Whisky and Words Number 101: The Glenlivet ‘Illicit Still’ 12-year

I suspect this tastes MUCH better than that old scotch moonshine!

Once again one of my friends comes through with a bottle of something I  have not tried and turns out a pleasant surprise. This Glenlivet is a special edition presumably in the style of the original pre-licensed operation, but apart from that we don’t know a whole lot about what goes into it. It is  12-year, bottled at a hefty 48%, and not chill-filtered. While their website alludes to ‘smaller’ copper stills being used for the original illicit whisky, they don’t exactly say if this whisky is distilled any differently than the standard expression. Given the fact it is available across the U.S., which implies a large production run, I’m guessing they used their usual production stills for this. The ‘learn more’ button on the page above takes you to an ordering page which does have tasting notes but no more on the  making of this dram.

Bottling at a higher ABV and bypassing the usual filtration are points in this dram’s favor, so ten points to Glenlivet for taking a crafty approach. One wonders if the selection of casks was also considered? Let’s get down to it.

Dark bottle, dark liquor.

The uncorking test is not significant, but Speysiders don’t invade a room like peated whiskies do. Moving in on the old glencairn reveals a pleasing plummy nose backed with well-balanced mineral, gingerbread and cinnamon notes. Nice! The palate does not disappoint. The sweet side is modest, a honeysuckle more than honey, and balanced with vanilla and drying, slightly bitter oak tones with that nice cinnamon throughout. It is not completely smooth (the wife agreed there), but part of the aggressiveness on the palate is the ABV, so I’ll add some water. But first the finish: unwatered, it has a good structure with dark caramel rising after the honeysuckle has faded and the aforementioned oaky dryness balances with just the right amount of bitters and a healthy whack of astringency.

With just a little bit of water, the experience is improved: a creamier mouthfeel, as the slight harshness from the alcohol content is moderated, though the level of bitterness and astringency seem about the same. Not a complaint: I like the structure of this whisky, versus the marshmallow submissiveness of the standard Glenlivet.

Glenlivet Illicit Still 12-year single malt Scotch whisky, 48% ABV

Nose: Plums, cinnamon, gingerbread, mineral.
Palate: Honeysuckle, plum, vanilla and cinnamon with forthright but not overdone oakey bitterness.
Finish: Dark caramel, with a good amount of balanced bitters; astringent. Decent length.

Bottom Line: I think this is a good whisky for a change-up if you are a Speyside drinker. At about a 10% premium to their standard expression, which I found uninspiring, you get quite a bit more character but it stays in the Speyside lane. In a recent get-together with some whisky-drinking friends, it was one of the two favorites of the bunch, despite being one of the least expensive. The stout level of oak–tasted in the vanilla, bitter and astringent aspects–implies to me that younger casks were used than what they use for the standard expression.

A nice crafty take-off of the usual Glenlivet 12.

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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