Wandering the floor at Whisky Live, I noticed that Neil Macdonald (Brand Director for Malt Whiskies from Chivas Brothers) was manning the booth at The Glenlivet. I trotted over to say hello and ask what was new.
"Something very special" was the reply. "Give me a moment, and I’ll meet you back here."
I headed off to the Royal Mile Whiskies booth to grab a bottle of the 10 year old Black Bottle, a bottle of RMW’s Young Peaty Islay (3rd batch, only 308 bottles, and bottled at a nice mind-numbing 61.5%). I also picked up a copy of Jim Murray’s 2006 Whisky Bible (finally!).
I ran into Jakob Bruhns, André Doerlit, and David Larsson (of the Danish Importer QualityWorld). David, Jakob, André and I had bonded with Frank Boer (Munich Whisky Festival) and Gerd Schmerschneider (of German importer Prineus) over a bottle of Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte that Gerd had brought to share at the Compass Box party the night before. The Port Charlotte was aged for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days in an ex-sherry blood tub (A very small cask with a volume of about 35 liters) and bottled at 63% abv. Now THAT was an ass kicker. But I digress.
We headed over to The Glenlivet to try something "Very Special."
The something special was very special indeed. A bottle of the 1972 Glenlivet Cellar Collection.
I knew this was a limited edition, only 2015 individually numbered bottles, drawn from 10 casks – and here was Neil opening a bottle to give me a sample. Now if that doesn’t make you feel special, I don’t know what does.
Neil started to tell us about it as he pulled the bottle from it’s beautiful wooden container.
NM – Bottled in August of last year, about to go on sale in the U.S. Taken literally straight from the cask and bottled at full strength. It has not been chill-filtered – which I know a lot of people are pleased to hear. Obviously no artificial colouring – it’s come out at just over 52% abv and been about 32 years in the cask.
KE – What’s the cask make-up? Any sherry…
NM – No, it’s taken from 10 traditional Oak Hogsheads that were all distilled on the same day at Glenlivet.
KE – And how many bottles were produced?
NM – 2015. And this is bottle 972 – Let’s hope it’s a good one…
At this point we took a picture before Neil commenced pouring
KE – And you said it will be available in the U.S. How soon?
NM – Literally in the coming weeks – we started shipping in January.
KE – And how many are allocated for the U.S.?
NM – 800 bottles – the U.S. is such a big market – there are so many specialist retailers out there, who all have a number of buyers looking for these kind of bottles
KE - What’s the expected price point?
NM – The retail’s going to be somewhere in the region of $700 per bottle.
KE – Any idea of the geographic distribution? I’m assuming a good number to New York…
NM – Yes. East and West Coast – Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco. Denver and Dallas are also two cities to look at. San Antonio and Austin…
KE – Wow, Texas must be becoming a big Scotch state…I’ve heard Austin is a big whisky town…
NM – Yeah, I understand there’s a strong I.T. connection there.
KE – Well I think we’re going to try it now…
Let me tell you. This stuff was GOOD! – Incredibly complex – the flavours kept coming and coming - and changing. You get a sense of the age in the nose, but it’s certainly not over the top…And for something in the cask for 32 years – it was crisp and fresh – citrusy.
It opened up very nicely with just a bit of water. The citrus notes grew – almost a marmalade – very lively and orangey. It continued to change in my mouth, along with a pleasant gum-numbing.
NM – We’re very fortunate at Glenlivet because we mature most of the whisky in the warehouses there. And it’s relatively high up compared to the rest of Speyside – about 900 feet above sea level. So it is a much colder and damper climate up there.
What that means is that it minimizes extraction from the cask. Yet it allows the oxidation process to really carry on so you just get a lovely…I’ve very rarely tasted overly wooded Glenlivet, where I have with other brands where you get this bitterness…too much of the tannins.
DL – You have no bitterness taking over here.
NM – This really is a whisky you can enjoy all night. Jim Murray said a great thing about the cellar collection – he said if you can find one from the year you were born in, buy a bottle. Every year on your birthday, have a small dram. And if you’re lucky, you’ll finish the bottle.
KE – Well this is VERY, VERY nice. Do you have anything new at perhaps a lower price point?
NM -We just relaunched the 21-year-old…
KE -What about the Nadurra? Is that still only duty-free, or are you planning to expand it?
NM – At the moment, that is just in Duty Free. We introduced it actually about a year ago, and it’s been very, very successful. So I think it’s an idea we are quite keen to do more of…
KE – Well, tell me more about the Nadurra…
NM – Nadurra is actually Gaelic for natural – we said "Let’s make as natural a Glenlivet as we possible can." So, it is not chill-filtered. Also, we bottle at a higher strength – 48% abv. Duty Free doesn’t like cask strength products, so we can’t do it at cask strength. It’s matured in first fill American Oak casks.
And it’s 16 years of age. So we get those oak lactones, you know the marshmallow, coconut, creamy vanilla notes very, very accentuated – but a lot of oak body behind it as well. Sharp, citrusy notes. And last, but not least, we bottle at natural colour, so we add nothing to it.
It is very different than the rest of the Glenlivet range. If you try it with the 12 or the 18, it certainly goes off in a slightly different direction. Lovely mouth-feel – it’s very creamy – not one to drink with ice.
KE – This was also the first chance I’ve had to try the French Oak 15. Which I thought was a great take on the standard 12 – this is a very different whisky – more than just a mere finishing.
NM – Yes, we don’t actually call this a "finish" because not 100% of the whisky has been in new French oak casks. We put a portion of it into French Oak, leave it there for about two years, give or take – then they’re all vatted together with other 15 year old Glenlivet, and then put into the bottle. You are quite right. It IS very different than the 12. I was talking to one of my colleagues at Martell (cognac)- and she was amazed at how reminiscent it is of Martell, because of that brandy style coming from the Limousin Oak. It gives a much richer, spiciness to the whisky – there’s a great complex aroma as well – but it’s nice because it’s not a complete tannin overload. Very subtle flavours coming out of the French Oak itself.
What I like about it is that there are all these whiskies out there talking about obscure Madeiras, Ports, what have you, and we are not talking about that – we are talking about the actual organic nature of the wood itself which magnifies the whisky.
The theme of Glenlivet is simplicity – we’ve got a classic whisky here – and being true to that style, in as simple a way as possible, is the way that we can showcase that to it’s best advantage.
Even I have let my snobbishness get the best of me on occasion – passing up the Glenlivet as being somewhat pedestrian. The three whiskies I talked about with Neil prove that I have been quite wrong.
If you, like me, have sometimes snubbed Glenlivet in the past, it’s time to take a second look.