Whisky Advocate

Review: Glenfiddich, Snow Phoenix

May 26th, 2011

Glenfiddich, Snow Phoenix, 47.6%, $90

Second of this pair of limited editions from Glenfiddich. This was named after a number of the distillery’s warehouse roofs collapsed under the weight of snow in 2010. This was a bottling of a selection of casks — ex-sherry, ex-bourbon, refill — from one of those damaged warehouses. It is gentle and sweet — cooked pear, fruit crumble topped with rolled oats, golden syrup, and on the palate hints of raisin. A lemon finish adds a freshness to a dangerously drinkable dram. –Dave Broom

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 83

44 Responses to “Review: Glenfiddich, Snow Phoenix”

  1. Dave, you couldn’t be more right calling it a ‘dangerously drinkable dram’. It’s a great storytelling whisky. It’s ironic that a whisky named ‘Snow Phoenix’ will probably be a go-to whisky for me during the warm-weather summer months.

  2. Red_Arremer says:

    I’ve been interested in this one as higher strength affordable Glenfiddichs are hard to come by. It sounds very nice, but I’m not one to pay up for a Grade A story-telling factor– Not that storytelling isn’t implicated in the experience of craftsmanship, heritage, and age.

    btw– when are you guys going to review Glenfiddich 102?

    • Ryan says:

      I hear ya Red. This one caused me angst. It was fun to try, but painful to purchase whilst packaged in an abominable tin lined with a garish foam jacket for the whisky and redundant pamphlet spinning the same ‘ol roof collapse yarn. Just looking at it bothered me so much that I asked the cashier to discard the packaging before I would purchase it. The added cost of that ridiculous lifestyle branding really p****s me off. Ok… deep breaths. Anyway, it was fun trying something ‘outside’ the core Glenfiddich line, but ultimately it’s just another over-sold easy-drinking NAS whisky that belongs in a cardboard tube marked with a lower price.

      • Red_Arremer says:

        I feel all that, Ryan. Of course it’s almost impossible to distill pure single malt scotch out of the wash of lifestyle branding and to some extent I wouldn’t want to– But the snow Phoenix tin does look real dumb and also fails to produce any sense of luxury.

        You say it’s very easy drinking. Did the strength come across? Did it seem richer?

        • Ryan says:

          Very easy drinking. Red, I am certainly no Dave Broom, but I’d call it a tad warmer (than say the 12 or 18), but more so on the nose than the palate. The nose is a bit jumbled… swirling odd whiffs of heat, flowers and cava? Maybe hints of that ex-sherry maturation peaking through? On the tongue the extra ABV faintly sizzles, but only briefly before massive candied fruit and super-mellow spice take over. The finish is pleasant and clean, maybe the faintest touch of oak, but definitely on the brief side. Vaguely tastes how I imagine pot still Irish Whiskey would if one added drops of Champagne–rather than water–into it. Hope that helps.

  3. JWC says:

    i guess i’ll have to get used to dave’s reviews because i’m confused as to how a “dangerously drinkable dram” is only rated an 83. i haven’t had it so i don’t have an opinion on it one way or another. just confused =)

    • Ryan says:

      Snow Phoenix is SWEET. Even at 47.6% sweetness is prominent-like a soft, crisp white wine that can lilt its way through highish ABV%. There are some whiskies which also do this, and offer more complexity and finish, for less $. Although precious few of them are single malts at this ABV%. I could care less about the silly narrative sown-into its branding (which I fear we’re doomed to see more frequently from this industry) but I’d recommend this to anyone whom shies away from rich, bold, edgy malts. Keep looking if you really dig sherry, oak, and/or smoke. Probably worth trying simply because it’s novel enough–compared to the core range–to give it a whirl, but post-whirl even its massive drinkability can’t redeem it from missing the complexity of other $90 (and less) pours.

      • JWC says:

        @Ryan, thank you for additional insight. i suspected that the “gentle” and “sweet” aspect might have contributed to the score. i’m mainly into bourbon these days but my interest in single malt scotch has been reignited (aberlour, balvenie, glenfarclas, highland park, lagavulin, laphroaig and talisker mainly). i’ve passed on the snow phoenix a few times (last time was yesterday as a matter of fact) and based on what i’m hearing, i’ll save my $90 for other whiskies.

        • Mary says:

          I’m passing on this bottle too – there are too many other whiskies in this style (which I consider summer sippers) for a lot less money.

        • Ryan says:

          I am positive that ‘gentle’ and ‘sweet’ contributed to that score. I don’t regret purchasing it, but it is a sweet one. To anyone with a determined bias for fruity and sweet malts it may merit a 5-to-7 point bump. But on the larger aficionado stage of rich sherry cask maturation, vibrant bourbon cask maturation, clever cask enhancement, or eye-opening wisps of peat; 83 is in the ballpark.

  4. Morgan Steele says:

    I held a whisky tasting last weekend that included Snow Phoenix (along with expressions from Ardbeg, Compass Box, Cragganmore, and Johnnie Walker). We spent more time drinking and discussing Phoenix than the others. This fact was verified by the bottles the next morning. I agree with Dave’s notes but rate this slightly higher at 85. This is a very good and easy drinking whisky. I enjoyed the elevated ABV.

    I’ve read a number of reviews on Phoenix by experts and amateurs alike. My take is that the marketing efforts behind this bottle have had a polarizing effect. I suspect more people would enjoy this expression in a blind tasting.

    • Ryan says:

      –“My take is that the marketing efforts behind this bottle have had a polarizing effect. I suspect more people would enjoy this expression in a blind tasting.”

      Yes, completely agree Morgan. Oh, and I also agree that Mr. Broom’s description is sound.

      • Mary says:

        I agree with that too….in fact I am turned off by the marketing hype of this one. The story is interesting & I think it’s great that they turned a lemon moment into lemonade but $90 is too much for this whisky so I’m not participating in paying for the marketing fees/hype. I would pay $40-$50 but no more.

  5. David says:

    In my last Scotch of the Month meeting a guest brought this bottle, none of us knew about the hype or what ever and all of us had a sour taste from a previous Glenfiddich tasting, that said we all enjoyed this one quite a bit. Easy drinking but highly enjoyable. There is a lot of quality out there for $90 and this fits right in as far as I am concerned.

    An 83 is a fair rating, also I think an 83 is still good. I think we are conditioned to believe that anything below a 90 is not worth pursing which is wrong.

    • Texas says:

      “An 83 is a fair rating, also I think an 83 is still good. I think we are conditioned to believe that anything below a 90 is not worth pursing which is wrong.”

      yeah but..$90 for 83 points? I agree 83 is a decent score, but there are a ton of single malts $60 or less that score an 83..

      Of course much like John’s review of Devil’s Cut where his words sounded like he disliked it, but his score said he liked it…kinda the opposite here as the words would tend to make you think the score would be higher. Either way, I won’t be buying.

      • MrTH says:

        “yeah but..$90 for 83 points?”

        This is precisely why I hate scoring and generally pay no attention to it. Many of my favorite bottles seem to land in the low-to-mid 80’s, and many that are scored in the 90’s leave me wondering what the fuss is about. Naturally, if I spend a lot on a bottle, I hope I’m going to like it a lot, but equating dollars to points is a (pardon the expression) pointless exercise. I look rather at what the whisky is, and what went into making it. Within the range of what’s available, beyond standard distillery expressions, $90 is not really very much.

        Or do you think perhaps that Ardbeg should charge for its Ten a price commensurate with the mid-90’s scores it always seems to get? $500? $1,000? No, I thought not.

        • sam k says:

          Another good example of the fact that no one’s tastes are quite the same. I agree TH, a lot of my faves don’t measure up to the scrutiny of the well-known reviewers.

          Whiskey is a journey you must make on your own, with a bit of guidance from your mentors…but experienced guidance does not necessarily determine the path to the final destination.

        • Texas says:

          The last few months I really seem to agree that numerical ratings are useless, although well-written review notes and a sense of whether the reviewer liked it or not are very valuable.

          • Ryan says:

            Agreed Tex,
            I parse commentary and tasting summations for cues and opinions that may indicate criteria I favor, but scores do not factor into my choices.

          • smsmmns says:

            Scores are misleading. Collingwood from a few days back scored higher than this and that is utterly nuts in my book.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            Sam, remember that question that used to come up about whether or not scores were related to category specific expectations or could be used to compare whiskies from different categories? John always said that scores were based on category nonspecifc criteria and/or that he liked all categories equally– That was an interesting ambiguity… Here however, you’ve got different reviewers so it’s common sense that you can’t really just compare their scores. Malt Advocate fans will just have to start getting to know these new reviewers the way they’ve gotten to know John.

          • Ryan says:

            Maybe a Whisky Reviews ‘Search by Reviewer’ option is in order? After all, the scores belong to reviewers–not just whiskies.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            Good idea Ryan. Hope John takes note.

          • John Hansell says:

            Note taken and we are working on providing this search function.

        • kallaskander says:

          Hi there,

          no Mr T – the other way round. For the prices they ask for Ardbegs nowadays they should all be scored 120 + and well above.

          (General advice to everybody: Don`t take this too serious please)


  6. Erik M says:

    Anyone else find it odd that despite all the horribly extravagant packaging and marketing hype, Glenfiddich decided to bottle this at cask strength and non-chill filtered? Seems like an oxymoron. Or is non-chill filtered whisk(e)y simply the new way for distilleries to target the more educated drinkers these days who wouldn’t be sold based on branding and marketing bs? I’m a fan of cask strength and no chill filtration, I’m just saying.

    • Ryan says:

      Glenfiddich does not claim it was bottled at cask Erik. Do a quick search and you’ll find Glenfiddich press releases stating they were “marrying together natural strength and non-chill filtered casks of different ages and finishes.” That’s vatting, not bottling, so a bit of a language game there. Similar distillery info goes on to add, “the strength (was) brought to 47.6% by the addition of our distillery’s unique Robbie Dhu spring water.”

      • Erik M says:

        My mistake on the cask strength. One source that I read claimed it was, and it sounded right to me. I think by adding a little water to drop the final %ABV Glenfiddich found a safe compromise between collectible and perfect price point, and initially I looked a little too much into the reasons for not bottling at 40% or 43%. Good play, William Grant and Sons!

        • Ryan says:

          It’s their mistake Erik, not yours. Glenfiddich never clearly claimed Snow Phoenix is, or is not, bottled at cask… just that it is unfiltered. Their vague press releases and product claims require a bit of close reading and should have been much more clear and concise about the casks being merely ‘married as found’ and not ‘married AND bottled as found’. Worth noting that Glenfiddich brand ambassador(s) have been alleging–contrary to the rhetoric of distillery press and product claims–that the vatting was not diluted prior to bottling:

  7. Timothy says:

    I really was not a fan of Glenfiddich 12, and I have not tried any thing else from their range since. I am intrigued by this release but will not be dropping that kind of money to try it.

    • David says:

      I personally am not a big fan of the range but find the 15yr quite nice. If have a chance to try it I recomend it, just to see how it ages. But no need to buy a bottle. I was once at a blind tasting with Glenfiddich by accident, and almost everyone in my group prefered the 15 to the 12 and 18 by a wide margin.

  8. George Jetson says:

    This was a bottling clearly aimed at collector’s, but it is not garnering the type of hysteria that recent limited editions like the Machrie Moor, Glenfarclas 175 or HP Earl Magnus have generated. It is, as a lot of you have said, a nice drinking whisky, with slightly more oomph than the standard line. For my money, I would rather buy the 51% abv NCF 15yo Distillery Edition. That bottling brings a little extra complexity and character to the table than the SP.

  9. A. J. Straus says:

    You said this was the “second of this pair of limited editions…” What was the first, please?

  10. bpbleus says:

    I have two. I’ll crack one open this Summer. The other one stays in my modest collection of a half dozen bottles (‘whisky is for drinking’). Although I don’t care at all for their core range, I have a weak spot for Glenfiddich. Not only was it my first SM a lifetime ago, I (and you) wouldn’t be able to get anything beyond a J&B, Ballentines or JW Red Label.

    I disagree with some of the postings. First, I actually like the presentation. The cookie tin has a charming old fashioned appeal and it can later be used for that purpose – as a cookie tin – just like in the old days when things were re-used rather than recycled and cookies were home made. I don’t think it is classy, but if I were to drink only classy presentations, I’d be drink nothing else than Japanese whiskies. Second, I don’t think it is overpriced relative to other whiskies. There is quite a bit of old stuff in there. In the absolute sense, it is overpriced, but, frankly, if you cannot handle being screwed, you ought not drink SMs. If you feel you overpaid, you could consider shipping your bottle to Europe, where the Snow Phoenix fetches 150 Euro ($200+) in auctions nowadays. Third, the idea that whiskies receiving high scores from the pundits are preferable over those receiving ‘only’ a very good score is nonsense. I wouldn’t want to drink 90+ whiskies all the time. They are demanding a lot of attention. Often I rather sit down with something that is less ‘intellectual’. Besides, scores have at best a very limited value, especially when assigned by someone who hands out 90+ scores like a politician does with promises before election day. Tasting notes are far more informative.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Generally agree with you Bp– Though noone hands out too many 90+…. At least not yet…

  11. Adrian_Smith says:

    It is a good single malt under 90$ but to enjoy it you should do the following steps:
    1) When you buy it keep only the bottle. Throw the package immediately WITH brochure in the garbage WITHOUT reading it!
    2) First taste: Weird! Alchool is strong, covering the taste of known for me Glenfiddich(18 y.o.). It is there in the background keeping you in the willing to discover. Is it Springbank 12y.o. or Aberlour A’ bunadh better?
    3) Second taste: Pour a few drops of clean water in the glass, look outside of your home to nature(I live on 11th floor and I have a nice view over the city) and let the magic begins!
    4) Enjoy it!

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Those are some very specific and thoughtful suggestions, Adrian. I appreciate that. Some whiskies do need a little bit of creativity to be enjoyed…

  12. mongo says:

    finally opened my bottle tonight. really quite good. sweet, yes, but not as sweet as i was expecting from some of the comments above. and i think the sweetness is nicely balanced with the oak spice and creamy texture. the sherry is quite restrained–i wonder what the proportions of cask types was. and the lasting flavour of the finish is indeed the lemon dave broom notes in his review.

    i won’t be buying another bottle at this price, but if it were $20-25 cheaper i would. and i managed to put the silly tin to a good use: it now houses an indie port ellen that did not come in a tube or box.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      I always keep and reuse the metal tubes and boxes, mongo– Some people complain about the extravagance of such packaging but another tin usually comes in handy. It’s big overblown cases that zone me out. One’s like that, which Johnnie Walker Blue comes in– They’re bigger than they need to be, they’re paper, and their non-removeable interior molding generally only fits one shape of bottle.

      • mongo says:

        well, wait till you see the snow phoenix tin. it’s larger than most manhattan apartments. the balblair vintage bottles also come in unnecessarily large boxes. you open them and there’s this tiny bottle inside. but the ugliest in recent memory, i think, is the amrut intermediate sherry box

    • Ryan says:

      Mongo, I read elsewhere that Snow Phoenix was derived from casks, of varied ages, composed of 80% ex-bourbon and 20% ex-sherry. Who knows though? Whatever the blueprint, the bourbon cask notes (creamy honey/citrus/faint vanilla-cinnamon) shine while the sherry notes (dark fruit/nutty/toffee/cocoa flavors) just don’t. Agree that it is pleasant to drink.

  13. hwh says:

    ..Good idea about recycling tins and such-especially corks….for heaven sake keep your “used” corks…I’ve had 2 break on me in the last month and then I had to strain the contents and find a “retired” cork. fact is, I just called The LCBO and asked them to put a Snow Phoenix aside for me…anything under $100 is pretty much a bargain these days…problem is, tins of this size take up too much room…my shelves are full…over 160 bottles…might make a good gift though…slainte

  14. Ryan says:

    I just don’t see how everyone make a big deal out of calling this “Rare”.. Glenfiddich produced 60,000 bottles. You can email them and ask them. That’s how I found out the number

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