The Glenlivet – Reflections on a Tasting

from Pat Phipps

I recently had the great pleasure to go to a Glenlivet tasting at Thorndon Glengarry’s in Wellington.

The Glenlivet is currently one of my favourite distilleries.  They seem to be doing great things, with products ranging from the outstanding but pricey black bottle series (Alpha, Cipher and Code) to the just-released and very affordable Illicit Stills 12yo.

Jack Potter, the NZ brand ambassador was the tasting host.  Jack is an enthusiastic, bright, extremely knowledgeable ambassador and a delight to listen to.  He invited any questions from those assembled and was able to answer most of them effortlessly.

Possibly more importantly, after the tasting he gave the opportunity to have another small dram of our favourite whisky – in my case the single cask 18-year-old.

For those of you who went to Dramfest this year, Jack was also responsible for selecting the two drams for The Glenlivet session with Alan Winchester at Dramfest 2020.

The tasting list

For a ticket price of $30, the line-up for the Glengarry tasting was quite outstanding.  It included:

the 25-year-old at 43%,
the 18-year-old single cask NZ limited edition at 56.8%,
the Illicit Still 12-year-old at 48%,
the standard 12-year-old at 40%,
the Founders reserve at 40%, and
the Nadurra Peated at 61.6%.

Glenlivet Tasting Line-up

Plus, of course, a cheese plate to go with them.

I want to talk first about the newly launched Illicit Stills 12yo.

This retails for around $70 at the moment, a good price for a non-chill filtered 48% abv.  It has a higher sherry barrel finish content than is normal for a Glenlivet and a subsequent wonderful mouthfeel.  On the nose there are green apples with a little cherry and leather polish. On the taste, cherry and a wonderful sherry influence with a long finish.

I noticed there were a few bottles of this expression sold on the night and I was one of the lucky people to purchase one, although the thought did go through my mind if I should buy two.

Glenlivet are releasing a limited-edition original series each year as a salute to their origins and if this is anything to go by then bring it on.

I have had the 25-year-old before at Dramfest when I attended a wee Dram session with Alan Winchester, the Head of distilling at The Glenlivet distillery.  I knew to expect a wonderful smooth whisky matured for 23 years in ex bourbon barrels, then finished for two more years in sherry barrels. Again, there is great mouthfeel, flavour and a long finish.

What I did not expect was to taste an 18 year old single cask.  Boy, what a whisky!  From cask 21087, bottled Feb 2020 as a New Zealand Limited edition, it is 56.8% abv with great mouthfeel, rich taste and way too easy to drink.  I remember thinking to myself that I could drink this all night then a friend next to me said “No you couldn’t”.

They used to give away miniatures to travellers in the Pullman luxury carriages on the trains.

As a comparison we also had the Founders Reserve.  This is Glenlivet’s entry level single malt.  It exhibits the classic distillery floral nose but reminds you that this is a young, quite frisky whisky but still easy drinking

The standard 12-year-old highlights just how much of a step up 12 years of maturing has on the Founders Reserve.  The 12 is smooth but still floral and I personally use this as a benchmark for 12yo Speysides.  One of the reasons I was so impressed by the Illicit Stills version is that Glenlivet managed to up the ante and still stick to the same price point.

The last dram was the Nadurra Peated a Non-Age Statement at cask strength.  I have an open bottle of this at home and love both this edition and the Oloroso finish. Glenlivet again have priced this perfectly for a cask strength whisky.

I was fascinated to learn that the whisky was not peated during production.  Rather, the required taste profile is achieved by putting the liquid is into ex-Islay whisky barrels during fermentation.  As the Glenlivet is owned by Pernod Ricard, you may speculate as to the source of the barrels.

Another interesting titbit from history – when The Glenlivet was first launched into America it was labelled Unblended Whisky as the term single malt was not yet coined.  They used to give away miniatures to travellers in the Pullman luxury carriages on the trains – the equivalent to business/first class air travel today.

How much would I give to get my hands on a few of those minis to add to my collection!