On the odd occasion, I’m approached for advice from those starting out or looking for a new direction in their whisky journey. I’m light years away from being labelled an expert, or even further afield from the right to lead a masterclass of all things; perhaps a rover class? However, it is humbling whenever I do receive such questions or comments online from those that have married their own tastes with mine and await my reviews with high expectations. Apologies in advance once again.
An initial piece of advice would be to ignore the big guns such as the Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Glenmorangie. Yes, they do have their worth up to a certain point, but by then you’re ready to fly the coop and make new discoveries. In my own whisky circles no one talks about these brands or very rarely, if at all. Perhaps the most prominent example is the Glenlivet despite its ongoing battle with Glenfiddich for the world’s best selling single malt. I suppose some out there are quite content with their mediocre whisky every evening and good for them as it’s all about personal taste and enjoyment.
Still, you’re reading Malt here and we like to consider the market as a whole rather than whiskies or brands that shout the loudest or offer the most luxurious freebies.
The Glenlivet is the biggest single malt focus from its parent company Pernod Ricard, who own Chivas Brothers. Quite rightly, as it’s a very famous whisky brand with plenty of heritage and history that marketing and business departments use to bump up the retail price. Chivas do have some interesting distilleries within their portfolio including Tormore unquestionably, but also Allt-a-Bhainne and Braeval amongst others. These tend to be shunned by the parent company, limited to the occasional single cask bottling whilst focusing on producing blend content. Thank goodness for the independent bottlers.
These companies would be another piece of advice as a destination to seek out whiskies in their natural form, often at realistic prices. Another nugget of information from my slowly combusting brain would be to ignore the name on the label. Instead, let your senses guide you and the recommendations of others. Such was the case here with this Braes of Glenlivet bottling from independent Signatory, which was recommended to me by the whisky geeks responsible for the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar and Dornoch Distillery. If you’ve ever visited the bar set within the Dornoch Castle then you’ll appreciate the range of whiskies from across the world and decades. To recommend a relatively obscure distillery bottling when surrounded by an arsenal of rare classics takes some doing. When a whisky is highlighted as being interesting then this for me is a winner, as I’m always seeking to expand my own knowledge and appreciation.
The Braes of Glenlivet distillery was established in 1973 by Seagram’s in the remote south westerly area of Speyside. This is classic remote and rugged Highland terrain. It’s nearest neighbour is Tamnavulin distillery and I’ve only driven past it on a couple of occasions whilst heading south. As far as 1960’s and 1970’s constructions go, it’s not too shabby as a distillery, possessing some identifiable features as to its purpose unlike Allt-a-Bhainne or the horror of Glendullan. Given its recent construction, the history of the distillery is pretty bland although it was closed in 2002 before reopening once again in 2008. Arguably its most interesting fact is that in 1994, the distillery was renamed Braeval to avoid confusion with the Glenlivet. Rather some clever brand repositioning was afoot as one says Braes and the other doesn’t. So, in the end, we have the rather bland title of Braeval.
This Signatory bottling was distilled on 29th November 1979, before being bottled on 16th April 1998 at an age of 18 years. A full maturation in a sherry butt (cask number 9292) resulted in 804 bottles at a reduced strength of 43% volume, which is typical for this value Signatory range. If you’re visiting the bar then a dram of this will set you back a very reasonable £8.
Braes of Glenlivet 1979 Signatory Review
Colour: candied orange.
On the nose: fruity initially, with a coating of icing sugar and then marzipan. Apricots, a hint of redness with apples and cranberries, but it’s all restrained suggesting a leisurely cask. Some heather giving a floral aspect, a rich honey and a chalky mineral aspect.
In the mouth: very delicate and restrained. Again the cask influence is a faint whisper with the lower alcohol level not assisting. There’s a touch a charcoal, black pepper, malted loaf and grapefruit. Returning, more apricots and a withered cinnamon with orange peel moving into a lemon jelly finish.
A very approachable and agreeable Speysider that is a perfect opener to any whisky tasting. Just enough to awaken the senses and focus the mind. A very gentle soul and a drinkable one at that.