Whisky and Words Number 61: The Glenlivet 15

The Glenlivet 15. Nicely presented. Sorry for artificial light, so much smoke outside, no sun.

Welcome followers 50 & 51! Also, since I updated to a more mobile-friendly format, thanks all for a solid 2x increase in viewership in 2020. That is about the only part of 2020 that has not sucked (pandemic, massive worldwide recession, collapse of American democracy, you know, all that stuff…)

Here comes another Glenlivet, this time the 15, on a huge sale at my local Oregon bottle shop. At $65 it is a $12 discount to the usual tariff. I was going to wait a while to post again, but a combination of this compelling sale, and the fact that we are locked inside for a weekend due to the horrific fires in Oregon (and resulting smoke) and a little celebration for my 50th (and 51st) followers has resulted in a bonus mid-week update.

While The Glenlivet usually uses mostly American oak (ex-bourbon of course) and some sherry casks, the 15 boasts additional maturation in French oak. To wit (from the carton): “a portion of the whisky is finished in Limousin Oak delivering lingering notes of toasted almond.” I usually try to avoid reading tasting notes before I try a whisky so I’ll forget about the almonds. Let’s nail down instead, what the heck is Limousin oak? This time the Glenlivet’s web site comes through:

The Limousin oak we use is cut in France’s Dordogne region, where it’s often used to mature cognacs. Its low density allows whisky to sink deep into the wood, and we carefully control how long the whisky matures in the casks so as not to overpower the desired result: a unique, pleasing spiciness.

Limousin is a common oak used for distillates, and you can read a bit more here from the Oak Barrels Shop. The OBS site explains that “this type of oak provides a golden yellow colour.” The 15 is built on the 12, which is a light amber. The color of the 15 is an almost-identical light amber (The Glenlivet calls it “a deep rich gold”) to the 12-year, as you can see below.

Glenlivet 15 on left vs. the 12; pay attention to the spirit in the glass, not the bottle (in a larger bottle it will look darker)

I found the The Glenlivet 12 disappointing. The 15 promises more, and it should deliver. Normally a substantial $77 a bottle, it compares to the 12 at $51—a 50% markup. The 15 has a lot to answer for. What’s it got inside the bottle?

Taste chart. Is it spicy? Yes, it is spicy. We warned you.

The nose absolutely has more heft to it than the 12 and it is gentler, smoother, luxurious where the 12 is somewhat thin and has a bit of alcohol bite. You get a nice earthy note as you inhale deeply, without the boggy notes of the 12. I get walnuts, not almonds, and some cinnamon spice. Pretty good, over all. They must use more sherry butts in this vatting than in the 12. That alone is worth a bit more on the nose (and the pocketbook). The palate is nicely chewy and unctuous, not too sweet—we’re into the grown-up malt at Glenlivet now. This is not a dessert whisky (unless you like heavily spiced nutmeg-and-cinnamon cookies). Coming from a Glenfarclas or Glenmorangie your taste buds are going to think you wandered into the spice aisle. In a head-to-head with the 12 it blows the 12 out of the water. It’s instructive to look at the flavor wheel on the back of the carton (photo, above); the malt master tips his hand here.

The Glenlivet 15-year, Speyside Single Malt, 40% ABV

Nose: Fairly intense sherry, with the some ‘pink lady’ apple backing of the 12. A little earthy on the deep draught: walnuts and cinnamon.
Palate: Fairly complex and balanced with some golden syrup and toffee heavily braced by a lot of spice and sturdy tannins—almost to the point of astringency.  Major notes are sherry, toffee, cinnamon, spicy oak.
Finish: Long, spicy and dry…a tad bitter, but mostly that spice goes on and on.

Bottom Line: At $65 this is the Glenlivet to buy, if you dig a nutty, spicy sherry vehicle. It definitely takes you on an adventure. At a modest markup, the 15 is a no-brainer over the everyday 12 and compared for instance to the similarly-priced Clynelish 14, is more interesting. At the normal price, getting up towards $80, it has stiff competition with the likes of Bunnahabhain, Springbank, Edradour, etc., which take a craft-distilling approach and achieve excellent (and more balanced) results.

Luscious looks and a fruity nose belie the explosion of spice that awaits the unsuspecting.

Author: H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.

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