It’s always nice to go back to basics.

I recently attended a virtual Glenlivet tasting. The lineup consisted of the rebranded 12, 15, and 18 year old whiskies. According to the brand ambassador, Jasper Epsom, this new labeling only happened last year. Since I lack interest in this particular brand I don’t keep tabs, so I was surprised at the news. Did one of the most recognizable single malt brands in the world need rebranding? Or did they just want a new look? I wouldn’t have thought of tackling this one again, but buying a sample kit for about USD $14 seemed like a great deal. It came with a glass and 50 ml samples of each whisky.

The experience wasn’t as technical as I had hoped it to be, but that was to be expected. The spiels I heard were nothing new. The tasting touched on the founder, George Smith, and on how there were way more illegal distillers before 1823, after which a law made it cheaper to apply for a distilling license. It went on to say that 1824 was the year he got licensed and could operate his distillery. There was mention of the then-King of England asking for his whisky before it even became legal, and of how they fought other Speyside whisky who sought to use the name “THE” Glenlivet in their bottlings.

Touching on some technical aspects: Glenlivet’s fermentation lasts for 48 hours. They use wooden washbacks made from Oregon pine, a.k.a. Douglas fir. This type of wood is used because the grain is tight, so is won’t impart flavor to the wash. It wasn’t mentioned how often the washbacks are cleaned, but they are steamed once in a while. The staves are said to last for 20 to 30 years before they need to be replaced.

The most notable of the rebranding is Glenlivet 12: it no longer sports a green bottle. It struck me as odd, since that bottle was one of the distinguishing characteristics of the 12 year old. According to Jasper, the green bottle only stuck around before because green glass was cheaper than clear glass back in the day. I forgot to ask if it’s still the case now. The 12 is also now labeled as a double oak; he said that it’s always been aged in American and European oak, so it’s not a change in anything but the label. In this context, he means ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.

The Glenlivet 15 French Oak Reserve is aged for under a year in both new and charred Limousin French oak. The casks are then re-charred after each use. This is wasn’t mentioned in the tasting, but previous tastings have mentioned charring is said to reset a cask. I guess they want to keep the French oak influence as pure as they can. There is also some European oak/ex-sherry cask in this blend.

The Glenlivet 18 was something I couldn’t get much information on. Jasper said that even brand ambassadors don’t know the cask recipe of this one. He mentioned that he saw a board with the cask recipe on it, but it was written in code, so he couldn’t make anything out of it. Aside from the obvious and usual use of ex-bourbon casks, this has a higher ex-sherry cask component.

The Glenlivet 12 Double Oak – Review

40% ABV. £36.95 from The Whisky Exchange. $26.99 from Total Wine.

Color: Gold.

On the nose: A bit reminiscent of Kavalan. This is loaded with tropical fruits. Initially, I get pronounced aromas of pineapple, starfruit, sapodilla, honeysuckle and honeydew. The intensity of other aromas suddenly fell off. I get subtle aromas of dates, cloves, tannins, lemon & lime peel and honey.

In the mouth: Very different than on the nose. The heat was non-existent there, but it’s aggressive here. The flavors are a mess as well. I get the oak and fruit notes at the same time. It’s like they’re competing with each other for dominance. There are light tastes of honey, tannins, starfruit, honeydew, cloves, tea leaves and citrus peels. There’s also an odd, astringent mouthfeel that prevents me from enjoying the other subtle tastes. The finish is more pleasant. I get less of the astringency. Light tastes of honey, honeysuckle, toffee, milk chocolate, cherries and vanilla come out.

Conclusions:

This is different from what I remember; I recall tasting more green apples and pears in the 12. Is this really the same whisky as the ones in the green bottle? Or have my senses just changed? Is it both? It’s been a few years since I last tried this whisky after all.

Like a lot of the easily accessible whisky, it’s a lot more presentable on the nose. It’s very coherent and enticing. Once you get in the mouth, though, it’s a mess. The flavors get all bungled up, and a watery texture doesn’t help either. I feel like the finish was the best part because the flavors get their act together in that moment.

The ex-sherry cask aged components blended here must be very minimal. I’m more inclined to think that a small portion of ex-sherry cask-matured Glenlivet was blended in this expression, rather than it being a finish. The distillery DNA and American oak flavors are more noticeable from start to end, while he ex-sherry notes like the dates, cherries and milk chocolate are sparingly present on the nose and finish.

Since this is one of the most easy-to-find single malts in the world, I feel like I’m compelled to compare the price of this to other unpeated single malts of the same price range that can serve as better alternatives.

You have the following to choose from from The Whisky Exchange: Deanston 12, Glengoyne 10 & Cragganmore 12. From Total Wine: Eh. Not much of a selection in the $20 to $30 range. You’d have to go to $50.

Score: 5/10

(at The Whisky Exchange price),

6/10

(at the Total Wine price)

The Glenlivet 15 French Oak Reserve – Review

40% ABV. £54.95 from The Whisky Exchange. $58.99 from Total Wine.

Color: Honey.

On the nose: Tropical fruits in the first half. Earthy in the second half. Initially, this is similar to the 12-year-old. There are medium intense aromas of pineapple, dried apricot, sapodilla, and starfruit. After these come light aromas of Fuji apples, honey and coconut sugar syrup. The intensity turns up a bit. It allows me to smell honeydew, orange jam and orange peel. Subtle aromas of French oak characteristics come out. An assortment of mushrooms like dried shiitake and grounded chaga comes to mind.

In the mouth: A tropical fruit salad with an intermission of French oak in the middle. Like on the nose, it’s initially tropical fruits. I get light and slightly lasting tastes of cantaloupe, pineapples, sapodilla, starfruit, Fuji apples, honey and dried apricots. There’s a sneaking, rising heat here too as I chew it. The French oak manifests in the form of mushrooms. Similar to the nose, I get subtle and brief tastes of dried shiitake mushrooms, chaga powder and leather. At the end are a subtle mix of more tropical fruit notes with something bitter. The bitterness makes me think of biting into a fresh coconut husk, as well as honeydew and different shades of orange.

Conclusions:

I think this is a huge improvement over the 12-year-old. The blending of flavors is more cohesive, and there seems to be a better balance between oak influence and the distillery DNA. I feel like I’d enjoy this more if it weren’t so watery.

Because this is one of the most accessible brands in the world, I feel like I have to ask a couple of questions: One, Is this worth the price premium above the 12? Two, how would this compare to similar priced but lesser-known alternatives?

There is an £18 difference from TWE; $32 from Total Wine. I’d say that it might be more worth for the TWE price, mainly because a $32 difference for a three-year age difference sounds really off.

I checked both stores, and there are other unpeated alternatives in the same price range. From TWE there are: Loch Lomond 14, Glenfarclas 105Craigellachie 13. From Total Wine there are: Edradour 10, Deanston 12 & Craigellachie 13

Score: 6/10

The Glenlivet 18 Batch Reserve – Review

40% ABV. £90.95 from The Whisky Exchange. $99.99 from Total Wine

Color: Oloroso sherry.

On the nose: Very different from the 12 and 15. The aromas of red fruits are more dominant: I get light, lasting and stable aromas of cherries, dates, and sultanas, as well as Thompson & muscatel grapes, coffee, chocolate, honey and blood orange. There are subtle bursts of pineapple, orange peel and starfruit in between these–then there’s a sudden fall-off.

In the mouth: Like the nose, the red fruits and sherry flavors dominate. I get light tastes of cherry candy, chocolate, blood orange, dates, coffee, sultanas, caramelized orange peel oil and toasted chestnut. In between those are subtle flashes of sulfur.

Conclusions:

This is good whisky, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s better than the 12 or the 15. The dominant European oak/ex-oloroso sherry cask influence just makes it that much more different from the 12 and 15.

Sherry bomb fanatics will like this one. I didn’t use the term love because it’s only 40% ABV. They’re likely to comment about the lack of oomph this whisky will bring.

Aside from being different, I find that it isn’t as complex as the 12 and 15. The flavors are just more pleasant, thus easier to enjoy. After the cask flavors run out, though, there’s a sudden stop. If you were to ask me my ranking of the three, I’d say 15 > 18 > 12.

Is the 18 worth the price? No. I can get better and more interesting alternatives, even if they’re younger, in the same price range. At this price point, there are far more intriguing options in the form of limited editions and indie bottlers.

From TWE there are: Edradour 12 year ex-bourbon Ibisco 2007, Glenallachie 18 & Glengoyne 18. From Total Wine there are: Glen Scotia Victoriana, Glengoyne Cask Strength & Glenfarclas 105. (Slim pickings from Total Wine)

Score: 5/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Greg B. says:

    I think your ranking of the 3 varieties is spot-on and is identical to how I would have ranked them. Incidentally the same ranking would apply to those 3 ages of their competitor Glenfiddich, with the 15 Solera version being the best of their bunch. I think your scoring on the Glenlivet 12 is far too generous even taking into consideration the price point. I would not have awarded it more than a 3. I find even their NAS Founders Reserve is superior to the 12 these days. A good review, John.

    1. John says:

      Hi Greg, thanks for the kind words. I havent had the Fiddich 18 in a while. But I can recall liking the 15 over the other 2. I guess I can only partially agree with what you said.

      The least I’d have given the Livet 12 was a 4. I can see that the Total Wine pricing, which I think is justified, may have led me to becoming more generous with the other pricing of the 12.

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