What if I told you that a whisky distillery was going to market a bottle of scotch without showing you what it looked like, without offering up any tasting notes, and going so far as to “black out” the bottle so you didn’t know what you were getting? You’d probably call them a little crazy right? Now let’s say that they put no age statement on it, limited it to 3,500 bottles, and put it up for sale for $150. You’d probably have them committed.
Well, that’s what the fine folks at The Glenlivet did with The Glenlivet Alpha.
I was sent a small sampling of Glenlivet Alpha, in this nice little blacked out bottle, and I was surprised how much I liked the bottle. It’s really not that much different than when many famed Islays put their scotch in dark green bottles, hiding their pale yellow spirit, but there’s just something really sexy about this matte black bottle. (And if you think about it, Glenlivet comes in green bottles too)
Did you know that scotch is sometimes sold in 1.75L bottles? Until the other day, when I stumbled onto a 1.75L bottle of Glenlivet 12, I had no idea it came in such quantities. I enjoy Glenlivet 12, the packaging made it quite affordable, and while it isn’t the world’s most exciting scotch, it makes for a great everyday dram. Sometimes you want a little Spey finished with a spicy bite!
Speaking of that distinct spicy bite, I also discovered this educational article on Popular Science where they made use of a rotary evaporator to pull out the various components of scotch, specifically Glenlivet scotches, to investigate individually. They started with “white dog” unoaked/unaged Glenlivet whisky (aka “new make” or “cleric”), then continued with the 12-year, and then the 15 and 18. With each, they put it through the rotary evaporator to separate the whisky.
Running a liter of Glenlivet 12 through the machine, Dave pulls off the first 600ml into one vessel and the remainder into a different one. We taste the two.
The elements drawn from the oak, including all of the brown color, are less volatile, so they remain in the 400ml batch. The 600ml batch Dave calls “gray dog,” since it is a re-approximation of the white dog: a startling “deconstructed whisky” that’s been aged for 12 years in oak and then had many of the effects of the oak removed. It also has the bulk of the alcohol, concentrated to 120 proof from the original Glenlivet’s 80 proof. Its flavor is mellower than the white dog’s, but that youthful papery flavor, which was imperceptible in the non-evaporated Scotch, is back in evidence. The vanilla tones that the oak contributed are deeply muted, leaving a soft, ill-balanced, cloying clear spirit that reminds me of souring milk.
The article is fantastically entertaining to read.
It’s no secret that the Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year is one of my favorite scotch whiskys. At that price point, under $40 a bottle, it’s something I get to enjoy on a regular basis along with Glenlivet 12. The Balvenie 21 Year Port Wood is like the 12 year’s older, more refined, brother. Whereas the DoubleWood is priced at around $40USD, the Port Wood comes in at a more hefty $180USD. For each bottle of the Port Wood, you could get over four bottles of the DoubleWood; which explains why I don’t enjoy it as much as I possibly can!
When it comes to other finishes at other distilleries, I sometimes can’t tell that it’s been finished in a different cask. Oftentimes it can be a little subtle and unless you have had the non-specialty-finished whisky, you can’t pinpoint origin. Unless port is completely foreign to you, there’s no way you’ll miss the impact of finishing in port pipes. The specific sweetness imparted by finishing in port pipes is very evident on the palate.
The nose has the fruitiness I’ve come to expect from Balvenie, though I couldn’t pick out the raisins from their “official” notes. The palate is influenced by the portwine finish, supporting the fruit I picked up from the nose. The finish has a distinct nuttiness, like the aftertaste you have after chewing on walnuts. It’s also remarkably smooth, something you’d expect from a whisky old enough to be served at a bar.
At it’s price point, it’s an indulgence and not a regular staple, though you would be doing yourself a great service by picking up a bottle for your cabinet. Of the full “regular” range of Balvenie bottles, the only ones I haven’t enjoyed are the Thirty and Forty (aged 30 years and 40 years respectively). I imagine they would bring the same level of enjoyment I’ve come to expect from Balvenie.
It’s very difficult to mass categorize the wonderful spirits of Scotland’s myriad collection of distilleries but if one were forced two, the easiest buckets to put them in are based on smokiness. On one side, we have the heavily “peated,” smokey stylings of Scotch produced on the island of Islay. On the other, we have absolutely no smoke and no peat and the most popular area for that is a toss up between the Highland region and Speyside.
Someone on twitter recently told me about the Glenlivet Scotch Tasting events hosted by Morton’s Steakhouse and how I should check it out. At first glance, it looks like a pretty decent event where you get to learn about properly tasting scotch and sample four of Glenlivet’s bottles – the 12, 15 (they don’t say if it’s the French Oak or the regular version), 16 and the 18. With the scotch there are served Hors d’oeuvres – Smoked Salmon Pinwheels, Sliced Tenderloin on Crostini, Whipped Horseradish; Broiled Sea Scallops, Apricot Chutney; and Petite Filet Mignon Sandwiches, Mustard Mayonnaise. Ticket price is $49, which includes tax and gratuity.
Without knowing how good the food is, the price is a bit high. The Celebrate the Macallan tasting event I went to in DC was free, though they overbooked and we didn’t get a chance to make it into the actual tasting. The food was OK and they gave us tickets to the next night’s Celebrate event (and glasses of the Macallan 18!), which was more than enough of a compensation.
I looked online and couldn’t find any reviews, just event listings for every Morton’s steakhouse location, but at first glance it seems like a lukewarm deal.