It’s always refreshing to return to the basics, and that’s exactly what I did when I recently attended a virtual Glenlivet tasting. The lineup featured the rebranded 12, 15, and 18-year-old whiskies. Surprisingly, this rebranding only happened last year, catching me off guard since I hadn’t been keeping tabs on this particular brand. Curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to purchase a sample kit for a great deal of just USD $14. The kit included a glass and 50 ml samples of each whisky.
The tasting experience wasn’t as technical as I had hoped, but that was to be expected. I heard the usual spiels about the founder, George Smith, and how the brand fought to protect the name “THE” Glenlivet. However, the technical aspects of Glenlivet’s production process provided some interesting insights. For example, I learned that their fermentation process lasts for 48 hours and they use wooden washbacks made from Oregon pine, which is known for its tight grain that doesn’t impart flavor to the wash.
One of the most noticeable changes in the rebranding was the Glenlivet 12 no longer sporting a green bottle. This was surprising as the green bottle had become a distinguishing characteristic of the 12-year-old expression. According to the brand ambassador, the green glass was used initially due to its affordability. The 12-year-old is now also labeled as a double oak, indicating that it has always been aged in American and European oak, specifically ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.
Moving on to the Glenlivet 15 French Oak Reserve, this expression spends under a year in new and charred Limousin French oak casks, which are re-charred after each use. The purpose of this meticulous process is to maintain the pure influence of French oak on the whisky. Additionally, there is also some European oak and ex-sherry cask influence in the blend.
The Glenlivet 18, on the other hand, remains a mystery even to brand ambassadors. The cask recipe for this expression is kept secret, leaving enthusiasts to speculate and appreciate the unique combination of ex-bourbon and higher ex-sherry cask components.
Now, let’s dive into the flavor profiles of each expression and see how they fared:
The Glenlivet 12 Double Oak – Review
At 40% ABV, this expression is available for £36.95 from The Whisky Exchange and $26.99 from Total Wine.
On the nose: Reminiscent of Kavalan, this whisky bursts with tropical fruit aromas. Pineapple, starfruit, sapodilla, honeysuckle, and honeydew dominate, followed by subtle notes of dates, cloves, tannins, lemon & lime peel, and honey.
In the mouth: Surprisingly different from the nose, the flavors become more aggressive and complex. Oak and fruit notes compete for dominance, resulting in a slightly confusing palate. Tastes of honey, tannins, starfruit, honeydew, cloves, tea leaves, and citrus peels are present, along with an astringent mouthfeel. The finish brings relief with pleasant notes of honey, honeysuckle, toffee, milk chocolate, cherries, and vanilla.
Overall, the Glenlivet 12 Double Oak presents an intriguing nose but falls short on the palate. The flavors become jumbled, and the watery texture doesn’t help. The finish, however, showcases the best aspects of this expression.
The Glenlivet 15 French Oak Reserve – Review
This expression, also at 40% ABV, can be purchased for £54.95 from The Whisky Exchange and $58.99 from Total Wine.
On the nose: The nose opens with tropical fruit notes followed by earthy undertones. Pineapple, dried apricot, sapodilla, and starfruit dominate, accompanied by hints of Fuji apples, honey, coconut sugar syrup, honeydew, orange jam, orange peel, and French oak characteristics. Subtle hints of mushroom-like dried shiitake and grounded chaga add a unique touch.
In the mouth: A tropical fruit salad with intermissions of French oak characterizes the palate. Cantaloupe, pineapples, sapodilla, starfruit, Fuji apples, honey, and dried apricots make their presence known, accompanied by a rising heat as the whisky is chewed. The French oak influence manifests as subtle tastes of dried shiitake mushrooms, chaga powder, and leather. The finish combines tropical fruit notes with a touch of bitterness, reminiscent of coconut husks, honeydew, and orange nuances.
The Glenlivet 15 French Oak Reserve represents a significant improvement over its 12-year-old counterpart. The flavors are well-blended, and there is a better balance between oak influence and the distillery’s DNA. However, a watery texture hinders its full potential.
The Glenlivet 18 Batch Reserve – Review
At 40% ABV, this expression is priced at £90.95 from The Whisky Exchange and $99.99 from Total Wine.
Color: Oloroso sherry.
On the nose: Distinct from both the 12 and the 15, the Glenlivet 18 boasts dominant aromas of red fruits. Cherries, dates, sultanas, Thompson & Muscatel grapes, coffee, chocolate, honey, blood orange, pineapple, and orange peel all make an appearance.
In the mouth: The red fruit and sherry flavors continue to take center stage on the palate, with tastes of cherry candy, chocolate, blood orange, dates, coffee, sultanas, caramelized orange peel oil, toasted chestnuts, and subtle flashes of sulfur.
While the Glenlivet 18 Batch Reserve is undeniably good whisky, it may not surpass its younger counterparts, the 12 and the 15. The dominant European oak and ex-oloroso sherry cask influence sets it apart but sacrifices some complexity. Fans of sherry bomb whiskies will appreciate this expression, but they may yearn for a higher ABV for a more powerful experience.
Considering the price point, there are other intriguing options available in the same range, including limited editions and offerings from independent bottlers.
In conclusion, the Glenlivet 18 Batch Reserve takes us on a journey of rediscovery, offering a distinct profile but falling short of its younger siblings. Nevertheless, it remains a viable choice for sherry enthusiasts. As for me, I’d be inclined to explore alternatives that provide greater value and excitement within a similar price range.
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