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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Single Malt Report: The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 year old

Distillery: The Glenlivet
Variety: Nadurra (cask strength)
Age: minimum 16 years
Maturation: first ex-bourbon casks
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Alcohol by Volume: 55.1% to 59.7% depending on batch

There are many "The"s in the distillery business.  THE Glenrothes, THE Macallan, THE Balvenie, THE Glenlivet.  But in The Glenlivet's case, the "The" was actually hard won in court via multiple legal battles.  Let's do a little history:

Until 1824, selling whisky in Scotland was illegal.  But since it was happening everywhere anyway, and King George 4 wasn't receiving any tax revenue from it, the government created a legal whisky-selling license.  George Smith's Glenlivet distillery (parked in the Glen of the River Livet) was the first to obtain it.  As the whisky made its way through England and its empire, the name recognition was high for the Glenlivet brand.  So other whisky producers anywhere near (and sometimes not near) the River Livet started appending their whisky name with the word "glenlivet".  It took decades, but after getting the courts involved, the original distillery gained the ability to add "The" to only their official bottlings.

So that's THE Glenlivet to you.

The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich have, for years, been neck-and-neck as the top whisky sellers in the world.  Glenlivet's 12 year can be found everywhere liquor is sold in the US.  There's a 15 year old French Oak, as well as two versions (16 and 18 year) of the cask strength Nadurra.  Above those come all of their ultra-premium bottlings.

Because of Glenlivet's size, their whiskies are always reasonably priced.  That doesn't necessarily mean they're good, but it's nice to be able to buy a single malt and not empty out the checking account. Glenfiddich is priced about the same, and I like their 12 year old considerably more than Glenlivet's.  The Glenlivet's 15 year Fine Oak is pretty decent.  And I most appreciate the Nadurra series because they're introducing cask strength whisky to the American public at about half the price as other distillers' heavy boozers.

As Glenlivet releases different batches of Nadurra (Gaelic for natural) the actual ABV changes slightly.  This is because they are literally bottling the whisky at the alcoholic strength it is in the cask.  They've also left it unchillfiltered which is nice since most of the big whisky producers haven't started doing that (for aesthetic reasons).

Way back in September, I reported on four Glenrothes whiskies (here, here, and here) that I had sampled at a whisky tasting at The Daily Pint.  Because the tastings at The Pint have a long wait time and because their bar is LOADED with awesome selections and because I like to wake the taste buds up with a pre-tasting drink, I ordered The Glenlivet's Nadurra 16yr beforehand.

I always recommend nosing and tasting a cask strength (CS) neat before adding water.  That way you can experience the evolution of scents and flavors as water is later added.  Some CSs are well designed and won't blind you and knock you on your ass.  Some (like Macallan's CS) are actually better neat.  Many aren't.

So I tried Nadurra 16 neatly first.  The color was a rosy gold with green undertones.  Its nose was the pleasant Glenlivet floral and ALCOHOL BURN!  I think I lost nose hairs.  Then I took a sip.  There was a hint of cream before my tongue and lips went numb.

I've had my share of CSs and very few have had this scorched earth effect.  It's fun in theory but frustrating when I want to taste my whisky.  So it was time to temper the fire.

I made the whisky:water ratio 2:1, lowering the ABV to about 40%.  And out came the scents and flavors!  Honey and vanilla jumped on top of the floral nose.  The palate was cream, cake, frosting, and cherry.  And it finished nicely with notes of caramel and green tea.

All in all, this one proves how whisky can be an enjoyable science experiment.  It's also not a bad first cask strength whiskey for folks, especially at this price.  Macallan's own CS is finished in sherry casks so the flavor is completely different and it's priced at about the same level.  I'd love to see Glenfiddich step up to meet the challenge.

In the meantime, The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 year old is instant whisky, just add water.

Pricing - Good at $55
Rating - 84


  1. Glenfiddich does have a near cask strength 15 year old Distillery Edition. Since every bottle is 51% ABV, I'm betting they did add some water to make the level uniform. There were a few bottles here and there at BevMo stores but since the bottling was discontinued, once the bottles are gone, they are gone. Meanwhile the Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix is a more expensive CS option.

  2. I'm on the search for that so-called "Distillery Edition" as it's getting harder to find now. And, yeah, they probably watered it down a little. The Snow Phoenix has been hopping off the shelves even faster -- and the price rising as well.

  3. I'd recommend picking up the book A Double Scotch: How Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet Became Global Icons. It's now on Kindle so there no need to buy the pricier hardcover (no paperback I'm afraid). It's really the only book out there with an in-depth look at the history of the Smiths and Chivas. And yes, the legend about George Smith carrying two pistols to protect himself after he pissed off his neighbors for getting a license is quite true (as well as the fact he had to use those pistols once or twice).

    1. That's cool! Plus I like Pacult's other writings too. I'll keep a look out for it as I expand the book collection.

  4. Some sad news, Pernod is discontinuing the Glenlivet Nadurra 16 for a NAS Nadurra First Fill (Bourbon Cask).

    1. Boo. I suppose that was inevitable. I wonder if they'll keep doing the new sherry cask one but at a higher price.

    2. The Sherry Cask (also NAS) will be staying too. Pernod is splitting Nadurra into THREE NAS wood expressions: a Bourbon Cask, a Sherry Cask, and one more to be announced later. Based on the Glenlivet Alpha's use of virgin oak, my guess is leaning toward that wood type for the third expression though a rum cask would be pretty cool.

    3. Yeah, my money would be on the virgin oak too since that's the thing now. I usually like rum casks, but I wonder if Glenlivet's current spirit is strong enough to stand up to rum.