Glenlivet 12 and Signatory Glenlivet 1995

We have a strange blind spot when it comes to mega-Scotch here on MALT. Though Jason looked at a Glenlivet as part of his Connoisseurs Choice tasting back in November, just over a year ago was the last time that a sole Glenlivet – the second best-selling single malt – was reviewed by anyone on the team.

The best-selling Glenfiddich has gotten even less love; you’ll have to go back to April 2017 to read about the Spirit of Speyside festival bottling, and to September 2016 to read about a bottle you might find on a store shelf.

Show horse (in the sense of both being in third place and being the flashiest) Macallan has gained more attention from us, not necessarily in a good way. The Edition release gives an annual reason for checking in, though Jason has stopped now and again to lament that Macallan seems to have become lost in luxury land, with the whisky being an incidental afterthought. Fitting, in that no one seems to open and drink their bottles anyway.

With the three largest single malts garnering only sporadic coverage here, one might fairly ask of the MALT team: are you doing your job? To which I’d honestly reply: yes and no.

At the rate of at least one piece per day – every day – and even more in the busy season around Christmas, the team collectively reviews an incredible amount of whisky. Don’t cry for our livers, though. Mark and Jason have welcomed new voices (including my own) to the fold, which brings some stylistic variation and a greater diversity of geographic coverage.

This is much needed, given the supply side of the global whisky equation. We’ve discussed the boom in craft distilling; Adam has traipsed all over England to uncover the newest of the new, and I’ve tried to do my part to keep up on this side of the Atlantic. Yet, the number of craft whiskies that we haven’t tried still vastly outnumbers those that we have. At the same time, the established brands churn out new expressions or revamp their lines, constantly pulling our attention away from the core of old standbys.

The above is more an explanation than an excuse. I think there’s an opportunity to do more work on the whisky of most interest to the casual reader: those ubiquitous bottles on the shelf of every supermarket and convenience store. On Twitter, I recently proposed a #FlagshipFebruary -style campaign (aimed at the base range of major producers), which got two “likes” and failed to elicit any responses. Fine, forget you guys. I’ll do it myself.

I never thought I’d say this: I went out and ordered a dram of Glenlivet 12 Years Old. I couldn’t bring myself to shell out $30 for a full bottle. For context, I was once staying with my parents and found their liquor cabinet bare of whisky. The local supermarket only had Glenlivet 12 Years Old on the shelf. I left empty-handed; THAT is what little regard I hold this expression in. It costs even more in the UK from the Whisky Exchange £44.95 or Amazon will take your cash for the same fee.

The 12 Years Old had a near-death experience in 2015, when Pernod Ricard announced that it would be discontinued in favor of the NAS Founder’s Reserve, allegedly due to lack of aged stocks. Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory, however, when the company reversed course in 2017. Pernod Ricard began re-introducing the expression; it is now broadly available once again.

Like my recent exploration of Mortlach, I have paired this entry-level offering with a more distinguished single cask from the same distillery. The hope is to find points of similarity, as well as to suss out some sources of difference between the two.

Onto the dreaded review. Mark last had a crack at this one in a 2015 vertical tasting, in which he described it (and its siblings) as “bland and not worth the price tag.” We’ll see about that!

Glenlivet 12 Years Old – Review

Color: Miller Lite

On the nose: Cheery enough. Blonde wood, ripe pineapple, spearmint, vanilla pound cake. Fairly generic Speyside profile, comparable perhaps to Allt-a-Bhainne, Dalwhinnie, or – indeed – Glenfiddich.

In the mouth: Dude, where’s my whisky? To quote the MALT scoring bands, this is “astonishingly dull.” Almost totally mute on the entrance. At midpalate, this has a soapy texture the faintest vanilla sweetness, and a bit of woody heat before vanishing entirely. Vigorous swishing to hit every nook and cranny of the mouth yields nothing more interesting. At 40%, this is already at the barest minimum to be considered Scotch whisky, and nowhere is this more evident than on the palate.


I wouldn’t even put this in a highball; it’s that flavorless. Perhaps the most pointless age statement in existence. Considering they blend countless casks all together and then add enough water to produce three million bottles, it’s not really surprising that this doesn’t taste like much. What’s more astounding is that it tastes like anything at all. It’s hard to imagine this having much in common with a single sherry cask from Glenlivet; it doesn’t even have anything in common with itself.

Score: 3/10

I’d like to tell you that the second-most popular single malt whisky is also the second worst, but that would be too strong of an opinion. I don’t like this, but I don’t really hate it, either. It’s everywhere, it’s very, very, very, very dull, but it doesn’t spark the kind of passion that ignites the kindling of hatred. I feel about it the way I feel about, say, Diet Pepsi.

I’ve often thought about the Coke vs. Pepsi rivalry, and the $4 billion and $2.4 billion, respectively, they spend annually on advertising. It’s an inescapable arms race, but it’s tantalizing to imagine one of them spontaneously quitting. To analogize: what if Glenlivet just quit trying to be #1? What if they took this amazing distillery, and their access to all manner of casks, and just decided to produce 21 million liters of the tastiest whisky they could? Our second review provides a glimpse of what might result from that revolutionary decision.

As mentioned above, Jason last delved into a Signatory bottling of a sherry cask from Glenlivet. Jason is persuasive and I am suggestible, and also an incorrigible copycat, and also this was given to me for free by a friend. Thus, I too am reviewing a Signatory sherry cask of Glenlivet.

This is part of cask 166960, a first fill sherry butt, picked by Warehouse Liquors of Chicago. It was distilled on 10/30/1995, bottled on 7/21/2016 (20 years old) at 57.4%. 264 bottles were produced from this portion. It retails for $190 around me, but this sample is another dram generously shared with me by Carl. Thanks, Carl.

Signatory Glenlivet 1995 20 Year Old – Review

Color: Medium-dark sepia with crimson glints.

On the nose: This is a bit of a sleeper to start, but lingering over the glass allows a parade of aromas to gradually emerge. Ripe pineapple, leather armchair, mahogany, semi-sweet baking chocolate, beef broth, vanilla buttercream, cracked black peppercorn, stewed tomatoes, teriyaki glaze, Worcestershire sauce. Rich, though there’s an edge to this that keeps it from smelling too sickly-sweet.

In the mouth: Texturally quite variegated across the tongue and down the throat. Not much on the tip of the tongue, though this blooms quickly into the citric tartness of freshly-squeezed lemon juice. A judicious splash of water releases more nutty flavors, as well as a very subtle chalky sweetness of Dubble Bubble gum. There’s an off, bitter note of almonds before this finishes with an ashy texture, and the subtle lingering flavor of spent firewood. Throughout, spirit and cask are mostly in balance.


As Jason noted in his review of the Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, this distillery is incapable of producing poor distillate. Rather, there’s something durable at the center of this whisky which can hold its own against a first fill sherry butt for two decades. This falls a bit short of the Mortlach, but is a decent example of the sherried Speyside style (if a bit expensive).

Score: 7/10

These two are perfect strangers. The only shared nuance is a ripe pineapple aroma. I guess the important takeaway is: hiding behind those three million bottles of diluted, feeble whisky is a distillery producing a spirit that can hold its own against the burliest of casks. So, by all means: go forth and find Glenlivet in its purer forms. And, if you should find yourself in the invidious position of having to drink the 12 Years Old: go slow, or you could miss it.

Lead image courtesy of Glenlivet

CategoriesSingle Malt
    1. Taylor says:

      Matt, thanks for the suggestion. I enjoyed Nàdurra 16 Years Old (Batch #0114A) a few years back, but haven’t gotten a chance to try the new NAS expressions. Perhaps I’ll leave that for another member of the MALT team; I feel like I’ve done my community service with a serious review of the 12 year old 😉

  1. Carl Thoma says:

    I like the comparisons. The Whisky Companies research determined that enough people drink Scotch based on the brand image and not what is in the bottle to pull out their best stuff and sell it at 7X the regular product. Millions of people drink it because it is an alcoholic beverage and not because it is whisky. I wonder what percentage of 12 year old is sold as “give me a whisky” to the bartender. In the wine industry the vast majority of wine by the glass is sold by “give me a glass or red wine”. Finally, who drinks Diet Coke for its flavor?

  2. Taylor says:

    Carl, many good points here. Clearly the criteria for becoming the top selling single malt is different from the type of things that appeal to the average MALT reader, in all his/her wise discernment and erudite sophistication. Personally I love a Diet Coke, but will readily concede that Diet Pepsi tastes like robot sweat. Thanks again for sharing another lovely dram with me. I owe you a few in return!

  3. Welsh Toro says:

    That’s a crying shame that your Glenlivet 12 was so dull. When I was younger I remember quite enjoying it before moving on to bigger and better things. I wouldn’t mind hazarding a bet that Glenlivet are using pretty knackered casks for the latest version and 40% is asking for trouble.

    Glenlivet do make fine spirit but they do themselves no favours. The 16 year Nadurra was sensational and it’s absolute bullshit that they can’t keep up demand. Make it a NAS and double the money. I’ve had some fine independents, mostly from Signatory in the last few years. A 20 year ex-fino barrel which was very good and some first fill ex-oloroso 11 year old’s which put most sherry merchant whiskies to shame. Glenlivet have no need to market their product to the likes of us. They make stacks of money doing what their doing and that’s the name of the game. A pity. Cheers. WT

    1. Taylor says:

      WT, thanks for sharing the thoughts. As a general rule, I’d encourage anyone exploring a distillery to contrast the official bottlings with some independent offerings. Glenlivet is a great example; ditto Glenrothes. Cheers!

  4. Anselmo says:

    And to think Glen12 just moved to the top of my list. I’m a novice rookie in the whiskey game. I was brought up on Buchanan’s 12 and Crown Royal mixed with mineral water at quinceñeras and weddings. I always enjoyed the sweet and bitterness taste compared to tequila and vodka. Though I always felt there was something missing, like there could be a better whiskey out there. Last year a friend co-worker of mine recommend 15yr Macallan, so we went out to the liquor store and I looked around at the scotch aisle. I couldn’t bare spend $90+ on a bottle I had never tried, so I went with the 12yr double cask option for about $65+tax. I enjoyed the bottle more than Buchanan’s and Crown, I had a swig of the 15 and yes it was much better in my opinion. A few weeks later I was out of the Macallan so I decided to venture back on my own to the scotch aisle and pick something from just reading online reviews; I went with the Glenfiddich 15yr Solera Vat. I liked this whiskey more than the Macallan 12double cask, halfways down the bottle my exboss gifts me a 12yr Macallan not the double cask though. I liked that 12yr better than the 12yr double cask. So weeks later I’m out of Macallan and Glenfiddich again, I buy another Solera Vat, gone,Xmas wife gifts me another Solera, gone, so at this point I’m thinking its time to try something new. I was thinking about trying an Ardiberg bottle but my coworker got me into trying the Balvenie 14yr Carribean Cask matured in rum casks. Yuck! That was not to my likings at very spicy flavor to it, gave me headache. The bottle sits on the shelf near full , and I did give it another try and nope! $65+ wasted. I was out for lunch at a wings spot and saw the Glen12 sitting at the bar so decided to give it a try, first sip and I was thinking this has been better than all the whiskeys I’ve tried to date. Side note I did not know a lil cup of whiskey goes for about $10 at a bar/restaurant,it was my first time ever ordering it at that type of establishment. So I have bought myself a Glen12 for at home. Spending $35 for something I enjoy compared to wasting $65+ on something I do not is priceless. I have matured from drinking whiskey with mineral water to whiskey with ice to some how liking whiskey all on its own dry, maybe a few drops of water because yes it is true flavors do open up with it.. But I somehow stumbled upon this site and review,well not somehow Google does spy on my searches and recommends on things im researching. Anyways I shouldn’t like the Glen12.What? How? Why?…. I love it.

    1. Taylor says:

      Anselmo, sounds like your whisky journey has started the way most peoples’ (including mine) do – trying what’s at hand and gradually broadening your horizons as time and resources allow. That’s great.

      Something to be aware of: nobody, myself included, can tell you what you “should” or “shouldn’t” like. Every whisky review on every site, including this one, is just one person’s opinion. No matter how famous or prominent the critic (and I am definitely neither), there is no final word on any whisky. If you love Glenlivet 12, well, then we have different tastes. That’s fine. It’s a big world with plenty of whisky to go around.

      If I may make a suggestion: Glenmorangie “The Original” 10 years old. It’s the whisky that got me started on single mats, and retails for around $37 near me. Would be keen to hear how you like it compared to the Glenlivet.

      Anyway, welcome to the wonderful world of whisky. Keep reading, learning, exploring, and tasting!

  5. Mike says:

    Three years ago I went on a distillery tour of Glenlivet and asked why the twelve year old had been dropped for the far inferior Founders Reserve and was informed that it had been a marketing mistake and that the twelve year old was back on the shelves.
    I am not a malt expert. I quite like twelve year old Glenlivet but really like the fifteen year old Glenlivet.
    Well marketing mistake or not I wouldn’t pay full price for this but do buy an occasional bottle when Tesco have it on offer.

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