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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Single Malt Report: The Glenlivet 15yr French Oak Reserve (x2)

I’ve had a number of opportunities to try The Glenlivet 15 years old French Oak Reserve single malt during this holiday season.  The first time was at the United Airlines Club at Dulles Airport.  Then at the very end of our long day of flights, my in-laws presented me a bottle of this very same whisky!  The malt at the club’s bar and the malt in the gifted bottle aren’t quite the same so I’m going to do two reports.

For some history on the Glenlivet distillery, please see my post on their Nadurra bottling.  The Nadurra 16yr is a steady if unspectacular cask strength.  My memory of their 18yr is positive, but not thrilling.  While the 12yr is the very definition of a mediocre whisky and leaves me baffled as to why it’s a bestseller around the planet.

Meanwhile, the 15yr French Oak is unlike its brethren, matured in oak from the Limousin region in France.  Limousin Oak is said to impart strong tannins so it's often used to mature cognac as well as some California wines.

DistilleryThe Glenlivet
Variety: "French Oak Reserve"
Age: minimum 15 years
Maturation: Limousin Oak
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Round 1

As previously mentioned I had a reasonable pour of this at the United Club at Dulles.  It was amongst the premium (read: not-free) liquors, but it was only $6, half (or less) of what it would cost at a bar.  The 'tender poured it from a bottle that was at least half full (or half empty), which means that depending on how long it had been sitting there, oxygen molecules may have already started breaking down the flavor compounds thus affecting the stuff in my glass.

Neat:  The color was light, like an extra virgin olive oil with some greenish highlights.  The nose was much sweeter than the 12yr.  Full of sugary cheap red wine, toffee, and brown sugar.  The palate was intensely dry and very oaky.  It was like drinking barrel wood (not exactly a good thing).  There was also some cardboard, malt, tobacco, and dried cherries.  The finish further dried out my mouth.  It was a little creamy, but had a lot of the cardboard remaining.

With water, lowering it to about 30% ABV:  The nose became much more gin-like.  Tanqueray piny, citric, and herbal.  A hint of Boston crème.  The rest of the Boston crème pie crust came out in the palate which was malty and sugary.  The finale was quiet, still very dry, with a little bit of tobacco.

Despite being more interesting than the 12yr, the 15yr seemed more flawed as opposed to the younger whisky’s boredom.  I’m going to chalk some of that up to an older oxidized bottle…

Round 1 Rating – 69

Round 2

This was a brand new bottle.  Nice and full and sealed.  And quite different as a result.

Neat: I first noticed that the nose was full of pencil shavings.  Then some vanilla, which Limousin Oak often imparts.  Towards the end there’s something between ginger and grapefruit zest.  The palate was much less dry.  It’s still oaky but less aggressively so.  It’s fruitier without being sweet.  Lots of cocoa and malt with a little bit of apple juice.  The baking chocolate finish was also less dry but still brief.

With water:  Everything disappeared from the nose except the Boston crème and herbal gin mentioned in the previous round.  The palate brightened up further: fresh apricots and apples and maybe some almonds.  The finish was but a whisper of cocoa.

As I hope you can tell from my description, this bottle presented a better showing of this whisky.  It cannot match the 16yr cask strength’s complexity and balance, but it’s a step above the 12yr.

Round 2 Rating – 79

Pricing - Good at $35-$40
Rating - 74