Whisky and Words Number 61: The Glenlivet 15 and welcome followers 50 & 51!

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 vacuous 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.

Whisky and Words Number 60: The Glenlivet 21

Snazzy box…nice veneer.

Switching it up on you today! The last review was The Glenlivet 12, now we’re on to the Glenlivet 21.  As I mentioned in the previous post, with 14 stills, The Glenlivet produces 6 million bottles a year. They are consistent, I’ll give them that. But the 12 did not impress with depth or complexity. Today’s question: can they produce an outstanding whisky, given 9 more years?

The 21 is tagged ‘Archive’ and priced here in Oregon at $209 per bottle. For reference, our un-flashy benchmark Glenfarclas has a 21-year that retails for $145. I’m hoping there is some special mojo in the Glenlivet to make it worth that coin. Whiskyloot has a tidbit—the ‘Archive’ moniker is because there are whiskies up to 40 years in cask vatted with this expression. Now they have my attention. We had a dram from a 34-year cask at the Balvenie and that whisky had a thickness and depth that was transformational. Old whisky is different.

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Whisky and Words Number 59: The Glenlivet 12

The Glenlivet 12 in 375ml size.

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?

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Whisky and Words Number 58: Tomintoul 16

The Tomintoul16 comes in an elegant and arty carton.

Has it been 3 months since my last review? Yes, it has. No shortage of whiskies on hand, so I will set my nose to the grindstone. We have another Speysider here, and because this has some age to it, I’ll compare it to my Glenlivet 21. Stiff competition! As you can see (left), this was a small bottle (that’s my carved walnut from the Great Wall next to it. Yes, I have a carved walnut). It was our last day in Edinburgh and I saw this in the shop and grabbed it. Paid £10 (!) for this little gem so I have high hopes.

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Whisky and Words Number 57: Cragganmore 12

Well, hell, this blog ain’t dead! And neither am I. Just been a bit distracted, you know. Can’t think of why, offhand. Let’s see, something about a bat virus has got everyone het up. But, just in case you were thinking I wasn’t drinking, I have been. In moderation. Really (has not been easy…). And a recent add is the Cragganmore 12.

The Cragganmore 12 at rest.

I was really motivated to try this after the last review, of the Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition (Crag-DE for short)., which is a Port finish. I thought the Crag-DE was not up to the complexity of the Quinta Ruban, but then, maybe that was not their point. I was right—now having tried the Crag 12, I see where they went for the Port finish version. The Distiller’s edition is a well-applied, direct upgrade and enhancement of the standard 12-year. It rounds out, not overwhelms, the flavors in the standard 12.

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