Come on down the price is right.
A famous line from a bygone age of television. But it reveals a pearl of wisdom that still applies to this very day. See, we’re all obsessed with a bargain, or at least the prospect of the hunt. Whether it is the thrill of winning against the capitalist and corporate system or merely taking a speculative punt on a previously ignored whisky. We love the sense of a bargain and throwing caution to the wind.
We’re living in an era of flash sales, discounts and a recalibration of price points for certain whiskies. The musical chair jostling to find their perfect positioning in an increasingly crowded marketplace. The slight admission that the bottler over-egged the price point, only to engage in a sly retreat towards a more meaningful price. The deletion of a specific expression has become a common sight in recent times, only to be suddenly replaced by something younger and often more expensive. The art of the redesign that keeps many experts and industry commentators employed in a vicious circle of press releases and soundbites. Each of these and many more, ensure that now and again, the decks are cleared of old stock and weary designs, or just failing stock is discounted. Only then, do we know, if indeed the price has morphed from the overpriced to the sweet spot.
This is the dilemma that we use our judgement to decipher when faced with an array of bottles for sale. Recently, I found myself in Edinburgh on a Sunday morning and in a supermarket branch of Sainsbury’s – other retailers of whisky are available – but I’m being candid here. If you’re like me, then with a few moments to spare, you’ll venture down towards the whisky or whiskey, away from the cans of Irn Bru and proper crisps. Ignoring the ranks of beers, cider (sorry Adam), vodka, rum and gin. To see what’s on offer, or what supermarket exclusives have appeared since your last foray. This isn’t the normal hunting ground for an enthusiast such as myself, but it is beneficial to keep in touch with the assortment of everyday whiskies for many drinkers.
We always listen to feedback here on Malt and while we try to do our darndest to bring you whiskies from across the world and of all ages. There’s a need to cover more of these everyday examples and return to those relegated or ignored bottles.
A scan of the shelves confirmed some heavy discounting and enticing prices with a few empty places being evident. Several caught my eye, but it is today’s Glenlivet Captain’s Reserve that was victorious. Glenlivet is a huge brand and presence in whisky. A distillery that we don’t cover much nowadays unless an independent has released a sherry bomb. Glenlivet is what I like to refer to amongst my circle as a dead brand. By this I mean you’ve moved on from it in your whisky journey. It remains a memory, but like Auchentoshan, Balvenie, Glenfiddich and their ilk, not something you will look back upon and return to. But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t re-engage with it on occasion for those out there.
The price reduction was substantial, as normally retailing for £47, this Glenlivet expression is at the high end of what you’d expect to find in a supermarket unless you’re in Waitrose. Instead, this bottle cost me just £32, which seems too good to be true. I had wondered if the expression was being deleted or the packaging revamped? Both seemed unlikely as this cognac finish Glenlivet was only launched in 2018. In whisky terms, that’s yesterday. Pure speculation on my part, but both of the remaining bottles were showcasing slightly bashed packaging that might symbolise the last of the line for this retailer. They’d tried to give the Captain a chance with his fancy cognac finish and it hadn’t found an audience. And at nearly £50, noting the competition on the shelves, I can see why, or why not just walk up the aisle and buy a cognac yourself for much less?
I am surprised that this is only a recent addition to the Glenlivet range as the packaging feels tired, safe and decades-old rather than just 2 years. The abundant use of purple, wording and showcasing George Smith in regal terms almost brings a Napoleonic theme and projection of grandeur, which taps into the use of the cognac casks. In terms of age, Glenlivet isn’t talking about such details. The casks are used as a finish for a minimum period of 6 months to enhance a portion of the American/sherry casks (first fill) that have been utilised for the initial maturation. French wood is prized and often considerably old, depending on where Glenlivet sourced their casks from and this translates into the overall cost. In recent times, we’ve seen cognac casks used as a finishing instrument across the industry from the likes of Arran, Deanston, Glenfarclas and Glenmorangie with some American distilleries also experimenting with the qualities these casks can deliver.
A cognac cask can bring a robust sense of oak to proceedings. Few distillates can stand up to the nature of French oak for a full maturation. Meaning that most of the cognac casks we’ll see are indeed finishes. Carefully managed it can bring an oaky elegance to the whisky, fortifying the aromas and flavour and enhancing the texture. An interesting comparison would be alongside the Glenlivet 15 year old French Oak Reserve, which uses limousin oak casks from France. Slightly more expensive at £53.99 via Master of Malt. The immediate question would be why do both exist and what differences do they bring? That’s for a future tasting, but on paper you’d presume the French Oak Reserve uses wood exclusively from the Limousin forest, whereas this Captain cognac is unspecified and that might entail casks from Tronçais, which according to the Cognac-Expert is softer and lacks the forceful nature of Limousin. Perhaps the Glenlivet was listening to Mark in 2015, when he concluded that they shouldn’t worry about the age statements. Instead, they should rip off the numbers – of all of them – and instead start bottling whiskies that make for more exciting calling cards.
Looking online, a bottle of this Glenlivet Captain’s Reserve will cost you £46.95 from The Whisky Exchange, while expect to pay slight less at £44.90 via Master of Malt and Amazon will charge exactly the same. Underlining my good fortune at the supermarket and how it pays to shop around.
The Glenlivet Captain’s Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky – review
On the nose: a pleasing arrival of toffee, marmalade, cardamon and apricot. More time in the glass reveals notes of tobacco, honey and chocolate orange. Adding water brings out a leathery quality, dried ginger, walnuts and plums.
In the mouth: toffee lingers again with some black pepper seasoning. There’s a sense of a very withdrawn and shy dram – one that’s been watered down heavily. Some patience is required. Then you begin to pick up figs, cinnamon bark and kindling. A pleasing essence of rubber mixes well with golden syrup and stewed apples. Just a drop of water delivers more of the sherried wood with red grapes, cranberries and slightly drying in parts.
This plays to the core Glenlivet audience extremely well. Far from a challenging or difficult whisky, this is easy drinking territory and easily poured into a tumbler with ice. I can see why this exists. It offers a sense of what cognac can bring to a whisky. Displaying a little more quality and character than the staple Glenlivet expressions.
I’m also reminded that changes to the filtration and strength would pay dividends for consumers. Glenlivet can afford to give a little more when charging nearly £50 for this, or at least reinforce why it costs so much, whilst avoiding an age statement. In their defence, I would state that there is a decent age to this whisky, as there’s nothing harsh or undignified whatsoever. A luxurious suspension and softness to the experience that makes for an easy dram. Personally, I’m at a stage now where I want a little more vigour and character. This Captain’s Reserve feels suffocated not by the wood, but rather the safe environment that Glenlivet likes to exist within.