The Crafting of Glenfiddich
Glenfiddich: The Stages of Production
At The Glenfiddich Distillery there is a single-minded dedication to craftsmanship and quality throughout every stage of production, which ensures that only the finest single malt Scotch
whisky is produced.
Glenfiddich single malt Scotch whisky is created using the finest malted barley and a single source of crystal clear spring water from the Robbie Dhu Springs and is made in exactly the same way as it was in 1887 when the first spirit ran from the stills at The Glenfiddich Distillery.
The distillery still employs the traditional skills of dedicated craftsmen, from the Glenfiddich coppersmith and coopers to the Glenfiddich Malt Master, to ensure that the quality of the Glenfiddich range of single malt Scotch whiskies produced today is never compromised. There are many stages involved in the crafting of Glenfiddich and these are outlined below.
The Glenfiddich Distillery uses the finest malt from specialist maltsters, produced to its own
specification. Ripe barley is steeped in water for two days, which triggers germination. The
barley is then allowed to germinate for around four to five days. This starts the conversion of
natural starch into sugar. This ‘green malt’ is then dried over a peat fire, and delivered to the
distillery as ‘malted barley’.
The Mash House
The malted barley is ground into a coarse flour called ‘grist’, which is mixed with heated pure Robbie Dhu spring water from the nearby Conval Hills and discharged into ‘mash tuns’. The hot water
completes the conversion of starch to sugar and being soluble, this dissolves in the water. After about six hours the sweet liquid, or ‘wort’, has been drained off, cooled and is ready for fermentation.
Yeast is added to the wort as it is pumped from the cooler into the traditional wooden fermentation vessels, or ‘washbacks’. Fermentation causes the temperature to rise from around 19ºC to about 33ºC and, as carbon dioxide gas is produced, the liquid foams up to the top of the washback and has to be dispersed with mechanical beaters. After around 64 hours of fermentation,
a brown coloured liquid known as ‘wash’ is left which contains about 7-8% alcohol by volume.
The Still House
The wash is distilled in copper pot stills, the shape and size of which exactly match the original stills bought over a century ago by Glenfiddich founder William Grant. The stills also continue to be heated by ‘direct firing’ (a naked flame is applied directly under the base) and all the stills are tended and maintained by the distillery’s own coppersmith.
The wash in the stills is gradually
heated to near boiling point, until the alcohol turns to vapour. The
vapour rises up through the narrowing neck of the still, before being
guided downwards and eventually passing through a water-cooled condenser.
This condenses the vapour back into an intermediate liquid, known as
The low wines, containing about 21% alcohol, are heated in the unusually small ‘spirit stills’, a smaller version of the wash still. The spirit stills at Glenfiddich have remained unusually small and have increased in number, rather than the more cost-efficient option of ballooning in size, to retain the unmistakable Glenfiddich style. The vaporised alcohol is drawn off and condensed as before, and then trickles down into the ‘spirit safe’, where the flow of spirit can be controlled. This is
crucial, for only the fine middle cut, or ‘heart’ of the distillation is retained for maturation. The first and last parts of the distillate, ‘foreshots’ and ‘feints’, are mixed with low wines from a succeeding first distillation, to form a new charge for the spirit stills.
The new spirit is reduced to around 63% alcohol before being filled into hand built oak casks,
prepared and maintained at the distillery’s own cooperage. The casks are then stored in warehouses only at the distillery where the spirit matures. It is during maturation in traditional dunnage
warehousing, which, with their dark, damp environment provide optimum conditions for producing the best quality whiskies, that the Glenfiddich spirit acquires its distinctive, well-balanced character. The maturation process and cask selection is closely overseen by the Glenfiddich Malt Master who will select individual casks for bottling. Glenfiddich Special Reserve is matured for a minimum of 12 years, Glenfiddich Solera Reserve for at least 15 years and Ancient Reserve for at least 18 years.
After the required maturation time, when the spirit has matured to perfection, the casks are
emptied and the whisky is ‘cut’ with pure Robbie Dhu spring water to reduce the alcohol by volume once more, prior to being estate bottled on site at The Glenfiddich Distillery. Glenfiddich remains the only Highland single malt to be ‘chateau-bottled,’ keeping all elements of production in-house wherever possible, as no other malt in the Highlands distils, matures and bottles its whisky on site.