You might be surprised I have not reviewed this before, as The Glenlivet, along with The Macallan and Glenfiddich (the other massive Speyside producers) are found just about everywhere. Even in biker bars, for the occasional effete sipper of single malt, will you find The Glenlivet. To attain such reach, these distilleries are truly huge. The Glenlivet, with 14 stills, is the baby of the bunch, producing 6 million bottles a year. You might ask, at such scale, what kind of whisky can they produce as a single malt?
First of all, the size and shape of the still matters, and most distilleries are different. You won’t find anything about the workings of the distillery from their web site, so we piece it together from the components. A Wikipedia note says “Glenlivet’s stills are lantern shaped with long, narrow necks, all of which helps to produce a light-tasting spirit.” You can see them here. Whisky News states they use mostly American oak (ex-bourbon of course) and a small number of sherry casks. This would be affirmed by the label which proclaims “Double Oak Matured in European oak and American oak casks.” Sherry casks are typically made from European oak so there you go. Next you have the barley malt, which they buy like most big producers already malted (no peat), and finally the water, from several wells nearby.
The tall still should yield a light malt and indeed that is what we have here. You can see that the color is light amber, nearly straw. A touch e150 perhaps. The flavor parallels the caramel coloring: it’s sweet, almost too sweet for me. After tasting the Cragganmore and Tomintoul, which impressed with floral and herbal notes and a good balance, the Glenlivet is a bit disappointing. On the other hand, it’s not competing in the same league as those malts. At $51 a bottle here in OR, it’s up against Aberlour and Glenfiddich (both of which I am out of). My notes on Glenfiddich state “Malt & fruit, a touch of pepper, some alcohol sting. Palate: molasses, caramel, fruit (pink lady apple), perhaps a bit too much.”
I think you’ll find The Glenlivet about the same. Not especially interesting, but it won’t offend, and is a good dram to share with someone who is shy of Scotch. Glenmorangie might be more interesting though.
The Glenlivet, Speyside Single Malt, 40% ABV
Nose: Malt, fruit (plum, pear) mineral, a little boggy.
Palate: Creamy sweet like cream soda, Lyles golden syrup, marshmallow. Very neutral and smooth, modest bitters don’t do too much to balance.
Finish: Sweet, a little bitterness (though you have to reach for it), hints of herb.
Bottom Line: These big producers have their hands full getting consistent results across their vast range of expressions and vast production. The result is a bit like cheese. The cheeses you find by the 5-lb block in supermarkets across America aren’t very inspiring, but they are reliably what they are. The Glenlivet 12 can be praised for its consistent high quality of product, but if you’re looking for an interesting or even lively flavor experience, look elsewhere.