The Glenlivet is one of the best-known single malts out there. And as one of the largest malt whisky distilleries in Scotland (Glenfiddich usually pips it to the post, depending on variances in each year’s production schedule) it’s no wonder why.
Set in the valleys of Speyside, the distillery and area around it are both magical. If you’re ever up there, take a walk along The Smuggler’s Trail and up to Carn Daimh for great views and a better understanding of why this region was famous for whisky smugglers (hint: they’d hide in the hills when the excisemen were coming, easily camouflaged by the landscape).
As a whisky itself, it’s one of those ones that – for me – illustrates just how vastly different each of our individual tastebuds are. It wins tons of awards, is loved around the world, but for me often has a slight grassiness that the back of my palate doesn’t love, if I’m honest. It’s nothing to do with the quality or standard of the whiskies – just my palate. It just goes to show that we each taste things differently and one person’s cup of tea (and/or whisky) may not be for another.
That being said, the company has had some cracking releases that I’ve loved, such as the Alpha (matured in virgin oak casks), which came out two years ago, and the Nadurra Oloroso bottling (found in airports). I seem to lean towards whiskies from this distillery that are a little bit more innovative.
Which leads me to the latest series from this distillery, named after long-standing master distiller Alan Winchester. The Master Distiller’s Reserve Series was, initially, not really a series but merely a standalone bottle found in airports called Master Distiller’s Reserve (MDR). This is now being expanded in airports to include the MDR Solera Vatted and MDR Small Batch. The former features a combination of first-fill American oak, Traditional oak and ex-Sherry casks which are vatted together and dumped into a Solera vat (akin to the Glenfiddich solera system featured in its 15 year old if you’ve ever tried it), while the latter includes a marriage of casks individually chosen by Alan and his team (no word on how ‘small batch’ it is).
I have reviewed all three, below, and my stand-out for both price and taste was definitely the Solera Vatted; I think it’s a cracker for the level it’s going in at (around £50 for 1L). But first, I had the chance to sit down and speak to Alan about the series. Here’s what he had to say:
Alan, how did you come about creating this range?
The Glenlivet has always had a long history of continuous production and Pernod have had it for over 12 years. During that time we’ve increased production levels and in 2002 we introduced a lot more cask types back into the inventory. What we’re seeing with the new range is a reflection of what we have maturing under our auspices. We’re also responding to folk wanting to see more sherry cask matured releases in the range.
TRX (Travel Retail) is increasingly becoming an important space for many distilleries, which seem to be having exclusive whiskies launching in it. How does the MDR fit the current offerings but also the TRX space?
What you’ll see in the Glenlivet is that different products complement different parts of the inventory. When I started out in the industry, the ultimate was a Glenlivet of one age – we’ve introduced different ones of different ages over the years, and then the Master Distiller’s Range gives us a canvass to play with different characteristics of The Glenlivet. Doing something like this backs up the range and allows for more versatility.
What is the biggest challenge with creating a new range: product supply? Demand?
Remaining true to The Glenlivet character while attracting new customers who like to see different styles and also getting people who think they know it already to come back to The Glenlivet and try it again in a different way.
The Glenlivet: Master Distiller’s Reserve: 40%: £35 (approx):
(n): Rich on the nose with notes of fudge, baking spice, toffee bananas, pear crumble. With water, becomes more fruity.
(p): Quite thick on the palate with lots of rich fruit (stewed apples), cinnamon, toffee, a bit floral and a nice dryness at the back of the palate. With water, darker and bolder.
(f): Slight grassy tone, akin to the brand’s house characteristic, comes through.
The Glenlivet: MDR Solera: 40%: £50 (approx):
(n): Honeycomb, chocolate, a bit of citrus, some waxy notes, along with strawberry and banana. Fruitier and more lively.
(p): Creamier than main release with some red fruits, along with milk chocolate, banana foams, fudge, just a hint of a nutmeg/chilli prickle. Very velvety: excellent texture.
(f): Medium length finish. Less drying than first whisky.
*As a note, I tried this with water but didn’t think it held up as well with it. I liked it on its own.
The Glenlivet: MDR Small Batch: 40%: £100 (approx):
(n): More dark fruits (blackberry/blueberry), along with just a hint of sulphur, spice, fudge and green grass.
(p): Bit of ginger, much spicier and drier, kicks at the back of the palate. Orange peel and black pepper round off the more intense notes.
(f): Spicy, tingly, intense.
With water, it becomes much creamier and fudgier. I recommend a few drops.