“Only boring people get bored.” – Charles Bukowski
If you pressed me to name the most boring Scotch whisky brand, I might pick Glenlivet (or The Glenlivet, as they’ve stylized themselves since 1884). For the purposes of this exercise, I’m disqualifying nondescript workhorse distilleries like Dufftown or Glenburgie or Allt-A-Bhainne, on the pretext that – for as dull as their output is – they don’t really occupy enough of the collective whisky consciousness to actually induce boredom.
Sticking to the mega-malts: am I bored of Macallan? Not really. I disdain their increasingly ridiculous shtick, and I think their prices are wholly out of proportion to the quality of whisky in the bottle, but at least they inspire passionate derision. How about Glenfiddich? I’ll admit that, for as disappointing as their whisky has generally been, they still catch my attention occasionally with an experimental approach or a superannuated whisky with a twist.
But Glenlivet? They seem to have adopted the epitaph of the source of my introductory quote: “Don’t Try.” The brand’s approach feels like a “Worst Hits” of Scotch whisky marketing. With a comprehensive emphasis on “exceptional unique casks,” finishes, and – most recently – cocktails, Glenlivet seems to be focused on all the wrong things, from the perspective of a devoted whisky enthusiast.
Though Kat rightly extolled the virtues of the Glenlivet’s Nàdurra expression in its prior (e.g. age stated) incarnation, there’s not much else about Glenlivet that has gotten our reviewers’ hearts pumping in recent memory. Garry scored the Caribbean Reserve below the middle of the pack. Graham derided the Founder’s Reserve as “below par;” the mainstay 12 year old fared only a little better. A survey of the range produced mostly middling marks from John.
Yet, hope springs eternal. For those who are able to find Glenlivet that has been freed from the constraints of whatever Pernod Ricard has determined must happen between cask and bottle, there’s the potential for some magical whisky. For as much derision as I have heaped on the brand to this point, I have to concede that there’s nothing elementally amiss with the distillate that comes off their stills (I cannot say the same of Laphroaig, among others).
The solution, then, lies in finding independently bottled (IB) Glenlivet. My first run-in with IB Glenlivet came in the form of a Signatory Vintage bottling: a 20 year old, matured in a sherry butt. I’ve kept my eyes peeled for something similar ever since, but opportunity had not knocked on my door… until recently.
Perusing the clearance rack during a visit to the local outpost of my region’s biggest spirits chain, I noticed the bottle that will be the subject of today’s review. It ticked a lot of boxes on my mental checklist for qualitative evaluation: reputable independent bottler (Signatory Vintage), solid age statement (15 years), cask strength (63.8% ABV), and what should be a good cask (first fill sherry butt). I’ve written before about how a sherried Speyside malt corresponds to what many people think of when they think of “good Scotch.” As far as an in-depth discussion of sherry casks, I consider Alyssa’s primer on the subject to be the alpha and omega. All that to say: I was anything but bored by the prospect of adding another Glenlivet whisky to my mental library, as well as sharing it with friends.
What tipped me over the edge into a confident purchase was the cost, though. At the original retail price of $150, this would have corresponded to the “$10 per year of maturation” rule of thumb that has long been used (with more difficulty in recent times) by judicious whisky buyers. However, this was on end-of-bin clearance sale for $110. This seemed particularly good value, considering this same retailer has an officially bottled 14 year old second fill sherry butt on offer for $300. I promptly broke my frequently abused rolling resolution not to purchase any more whisky, and brought the bottle home.
A few final specifics, before I get into this (hopefully not dull) dram: this is cask #900788, distilled on August 15th, 2006 and bottled on March 10th, 2022. This first fill sherry butt produced 612 bottles.
Signatory Vintage Glenlivet Aged 15 Years (2006) – Review
Color: Golden brownish orange.
On the nose: Sherry influence abounds, in the form of all the expected aromatic notes: dried fruit, baking spice, clove, cinnamon. To add to the Christmas-y associations, I’m getting a subtle hint of dried pine bough in here, alongside some delightful notes of milk chocolate. There’s a great herbaceous character to this as well; think tarragon and herbes de Provence. If there’s any sulfur, it’s so subtle as to be nearly undetectable. A clean cask, to be sure.
In the mouth: Starts again with the dried fruit notes, though they’re so viscous and ripe as to be more reminiscent of sweet wine than your standard raisins. Indeed, this has a rich, unctuous mouthfeel reminiscent of the best French sweet wines like Château d’Yquem. As this moves into the mouth, this takes on a sharper texture and flavor, with some woody notes playing against piquant accents of pepper and spice. This is leavened momentarily by a sharp burst of citrus fruit, which I interpret as an assertion of the underlying distillate against the cask. I get a bite of mint and a fiendishly delicious flavor of chocolate fudge, which soon disappear to make way for the finish. There, richly sweet notes of caramelized sugar combine with a drying minerality and some more tannic wood accents, in a three-way dance that persists for a minute after the final swallow.
Though not a “sherry bomb” in the way that the term is popularly understood, this is still a full-on sherried experience. What’s the difference? In a word: balance. For every classic sherry cask note, this has a clever offset somewhere else on the flavor spectrum. It would never be mistaken for anything but a sherry cask matured Scotch whisky, but it’s also so much more than just a sherry cask matured Scotch whisky.
How to assess value for money here? On $/ABV alone, this beats the pants off anything in the official Glenlivet range, though that sells this wonderful whisky too short by far. You simply cannot find the breadth and depth of flavor here in almost any bottling coming from the distillery. Compared to sherried Speyside malts like Aberlour A’Bunadh and the older members of the Glenfarclas range (the 17 is closest in terms of price, in my area), I feel like this stands a few inches taller than even those distinguished peers. To reflect all this – and the fact that I’d be a repeat buyer at retail price, not to mention the heavy discount at which I snagged my bottle – I am awarding this a score equivalent to “Exceptional” on our scoring bands.
Call me anything but bored by this stunner of a whisky. If you also share my ennui for the Glenlivet range, seek out a bottling similar to this one. More generally, though, I think it’s worth remembering how much happens to a whisky (coloring, filtration, dilution, blending) before it ends up in the bottle on a store shelf. If there’s another distillery that really fails to rev your engine, please try a full strength independently bottled single cask version of their whisky before casting your final judgment.