I’m continuing my efforts to connect back to the roots of whisky, to rediscover why I got into whisky, and to offer some more value for those beginning their own whisky journey. It’s quite refreshing to be honest. There is something of a problem, though: whisky has changed. And I don’t mean in terms of process, flavour, etc., as some commentators bemoan. It’s just that, well, its targeted at young hipster types, cocktails, and new ways of experiencing whisky. It’s not – I assure you – that I’ve gotten old, but rather the marketing is being targeted at another group.
Take Glenlivet, the subject of this review. The website is brightly coloured in a distinctly “Bruichladdich” green. It’s seasonally summery and loudly professes to #breakthestereotype. That’s me they are talking about “breaking!” Joking aside, it’s quite fun. Links on the front page to whisky cocktails, top tips to becoming a whisky drinker, and how to host a whisky party. All the models are diverse, trendy twenty somethings who, I imagine, live in East London postcodes. Why not have a whisky with your avocado on toast and double decaf oak milk flat white?
This is not exclusively an approach from Glenlivet, but common across many brands all vying to make whisky cool again. The whisky highball is the cocktail of 2022. You can get them on tap in swanky London whisky bars. You can also, dare I say it, add flavour to your highball, too. The Glenlivet provides recipes for the traditional Whisky Sour, Old Fashioned, and Hot Toddy alongside a Tartan Tiki and a Grain and Cane.
Of the many people I know who have visited the Johnnie Walker Experience in Edinburgh, the established whisky drinkers have enjoyed the mixed-drink and cocktail focus least. But, it is the non-whisky drinkers who have had a surprisingly good time.
The truth is that if you are a fan of whisky and have graduated from the supermarket staples there is really no reason for a brand to market whisky too you. You will find what you like, take advice from others, and continue to buy whisky. Yes, the whisky companies are pushing your budget to the limit, but you keep buying. And when I say “you,” I also mean “me.” As the prices keep rising, we may moan, we may complain, we may change brand allegiance, but ultimately, we still buy whisky.
The ultimate dilemma for Whisky companies is that rising prices across the range may be stomached by the seasoned drinker who is increasingly aging but financially stable. Whisky will naturally become stuffy and uncool; a lot of the whisky world is already a bit stuffy and uncool, to be honest. Whisky companies must fill the void with younger, upwardly mobile consumers. Making whisky trendy in cocktails and mixed drinks should make it easier for those consumers to convert to drinking it neat when looking for a shorter drink. Why does that upset established whisky drinkers? Perhaps because we did it the hard way, drinking whisky neat before we enjoyed the flavour, enduring social occasions whilst pretending to love whisky, and trying to be cool by being uncool.
There are multiple schools of thought about how seasoned whisky drinkers address the issue of increasing prices and being taken for granted by brands. Personally, I subscribe to all three. Firstly, those who move away from whisky altogether finding greater value in rum, Armagnac and Cognac, calvados, tequila or mezcal, and other more niche spirits. Then there are those consumers who are fighting back, raising their voices, and their platforms to challenge over-pricing and demand fair value. We’ve covered Diageo’s price hikes and ensure that every score on Malt takes value into account. Beyond that, we will be supporting the Online Scotch Whisky Awards a consumer-led awards programme that is wrestling the “paid for” award format away from big brands and commercial organisations and choosing to celebrate the best whiskies that offer both taste and value. We’ll be writing more about this collaboration in due course.
And the final approach? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Why not mix up some whisky cocktails? Hold a whisky party? Tonight I’ve got an “empty” so will be taking advice from Glenlivet and planning a perfect whisky cocktail party for one. Purely, I hasten to add, to bring Malt readers the content they deserve. Glenlivet suggest you should:
“Create the Perfect Ambience
Creating the perfect ambience is key when hosting a party. Curate a playlist that is upbeat yet ideal for background noise – save the power ballads for later in the evening. The right music sets the tone for the party, if the music is off then the vibe will not be as good.
Lighting is also super important when hosting an event. Avoid harsh, bright overhead lighting and instead opt for warmer lowlighting. Stick to the whisky theme and make use of your old whisky bottles buy turning them into candles or adding fairy lights. Dot your homemade whisky candles around to create a warm atmosphere that is perfectly in keeping with the theme.
Consider using Pinterest to find some inspiration for how you want your party to look and feel. Check out some whisky drinker party inspiration and start a vision board to help you create the perfect party.
Gather the Utensils
Make sure you have all the utensils you require to make the cocktails and have them set out ready for your guests to arrive. The number of cocktail shakers you need is dependent on whether you are hosting a DIY cocktail evening or not.
Whisky Cocktail Checklist
- Full cocktail shaker kit. This includes a stainless-steel tumbler, a glass tumbler, a jigger, spoon, and strainer.
- Make sure you have enough glasses in a mixture of styles. From your classic Old Fashioned whisky glass to a coupe and martini glass, check which cocktails you are preparing so that you can choose your glasses accordingly.
- Plan ahead and choose the cocktails you will serve in advance so that you have all of the correct ingredients.
- Ice is so important for a party and when you think you have enough, buy a few more extra bags. Not only do you need ice to fill the glasses, but you also use it whilst mixing your cocktails, so make sure you are fully prepared and have plenty in the freezer.”
It does seem like a lot of effort, Glenlivet. For a dram. But: apparatus obtained, ambiance provided by Michael Kiwanuka (hopefully suitably hip and trendy). Lighting-wise, I’m keeping natural sunshine on a Scottish summer evening as a suitably rare vibe. I’ve dropped the candles due to the tinderbox conditions during this heatwave. I did have a look on Pinterest as advised too, I found lots of Johnnie Walker content; own goal Glenlivet. You’ll find below my thoughts on the recommended cocktails made with Glenlivet Founders reserve, along with a standard review for those who like life with a little less garnish.
Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve – Review
First fill American Oak casks “au naturale,” poured into a glass without additions. 40% ABV. £21.99.
Time to make: 20 seconds
Trendiness: Nobody is Instagramming this.
Colour: Identical to the 12 year old – generic E150 whisky colour
On the nose: Intensely sweet, confectioners’ sugar, processed honey, sweet vanilla essence, pear drops, peach gummy sweets, apple jolly ranchers, raw sweet pastry, a very slight hint of wood spices, a slight toasted note giving cinnamon palmier biscuit notes.
In the mouth: Similar to the nose, sweet honey and fruit, youthful spirit giving cayenne pepper despite the low ABV. Slightly creamy texture, malty, tinned peaches, with an unpleasant artificial note I could not put my finger on running through the bitter finish.
Below par really, with sweetness being the predominant feature. This would be greatly improved with some virgin oak casks in the mix; a small dash of Tomatin Legacy added brings the dram alive. As it is, it’s just not enjoyable to drink neat and this is destined to become the base for some Bramble Liqueur as soon as they ripen.
50ml Glenlivet Founders Reserve, 15ml Lemon Juice, 15ml Honey, 80ml Thistly Cross Whisky Barrel Finished Cider, served with ice in a mug and a dusting of cayenne.
Time to make: 30-minute round trip to the shops, but only 5 minutes to mix up.
Trendiness: A toddy is as old fashioned as start handles on cars. Not trending on Tiktok.
It’s not bad really, light whisky and apple goes great together, the honey adds the sweetness that the chilling of the cider and whisky strips away. Between the whisky cask flavour in the cider and the Founders Reserve this is quite bitter on the finish. Toward the bottom of the drink the cayenne gave a nice savoury note but I didn’t mix myself up another.
50ml of Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, 25ml Lemon Juice, 15ml of unrefined cane sugar syrup, 10ml egg white.
Time to make: The 30 minute round trip to the shops but let’s not consider that each time; 20 minutes to make simple syrup, 30 minutes to cool it. 5 minutes for the cocktail.
Trendiness: One of those classic cocktails first recorded in 1862 and forever timeless. Take a photo, make it your profile pic.
You’ll see from the photo I under-egged this, because it’s a tough thing to handle and it was 30 degrees centigrade outside, but I think it only affected the appearance. I liked this because the sweetness from the syrup was complex and worked with the bitterness of the whisky.
45ml Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, 5ml Rum, 25ml Pineapple Juice, 2 dashes of angostura bitters, peach and passionfruit sparkling water.
Time to make: Simple, 5 minutes.
Trendiness: Since COVID lockdown, every Millennial with a garden has built a tiki bar. Trending, but only on Facebook.
I appreciate that my version is a bastardisation of the recipe provided by Glenlivet due to available ingredients, but nevertheless this is pretty unpleasant. The flavoured sparking water adds a dreadful fake flavour profile to the drink that cannot be avoided. I suggest using tinned peach syrup or tinned peach juice and topping up with sparkling water. The passionfruit is not helping here. The fresh pineapple juice gives a slightly cheesy feet note. This went unfinished.
Grain & Cane
50ml Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, 7 Fresh Raspberries, 15 ml Lemon Juice, 5ml Savignon Blanc Vinegar, 15ml Natural Cane Syrup
Time to make: Crushed ice? Seriously? That should have been in the ingredients section not the serving section and I would have picked some up at the shops instead of taking 5 minutes to bash some standard ice in a tea towel. Cocktail construction 4 minutes.
Trendiness: I think any cocktail with vinegar as an ingredient is quite trendy. Not quite “hand foraged wild herb syrup” trendy, but certainly going to make it onto the Saturday TV magazine show.
Would-be cocktail mixologists be warned 5ml of vinegar is the absolute maximum proportion for this ingredient measure carefully. If you’ve taken the bold step of picking a playlist, decorating your flat, pinning ideas to your Pinterest board, etc etc. please also take the time to source some soft raspberry vinegar and don’t make do with alternatives. Because with the right vinegar the balance here would be great. The whisky, however, is non-existent: lost, drowned out. For me, you could add any spirit to this recipe. A floral perfumed Armagnac would be incredible, still with current ingredients.
50ml Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, 5g unrefined cane sugar, angostura bitters, a maraschino cherry and 5ml of maraschino cherry liquor.
Time to prepare: I didn’t bother taking 48 hours to freeze perfectly clear blocks of ice as per good cocktail bar serves, so about 6 minutes to construct.
Trendiness: Certainly, one of those timeless cocktails, if you are going to order at the bar and you specify to the bartender your own version of the recipe, that’s kinda cool, isn’t it? Take one influencer point.
The online recipe from Glenlivet calls for The Glenlivet 18 for this recipe. Rather like the whisky sour, when the balance of spirit is so significant in a cocktail, the higher quality the better. The Founder’s Reserve is too bitter to be added to this recipe alone, but with the maraschino cherry it just about works. I was inspired by my favourite the very uncool Wisconsin Old Fashioned made with French Brandy. When making Scotch Old Fashioned cocktails at home, start with a whisky you would be happy sipping. Probably the Founder’s Reserve is not the one.
Overall, any good cocktail mixologist will tell you: the better the base spirit for the drink, the better the overall cocktail. That’s the classic “S” curve of course. Initial gains are massive, then diminishing returns. If you find Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve on the menu of a quality cocktail bar, then Glenlivet are probably paying for it to be there. If you do find yourself with a bottle, make whisky sours, they are the most forgiving. Despite the initial sweetness the bitter finish seems to cut through most cocktails in a negative way.
A final thought, having prepared five separate cocktails, with the various paraphernalia and glasses: cocktails are supposed to be luxurious, delivered on a silver tray with the effort to construct them separate from the enjoyment. Making cocktails at home is a hassle; it inevitably involves the entire kitchen sticky from one end to the other, the floor in particular. The exhaustion of glasses, the washing of dishest etc. Cocktails are most fun out-out. It strikes me that brands are targeting Gen Z as indoor party people because so many cannot afford to visit the swanky cocktail bars. Brands adapt to the cost-of-living crisis quicker than some of us are prepared to accept ourselves. I’m still not convinced this sort of thing will create lifelong whisky fans.