The Mystery of the special Israeli Glenfiddich 12-Year-Old bottlings SOLVED! (OR IS IT?)

The Mystery of the special Israeli Glenfiddich 12-Year-Old bottlings SOLVED! (OR IS IT?)

Around eleven months ago I began to notice sales campaigns for The Glenfiddich 12-Year-Old here in Israel, all over the place. It seemed to be on special offer in every wine shop I visited and then to my amazement, I even saw it in the local SuperSal supermarket. I have never seen a single malt whisky for sale in this supermarket before.

Now up until this point, I hadn’t paid much attention to the “mivtza” as I know that this bottling, despite being the world’s second most popular and bestselling single malt, (The Glenlivet 12 YO being the first), this whisky contains a large percentage of ex-sherry matured spirit. William Grant, the owners of Glenfiddich (as well as Balvenie) will not state exactly what the percentage is as it changes from bottling to bottling, yet making an educated guess I’d say that it ranges from between 20-30% of the final vatting, (the rest being from American Ex-Bourbon casks).

The famous triangular box and bottle with the stag head badge has not changed much in decades ever since it was first introduced in 1968. It was Glenfiddich which pioneered the whole Single Malt Whisky market within the Scotch industry which up until then had been dominated by Scotch Blends. The 12-Year-Old was introduced in the 1980s. From the very beginning it has always boasted the fact that the whisky has been matured in a combination of Oloroso Sherry and Bourbon casks.

Picking up the bottle in the supermarket just to confirm this I was surprised to see a subtle change of text. The box now reads “12 Year maturation in the finest Bourbon casks…”. No mention whatsoever of sherry! I did a Google for Glenfiddich 12 YO boxes currently for sale in the UK shops and confirmed that the standard text continues to read “matured in the finest Oloroso sherry & bourbon casks….”.

“Wow! Could this be a special kosher bottling of the famous Glenfiddich 12-Year-Old?”, I asked myself with some excitement. If it was then there was something very conspicuous by its absence. That is, a teudat Hechshir (Kosher certification). Why would any whisky supplier go to all that trouble to produce a special bottling with no sherry influence for the Israeli market without obtaining kashrut certification? It made no sense. This was truly a mystery.
The canister on the left is teh standard bottling. The one on the right is something new...

That very week, a friend at work, Shimon, came to see me to tell me that he had noticed this new bottling as well. He had bought a replacement bottle of his beloved Glenfiddich 12 and noticed the change of text. He took a photo of the two bottles and sent it to me. “Is this s a special kosher bottling for the Israeli market?”, he asked.

I began my investigation by writing to whisky shop owners and experts in the UK asking if they knew of any Glenfiddich 12s which just mention Bourbon without the sherry. They all wrote back saying that all their bottles still say Sherry and Bourbon and that they had never heard of such a thing. Some said that they would try and speak to William Grant and get back to me. Despite contacting their Glenfiddich supplier, no one in the UK had any knowledge of any such special bottling and had it not been for the photos I sent them, they would not have believed such a bottle every existed.

Next, I tried contacting the kosher organisations of Star-K, CrC and the Manchester Beth Din sending them the photos of this bottling. I was particularly interested in receiving a reply from the latter as Manchester currently give certification to a number of William Grant whiskies including “Glenfiddich 14-Year-Old Rich Oak”, “50-Year-Old”, “14-Year-Old Bourbon Barrel Reserve”, “Age of Discovery 19-Year-Old Bourbon Casks” and “26-Year-Old Excellence Bourbon Casks” as well as “Balvenie 12-Year-Old Single Barrel”, 14-Year-Old Caribbean Cask” and “25-Year-old Single Barrel”.

I was a bit taken aback to receive a rather terse and curt reply from the Manchester Beth Din, completely ignoring my explicit request for information regarding this special Glenfiddich 12-Year-Old and offhandedly saying that only the Glenfiddich expressions listed on their site have certification, thus avoiding all reference to my enquiry whatsoever. I wrote again emphasising that I produced a special whisky list and ran a Blog etc… asking if they could please give me any information regarding this specific expression. Had they have ever heard of a Glenfiddich 12-Year-Old Bourbon matured expression as they do seem to be the preferred kashrus organisation for William Grant products (and surely would be interested this????) and grateful for any information they could give me? I received another reply, this time in a tone clearly irritated by my further enquiries that repeated the first statement, that only those Glenfiddich’s listed on their site had certification. Well, at first glance it appeared that my inquiries had led me to a complete dead end but thinking about it again, possibly not. I found it very peculiar that, unlike the Star-K and CrC, the Manchester Beth Din did not seem in the slightest intrigued in this bottling mystery story and did not ask me to keep them updated if I ever manage to find out anything, like the other kashrus organisations had! “`Curiouser and curiouser!’, cried Alice”

For a few months the trail went cold until, as luck would have it, one hot August day I was in Machane Yehuda market checking the prices in the Agrippas Wine Store when I heard the sounds of Scottish accented English. I turned around to see two people being escorted by an Israeli guide. I could hear them talking about Glenfiddich and Balvenie and sales figures so I approached them and asked them if they worked for William Grant. They replied in the affirmative where upon I introduced myself and asked them for their contact details. Apparently I was talking to the William Grant Middle East representative who lives in Cyprus but was sufficiently intrigued by the sharp rise in whisky sales to warrant making a trip to Israel to find out what was going on. I explained that because of the resent TAX reductions, Scotch whisky and particularly Single Malt, had become a lot more affordable to Israelis and the market had exploded with shops now offering many different expressions.

He gave me his card. It read “Gareth Douglas, Country Manager, South East Europe and East Africa, William Grant & Sons Brands Ltd”.

I wrote to him regarding the Glenfiddich 12-Year-Old and also sent him the photos. If anyone would know, surely the Middle East representative would! Right?

At first there was no reply and then he wrote back saying that he was looking into the matter. The next day, instead of receiving an email, he phoned me from Cyprus with a most remarkable story.

It seems that someone, either a particular Kashrus authority (the Manchester Beth Din?) or the Israeli importers, (I still am unsure which), requested a special “LeMaHedrin” (“Super Kosher”) bottling of Glenfiddich containing whisky matured exclusively in American Ex-Bourbon casks with no Ex-Sherry cask influence. Now, according to Gareth, when the time came to begin vatting and bottling the whisky, David Stewart, Master Blender at Glenfiddich, decided that this special Ex-Bourbon expression just did not taste even similar to the standard 12-Year-Old and insisted on adding a certain amount of ex-sherry matured whisky to the final bottling. Then began a series of correspondences between David Stewart at Glenfiddich and (what Gareth describes as) “The Rabbis”, to which I can only assume he meant the Manchester Beth Din (?) trying to reach an agreement regarding the minimum percentage of Ex-Sherry cask matured whisky he could add which would still be acceptable to “the Rabbis” in order for them to give them Kashrut Certification yet remain faithful to the Glenfiddich character. Apparently, they could not reach an agreement. Nevertheless, a special bottling was produced which is now flooding the Israeli market. Despite lacking any reference to sherry casks on the label, it does, according to Gareth, contain a certain percentage of Ex-Sherry cask whisky although he was unwilling to disclose exactly what percentage that was.

Another example of Deceptive Labelling in the Industry

This is yet another example of deceptive labelling within the industry. See my earlier post about The Glenlivet 15 Year French Oak saga where they state on the label “New French Oak” and imply that all the flavour comes from this, yet it turns out, (from the Internet site), that there is in fact a percentage of Ex-Sherry whisky blended into the bottling!

Likewise, here, the Glenfiddich 12 (Israeli bottling) states at the front of the box as well as on the bottle label that it was matured in Bourbon casks yet we now know that this isn’t 100% correct. How are they allowed to do this?

Red Herring in a Barrel

Actually, looking carefully, on the back of the box they do state something extra and something quite fascinating. “Its 12-year maturation in the finest bourbon casks prior to being married in oak tuns….”. Could this be a subtle reference to another type of cask maturation being used?

A Tun of Information

A Quarter Cask (the smallest size barrel used in the Scottish Whisky industry) holds around 80 litres of spirit. Popular expressions matured in these casks are Laphroaig Quarter Cask and Ardmore Traditional Cask.  They are used because these casks will mature whisky a lot quicker than a standard American Bourbon barrel which has a volume of around 200 litres, or a typical sherry butt (500 litres) or hogshead (a cask made up from used staves from old casks, usually between 250 and 300 litres), because of the higher wood surface to liquid ratio, the liquid has more interaction with the wood.

A tun barrel holds around 950 litres of liquid and because of its massive size (around the height of an adult and the width of 4-5 adults) it has a very low wood to liquid ratio and therefore has almost no active maturation capability. It was traditionally used to store huge quantities of wine, honey or oil. (Note also that according to the Her Majesty’s Government Scottish Whisky Association Definition of Scotch Whisky, you can only mature Scotch in barrels up to 700 litres).

A Nine Month Kedushin

In actual fact, Glenfiddich do not use these barrels for maturation but for a process called “Marrying” which is used in larger distilleries which produce enormous quantities of bottles of the same expression. It is used effectively as a tank to vat or “marry” different casks of the same type in order to produce a consistent product. In the case of Glenfiddich, the marrying process lasts for nine months until bottling.

It is certainly not an indication that any other cask type like sherry has been used and therefore a bit of a red herring. In conclusion there is in fact no reference on the box or bottle to any other cask type other than Bourbon being used in this maturation.

I find this lack of transparency completely unacceptable.

Lastly, an interesting Halachic Point:

I found it quite remarkable when Gareth was describing the correspondences between “the Rabbis” and the distillery about the amount of sherry acceptable to both sides. Something about this story leaves me with more questions than answers. Let me explain:

The concept of Batel BeShishim or Batel BeSheish in the case of whisky, can be used for whiskies that have such a small amount of sherry influence (say less than 10% of the final bottling), this is considered of no consequence and is nullified.

This halacha can however only permit a food item (for instance a tiny drop of milk falling into a chicken soup), providing that the Jew did this by accident.

However, even when a non-Jew performs the same action intentionally, it is still considered nullified. This is why almost all kashrut authorities will permit whiskies with less than 10% ex-sherry cask influence in the bottling as this tiny amount of forbidden substance is considered of no consequence and therefore can be nullified.

However, everything I have explained above ONLY applies when a non-Jew is producing whisky for the whole world. When it comes to a special production order made by a Jew, it is as if the Jew made the item himself and therefore no amount of forbidden substance, no matter how tiny, can ever be nullified, no matter how small the ratio is. Hmm?


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