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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Single Malt Report: Glenlivet 12 year old (bottled in 1980s)

This was the first of my four pours at Bar Cordon Noir.

Distillery: Glenlivet
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottling date: 1980s
Maturation: Probably a mix of ex-bourbon casks and ex-sherry casks
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Its color is light gold.  The nose begins with loads of barley and fresh whole wheat bread.  Then come the fresh loquats, followed by Oloroso sherry in a Campari-coated glass.  With time there's some new carpet and burnt pie crust.  The palate is pleasant and soft, but with some sticky thickness.  It reads as loads of baked fruits one moment, then fruit punch and orange peels the next.  A bit of anise and black licorice too.  Then it's capped by a wave of Talisker-like pepper.  The finish is lengthy but uncomplicated.  Citrus, papaya, and malt.

Orange, pear, mint, and soda bread now appear on the nose.  A lot of roses on the palate.  The pepper enters the finish, along with milk chocolate.

Something gruesome happened to Glenlivet's cask management over the past thirty years.  (Or maybe more recently because the early Nadurra batches were very good and occasionally the current 18 year old is too.)  On New Year's Eve 2007/8, I had my first negative run-in with Glenlivet 12.  I sipped and it was......not good.  The finish was short and awful and apparently memorable because the sense memory still exists.  And this was before my prima donna whisky snobbery.  I've tried the 12 annually ever since, and it's not getting better.  So when the rumors started coming in that Pernod's phasing it out for an NAS Founder's Reserve I shed not a tear.

Meanwhile, having twice tried the 1980s version of the Twelve, I find no similarity between it and the current version.  The Twelve as it existed thirty years ago was a lightly-sherried well-textured rich single malt that could stand proudly next to any (and above many) of today's twelve year old Speysiders.  I cannot say the same thing about the current version.  The three extra ABV points (43 versus 40) are nice but that wouldn't explain most of the change.  There was no extra peating going on at the time of this one's bottling.  Perhaps they have since changed barley varieties, sped up the fermentation time, and attempted to distill faster.  But I think the cask management is the main culprit.  The oak in the current 12 is bland, resinously bitter, and cardboardy.  None of those words can be used for either of the '80s bottlings that I've tried.  And just to add to the fun, the 1980s version swims very well, while the current addition is already very watery as is.

I'm not saying that this 1980s Glenlivet is A+ whisky, but it's damn good whisky.  And I wish Glenlivet still made stuff like this.

Availability - Probably the occasional auction
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86