glenfiddich while heightening the sensory experience of enjoying our whisky." Before getting a shake at the presti- gious title, the contestants would first learn to make—in the words of William Grant—the "best dram in the valley." What ensued was a whisky aficionado's dream come true: a hands-on, action- packed, two day immersion program into the daily production of Glenfiddich, from the mill, mash and still houses to the cooperage, marrying room and maturation warehouses. "By the time you leave Dufftown, you will be maverick whisky makers," Ralph mused as the teams donned "hi-viz" orange safety vests and steel-toed boots for the descent into the churning and steaming belly of the distillery, the air heady with fragrant wisps of angel's share. In the mash house, warm sips of wort were sampled as contestant Diego Salamanca from Colombia assisted Mashman Alie to measure the sugar content with a hydrometer. The still house gave witness to the moment when Stillman Stanley Cranna deter- mined the precise cut point—capturing the "heart of the run"—for the new spirit, inviting Craver to flip the antique brass lever that directs the virgin spirit to the maturation room. Coppersmith George Singer, one of only three coppersmiths employed by Glenfiddich since 1957, guided Schwalm as he learned how to test the thickness of a still's metal jacket with an ultra- sound device. And Head Cooper Ian McDonald apprenticed the group in the process of refurbishing and charring the ex-bourbon and sherry casks used to nurture Glenfiddich whisky. "For me, the most incredible moment was watching the new spirit, which we witnessed being produced the day before, filled into barrels we helped assemble and stencil with our signa- tures, then watching it roll away to the warehouse," reflected Craver. "I think about that barrel every day and can't wait to return in 12 years to see how it has aged." Impressed by the whisky marrying session with Malt Master Brian Kinsman, O'Neill discovered similarity between building a cocktail and blending casks of different wood types and flavor profiles. "When I cre- ate cocktails, the task of finding balance between the different ingredients—the meshing of similar characteristics—is strikingly similar to skills used in blend- ing whisky. Learning from Brian was an incredible experience." With visions of sleeping casks fresh in mind, the moment of truth arrived. Recalling a television game show, the contestants each arrived to the Grand Finale room via an elevator that deposited them behind a mock bar facing the row of judges. The two U.S. teams faced stiff competition from global finalists who presented an array of unique, artfully conceived serve concepts, including beautifully crafted ceramic whisky vessels; scented candles paired with Scotch; an unusual COVER STORY Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman conducts a whisky blending workshop in the marrying room. Bartender Nathan O'Neill of The NoMad in New York City prepares to present the "Heritage and Roots" serve concept during the Grand Finale at Glenfiddich Distillery in Scotland. Matt Schwalm and Jeneé Craver pres- ent their "Creation Song" serve concept to the judges during the Grand Finale.

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