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Monday, September 3, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glenlivet 12 versus Glenfiddich 12


After reporting on a pair of old $200+ whiskys last week, I thought it best to take a taste of two single malts priced for the workingperson.

Glenlivet and Glenfiddich (both Speysiders) have held the number 1 and 2 spots in the single malt market share for a couple of decades; almost 26% of the total market between them, as of 2010.  They also have the two largest capacities of the non-Roseisle malt whisky distilleries in Scotland.

Their prices also march in lockstep, often differing only 5% from each other.  The 12 years can often be found in the $25+ range, the 15 years at $40+, the 18 years at $65+, and the 21 years at $140+.  I'm not sure if that's collusion or coincidence, but either way 'livet and 'fiddich are two of the more affordable single malts on the shelf.

Of course, they're also at the minimum allowable ABV of 40% (any lower than that and they couldn't label themselves "Scotch whisky" as per the SWA).  And they're both chillfiltered and caramel colored in order to provide the most pleasing visual experience.

Pre-Taste Off Comments

I come to this Taste Off with biases.

I've never found Glenlivet 12 particularly interesting.  It has often seemed to me very polite with few discernable characteristics, almost like a quiet high-malt blend.  My opinion of it changed for the worse three New Years Eves ago when my brother and I went to a pair of pubs in Hollywood.  The 'livet 12 that was poured for me that night gradually went from bland to sour, then from sour to bitter.  I made a mental note not to buy a dram of it at a bar ever again (even though it's often the only single malt available at small bars out here).

I've reviewed Glenfiddich 12 before (here).  It's actually my most viewed Single Malt Report by a long shot.  That's partially due to Google Image searches, and partially due to the malt's popularity.  'Fiddich 12 has been my idea of a reliable cheap twelve-year malt that won't make a woman purr, but also won't draw out a pinched whisky face.  It also makes for a decent highball.

I will now attempt to set aside these inclinations and match 'em up, head to head...


It's a head-to-head between two Single Malt heavyweights.

In one corner, wearing black & gold, owned by William Grant & Sons, stands

Brand: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: American (ex-bourbon) and Spanish (ex-sherry) oak casks
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Color -- The darker of the two, more gold than amber, with some reddish highlights
Nose -- American oak much stronger than the Spanish oak, white fruit juice (think apple, green grape, and pear), brief hint of ammonia, rich cream, maple syrup, whipped cream
Palate -- Vanilla, citrus (orange and lemon), sugar cookies (sort of reminiscent of good single grain whisky)
Finish -- Brief to moderate length, very similar to the palate, but grows sweeter

(Previous tastings found some gin-like herbal/mineral notes, as well as some mocha.)

WITH WATER (approx 28% ABV)
Nose -- Malty and a little sour, the citrus shows up here now, pleasant but mostly characterless
Palate -- Maple syrup, citrus, the bitter ammonia note now shows up here?, vanilla and whipped cream
Finish -- Same length, vanilla, maple syrup, cream, a little drying

When served neat, the nose shows more angles than the palate.  Doesn't improve with water, so you might as well just turn it into a refreshing highball instead.

In the other corner, representing Chivas Brothers & Pernod Ricard, wearing the light beige label and a red cap, stands

Ownership: Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard)
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: American (ex-bourbon) oak casks
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Color -- The lighter of the two, amber-gold.
Nose -- Light on the oak, a little salty/savory but inoffensive, apple flesh, molasses, hint of cheap cologne
Palate -- Vanilla, sugar cookies, black cherry soda, brown sugar
Finish -- Brief, the black cherry note mostly, a little vanilla, gains in sweetness

W/WATER (approx 28% ABV)
Nose -- Now fruitier (apples), but also more sour, laundry detergent, dried fruit?, some oak later on
Palate -- Water put it to sleep.  A little bit of the black cherry and granulated sugar.  Gets more bitter and sour with time.
Finish -- Drying and sweet, but otherwise quiet.

It's interesting that the bitterness and sourness showed up only with the added water, and not when I had the whisky neat.  Interesting, but still unfortunate.  BUT this still gets a small step up from my earlier opinion of it.  It went from a low two-star to a mid two-star.  [Ed. note: it has actually dropped further in the year since.]  It's not bad, but I can't imagine ever jonsesing for The Glenlivet 12.


The winner:  Glenfiddich 12

Another BUT.  As I just mentioned 'Livet 12 was a little better than I'd expected.  I'm also going to move 'Fiddich 12 a couple spots down the rankings list.  It's still a three-star malt -- in fact it's one of the models for the three-star rating -- but there are a couple close ones that have more character.

Ultimately, neither of these offend and their prices are considerably lower than the competition within their age bracket.  It's comforting to know that a single malt can be purchased for $25.  For now.

Glenfiddich 12yr
Availability - Everywhere!
Pricing - $24-$30
Rating - 82

The Glenlivet 12yr
Availability - Everywhere!
Pricing - $24-$30
Rating - 70


  1. The Glenlivet does have one ace up their sleeves and it's the 16 year Nadurra Cask Strength. At a price range of $50-$60, it's probably the cheapest cask strength whisky on the market and it amps up the flavors found in Glenlivet 12.

    Now Glenfiddich does release occasional higher proof offerings like Snow Phoenix (which I unfortunately have only ONE bottle) but a permanent cask strength offering would make a great addition to the brand (now that the Distillery Edition is discontinued).

    1. I agree on both accounts. The Nadurra is my favorite Glenlivet by quite a bit. Having a good strong Glenfiddich would be great, it would also give them a chance to really show off their malt. I'll be trying that Distillery Edition this year, looking forward to it.

      What do you think of the Snow Phoenix?

    2. My bottle of Snow Phoenix is waiting for the right occasion to be opened. I'm also waiting to open my bottle of Cask of Dreams that was sort of the successor to Snow Phoenix that also got good reviews.

      I did open a bottle of the Distillery Edition that I recently bought (one of the last at the local BevMo). I was extremely surprised by the peppery finish which I didn't expect to find in a Glenfiddich (heck the finish reminded me of Highland Park). The fact that the DE and Nadurra are so completely different from their stablemates might be why I'm liking them so much.

    3. Thanks for the tips on all of these bottlings! I hope the Snow Phoenix and Cask of Dreams are great! I'm keeping an eye out for the DE, I've seen them at random liquor stores here and there.

    4. I agree with Michael. Glenfiddich DE shows just how good their malts are, it's just that they're blending for an entirely different crowd in their core range. It's a shame they don't put out a few more whiskies for enthusiasts (and at least bring DE back to the states), but I have a feeling it's a bit like JW Green that they don't want something upstaging their standard offerings.

  2. Can't believe you can still get these for $25. Where I live (Pennsylvania), they are $40+! The 15's are $50-55.

    1. My goodness. I wonder if PA is tacking on some sort of alcohol tax. The prices I've seen in NY aren't great, but not that steep!

      Maybe you could get stuff cheaper when shipped from CA to you? There are places here (CA) where the 15s are well below $40.

    2. Nice idea... Except PA doesn't allow shipments of alcohol. I cn order from the UK.because they don't care, but none of the US retailers will ship here. Sigh.

      PA does have some deals, Highland Park 12 is only $2 more than Glenfiddich 12, they just don't have any malts below $40 .

    3. Oof, that's rough. :-( There are very few entry level malts worth more than $40. At least you can get HP12! :-)

      Ordering from the UK is really fun, but can get insanely expensive if one gets even slightly carried away.

    4. I agree with the value quotient. There seem to be very few malts here under $50 that have value enough to warrant purchasing: HP12, Laphroaig 10... that's about it. There's more expensive ones that are worth the money, except, they're just so expensive! Happily, I'm a big bourbon fan so there's plenty of value there ;-)

      I keep eyeing Glenfiddich 12 because I'm curious (and want to find some good, affordable malts), but I don't want to drop $42 and have it be just as lame as 'Livet 12, which is fine but unexciting, and not worth $40. I wish I could get the miniature to sate my curiosity before I end up with a dud bottle!

    5. Heh. I'm trying to steel myself for one huge order from The Whisky Exchange. Given their shipping policy, I figure it makes the most sense to just get everything I'm really interested in in one go, but it's going to be an awful lot of money. Worth it (and it'll keep me in scotch whisky minis for ages), but a lot of money at once.

    6. @Ryan - Yeah, the Glenfiddich 12 isn't worth $42. Can you do a run for the NY border to get minis? Do they have minis? Otherwise, as Jordan referenced, UK's The Whisky Exchange is one place to go for minis. Master of Malt has those Drinks by the Dram too.

    7. @Jordan - I'm working on assembling a UK order too. One does need to place a big ol' order to make the shipping/pricing work out. Good luck with your order!

    8. Yeah maybe I'll order a couple minis. Loch Fyne (lfw.co.uk) is the best shipping if you're just ordering minis. I've been tempted to place the multi-bottle orders from the UK, it's just so seductive how the price per bottle keeps coming down as you add more bottles... I'm not strong enough :-P

    9. I'm not strong enough either, dude. Thanks for the tip on LFW!

  3. I've actually been meaning to do this exact same comparison. I'll have to pick up some minis the next time I'm in a liquor store and report back.

    1. Happily these are two of the cheaper single malt minis. One of the more cost effective taste offs.