News flash: The Glenlivet releases its “Captain’s Reserve” Cognac cask finished single malt

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The Glenlivet is poised to add yet another single malt to its line-up of whiskies: the “Captain’s Reserve”.  Continue reading “News flash: The Glenlivet releases its “Captain’s Reserve” Cognac cask finished single malt”

Christmas 2015 gift ideas: 5 great whiskies under $100

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I have lost count of how many times I have, while perusing the whisky section of Dan Murphy’s (Australia’s leading liquor store), been asked by a perfect stranger something along the lines of “excuse me, could you help me choose a whiskey for a gift?”. My adoring eyes (or salivating mouth) as I admire all the lovely liquid gold must be a dead give-away! All this practice at choosing gifts for other people has led me to write a post about Christmas gift ideas for the whisky lover. In this post, I recommend ten whiskies that should tick all the boxes this Christmas depending on a gift recipient’s taste; and whether he or she has been naughty or nice.

Most true whisky lovers look beyond marketing and fancy bottles. For us, it is all about the whisky. We dare not put a whisky on display to collect dust and never be opened; that would be a waste of a spirit that has taken many years of maturation in oak casks to come into existence. These five whiskies therefore satisfy a few simple criteria: (1) they are delicious; (2) they are good value; (3) they have an interesting story that makes them a great Christmas gift. The whiskies that have made this list are readily available in leading retail chains and easily accessible. While some other whiskies certainly deserved to make this list, as they are hard to find outside certain countries, they are not mentioned here. 

# 1: Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year old

JW Green

Price: AU$69.95 

Type: Blended malt whisky 

Age: 15 years 

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year old is a malt blend, which means that it is made up only of malt whisky and not a single drop of grain whisky. It is rare to find 15 year old malt whisky for such a great price, not least the increasingly rare Johnnie Walker Green Label. Green Label has been discontinued by Johnnie Walker, making it highly sought-after by Johnnie Walker fans including those annoying folk who collect whisky because it looks nice in display cabinets. This, in turn, has meant that the price of this whisky sky rocketed on the grey market and on eBay. However, Johnnie Walker have recently released a limited edition Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year old. I have seen it here and there, in Port Melbourne and Melbourne city, selling like hot cakes. The good news is that it is available online via Dan Murphy’s, at a limit of 2 per customer. 

# 2: Glen Orrin 30 year old

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Price: AU$99.99

Type: Blended scotch whisky

Age: 30 years 

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: Ever feel like trying a 30 year old whisky guilt free; that is, without feeling like every sip costs $50? With 30 year old blended whisky starting at around $400-$500 per bottle in the most competitive retail shops, it may be easy to feel that old whisky is simply beyond most budgets. Fear not, Aldi is here to save the day. Glen Orrin 30 year old blended Scotch whisky includes malt and grain whiskies that have matured in sherry casks for at least 30 long years in cold Scotland. It is a fine tasting whisky, and at under AU$100 it is an absolute bargain! So, get out the cut crystal glasses and savour this three decades old Scotch whisky beside the fireplace (or barbie and flies if you are in Australia). 

# 3: Glenlivet 12 year old

GLENLIVET 12

Price: AU$56

Type: Single malt 

Age: 12 years

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: The Glenlivet 12 year old is such a delight to smell and sip; truly a beautiful Speysider with notes of honey, wisps of smoke, and sweet tropical fruit. It is, however, being replaced with the no age statement Glenlivet Founders Reserve. Get a bottle, or 17, while you can. I am certainly stocking up the bunker with this fine single malt. 

# 4: New Zealand Whisky Co South Island 21 year old

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Price: AU$99

Type: Single malt

Age: 21 years

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: On a trip to Wellington, New Zealand, I learned that New Zealand has the best craft beer; and it pains me to say it, better than Australia. The New Zealand whisky scene, however, has not shared the same heights as Australian whisky. Then NZ Whisky Co decided to release some old stock of whisky which had been aging for 21 years in ex-American oak barrels in the picturesque south island of New Zealand; better known as Middle Earth. This delightful whisky has depth and maturity that holds its own against some of the very best whiskies I have tasted, and yet it offers a unique flavour profile that I found thoroughly pleasing – and all for under $100. So I am torn, as an Aussie, in admitting that not only does New Zealand have the best beer  but it also has some pretty stellar stocks of whisky aging away. I suppose all I am left with is the pavlova debate. I won’t even mention the rugby. Seriously though, I am delighted to see whisky of such quality and great value coming out of New Zealand.

#5 Bruichladdich Islay Barley 

ISLAY BARLEY

Price: AU$99

Type: Single malt

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: Now this is a whisky with a fascinating story! Take a single grain of barley which has grown on Islay on a single field, make it into a beer and then distill the beer and put the distillate to mature in American oak barrels in Bruichladdich’s coldest warehouse. The result is spectacular. This is an interesting demonstration of the importance of “terrior” in single malt whisky; something that wine lovers would associate with the flavour which the earth in which grapes are grown imparts to the grapes which then carries through into the wine. A similar principle applies here; only prepare to taste Islay.

 

Glenlivet Founders Reserve

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Rating: ★★★

Recommendation: Consider it

Type: Single malt Scotch whisky

Origin: Speyside, Scotland

ABV: 40%

Reaction: 😐

The Glenlivet Founders Reserve was first launched in March 2014 and in Australia on 1 July 2015, and it is poised to become the new permanent benchmark expression in The Glenlivet’s core range as rumors abound that it will replace the much loved Glenlivet 12 year old. This is a bold move indeed reflecting on comments of Pernod Ricard’s Marketing Director, Anne Martin, that The Glenlivet has a whopping 26% of the Australian single malt market. Clearly ignoring the odd adage, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, The Glenlivet seems to be rolling the proverbial dice by tampering with its incredibly successful core range. Only time will tell if the gamble will pay off. 

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The Glenlivet Founders Reserve joins the range

The Glenlivet Founders Reserve will be available in approximately 60 of Pernod Ricard’s key markets around the world, but notable exceptions include South Africa, India, Russia, Taiwan, China, and, Global Travel Retail/Duty Free. Some markets, it seems, will stock both the Glenlivet 12 year old and the Founders Reserve but unfortunately Australia will not be one of those markets. The Glenlivet 12 year old will only be available in Australia until December 2015, so for Australian readers be sure to stock up on the product if it is your poison of choice. 

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A bartender pours the liquid sunshine into a glass

In terms of the product itself, the Glenlivet Founders Reserve comprises of malts that have been matured in traditional and first fill American oak casks. It is a “no age statement” expression, which means that all we can be certain about is that the whisky in the bottle is at least 4 years old. Of course, in mature whisky markets consumers should be aware that in relation to whisky age does not always correlate with quality; a good whisky usually has a good balance between the whisky’s distillery character (from the distilled spirit) and the oak (from the flavours and aromas the spirit soaks up from the oak casks in which the spirit ages). Too long in the casks, and the distillery character may fade away and be dominated by wood. Too little time in the casks, and the distillery character may be too prominent and the whisky may smell and taste “immature”. It is about taking the whisky out of the oak casks when it is “ready”; just like knowing when to take a cake out of an oven or a steak off the barbecue. Steak is probably a better analogy because just as different people like their steak rare or well done (a travesty, I know), some people may like whisky young, old or base a preference on their mood or the occasion.  It is not correct to dismiss “no age statement” whisky, without trying the whisky first and assessing where it might fit in the Scotch flavour spectrum; because if my cravings are anything to go by, sometimes I want a young bitey or simple malt and other times I want an old complex malt. Other times I might want sweet navy style rum or a drier English style pot still rum, an old elegant Cognac or a fiery young grappa. You get the point.  

Fortunately,  a bottle of The Glenlivet Founders Reserve has been warming my cold winter nights over the past couple of weeks and I am now in a good position to share my thoughts about this whisky in the below tasting notes. 

Eyes:

The whisky is a pale gold with a tinge of amber and a mild reddish hue. When swirled around in the glass the liquid forms a thin film around the inside of the glass which recedes into thin, but short lived, legs.

Nose: 

Creamy vanilla dominates this whisky’s bouquet; not very surprising really, as vanilla is one of the main notes derived from maturing whisky in American oak. We know that The Glenlivet matures this malt in first fill American oak casks. “First fill”, as the name suggests, indicates a cask that has been filled with whisky for the first time. As you can probably guess, these casks have a lot of flavour to give whisky because they have not been used very much before, except perhaps for maturing bourbon or sherry in most cases.

Beneath the sumptuous layer of vanilla there is green apple, hay, spearmint gum, shavings of dark chocolate and sweet alcohol, scratching the nostrils with glued cardboard.

Taste:

Somewhat dull at first, but it gets tasty. Dried apple, juicy pear and raisins meet spiced loaf, with hard red candy.  Layers of honey begin to form on the palate as the initial bite of alcohol fades, and the mid-palate is warming and spicy; quite gingery and jaggered with licorice. After the smooth entry the whisky seems to become a little rough, with lashes of alcohol and spice. As the notes whiz around the palate, I cannot help but feel a bit confused about what The Glenlivet hopes to achieve with this malt. Some flavours clash, but for the most part it works… just.

Finish: 

Honey remains on the palate, with apple and pear. There is some vanilla, with lightly buttered sultana pastry. Soy sauce emerges on the finish, more umami than salty, with shades of Vegemite and sake – in short, the malt tastes estery and yeasty.

Bottom line: 

Consider it. The Glenlivet’s Founder’s Reserve is a tasty single malt malt that has a reasonable price tag, but the nagging bite of what seems to be young whisky disrupts my enjoyment of this malt. It tastes a little rough to bear The Glenlivet name, but at its price you could do worse.

Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso Matured

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Rating: ★★★★

Type: Single malt

Origin: Speyside, Scotland 

ABV: 60.7%

Reaction: 😀

Batch: OL0614

The Glenlivet has, for a number of years now, produced cask strength expressions as part of its Nàdurra range (Nàdurra is Gaelic for “natural”).  The Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso Matured single malt whisky is one of the more recent additions to the Nàdurra range, being whisky that is matured in first fill Oloroso sherry casks from Jerez in Spain, non-chill filtered and bottled at a potent cask strength of 60.7% alcohol by volume. The fact this expression is made up of whisky matured in first fill Oloroso sherry casks is important for two main reasons. First, sherry casks are increasingly expensive for whisky distilleries to buy because they are in high demand as sherry matured whisky is all the rage, but as sherry consumption is lower than in the past they are in low supply. This is why the vast majority of Scotch whisky these days is matured in ex-bourbon wood. Sherry matured whisky is therefore something that is pretty special. Second, the fact the Oloroso sherry casks are “first fill” is likely to mean that  you can expect an avalanche of medium-dry Oloroso sherry flavour from this whisky because – being filled with whisky for the first time – the sherry casks have been untouched and have a lot of sherry flavour to give the whisky, very quickly. 

Nose:

From arms length the whisky releases a vinegary and winy aroma and initial nosing reveals notes of sweet balsamic reduction, woody saffron, glazed cherry fruit cake, baklava and nuts, especially honey roasted cashews.  The bouquet is steamy and vibrant, rekindling memories of sizzling sweet and sour bubbling away  with pineapple, herbal anise, shaved green apple and sticky sugars. The Oloroso beams with all its glory, amid the wood and associated dusty wood spice.   

With a dash of water licorice, raisins and dried apple emerge in the bouquet. 

Taste:

On the palate the whisky is initially sweet, glowing with all those lovely sugars suggested by the bouquet, and then it dries. Find chocolate, cherries, nuts, toasted coconut, red wine vinegar and the medium-dry woody kick of Oloroso – basically the hallmarks of a very Mediterranean fruit cake with a spicy snap about it! This is, without question, a fiery whisky that has soaked up quite a lot of Oloroso and oak notes from the casks; as expected of a whisky matured in “first fill” casks.  

With a dash of water dark chocolate and citrus emerge, with Terry’s chocolate orange.  

Finish:

The finish presents with the lingering taste of red wine vinegar, not as sweet or tangy as balsamic but rather quite acidic and drying. The sweet sugars grapple with the drying effect of the wood and Oloroso, leaving spice and honey smoked leg ham with orange peel and chinotto. 

Bottom line:

Buy it. The Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso Matured single malt is a flavour packed malt with a ferocious Oloroso drenched medium-dry bite. For the lovers of medium-dry sherry matured whisky out there, and I know there are plenty of you, this is a whisky that should hit the spot. It certainly made me a happy chap, and it passed the main test of a good whisky in my book: I keep going back for more!  

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