comparrison

The Glenlivet Founders Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Founders Reserve n waffle

In 2015 we farewelled a Whisky Waffle favourite son, the Glenlivet 12. It was there to share the laughs when we held cards nights, to comfort us when we’d had a rough day at work and raised high when we rung in the New Year. Sadly Glenlivet, in their ultimate wisdom, have retired the 12 for the foreseeable future. But fear not – they have introduced a direct(ish) replacement! It comes in shiny blue packaging so it must be good, mustn’t it? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Glenlivet Founders Reserve.

It would be so easy to do a straight comparison of the two whiskies, but I decided to sample the new kid on the block on its own to see how it stood up. It turns out ‘stood up’ was possibly the wrong analogy. Sat down maybe? Perhaps slouched…

On the nose, I found the Founders Reserve has plenty of caramel and some dry malty notes. An acceptable, if not auspicious start. So I took a sip. This turned out to be an error. There’s an unpleasant sweetness in there – a sugary, treacly flavour lacking in any complexity. It’s not bad per se, but there is a distinct manufactured, home-brand quality about it which is hard to enjoy. The finish is warm and spicy, almost tangy on the back of the tongue. Finally there is the merest hint of raisins, a cameo appearance that leaves you wishing there was more to be found.

I cannot say that the Founders Reserve is particularly offensive in its flavour. But I can (and do) claim that it is all a bit bland and inconsequential, bordering on boring, which disappoints me greatly. Glenlivet are truly great makers of Scottish whisky and it saddens me to think that a generation of whisky drinkers will discover the distillery via this disappointing bottle.

★★

Nick and the Glenlivet Founders Reserve

How it compares:

Without doubt there are similarities in flavour between the Founders Reserve and the 12 Year Old – they are both obvious Speysiders full of caramel and honey. But the 12 Year Old has so much more going on than the NAS bottle. There are subtle complexities to be found throughout the 12 which the Founders lacks. The Founders Reserve is the Coke Zero to the 12’s Coca-Cola.

Advertisements

The Glenrothes 1995, 1998 and Select Reserve Box Set

Reviewed by: Ted

Glenrothes trio

Vintage. It’s not really a word that you associate with whisky. For the overwhelming majority of drams the process is to lay down some spirit in a barrel, let it age for a pre-determined number of years and then bottle it as, say, a 12yo or an 18yo. The whole concept of releasing the product of one particular year, a vintage, is smack bang within the realms of the wine makers, hence generally seeing wines labelled with the year they were made.

However, there is one whisky maker that has very firmly gripped the concept of vintaging by the proverbial horns and run like mad with it. The Glenrothes distillery, founded in 1878 and located in the Speyside whisky region (and not in the Scottish Lowlands town of the same name), has carved out a niche for itself by taking this unusual approach to aging whisky. Perhaps we should not be too surprised by this as The Glenrothes is owned by Berry Bros. & Rudd, one of the oldest and most respected wine merchants in London.

While only around 2% of its stock actually goes towards the making of vintages, with the majority of production helping to create blends such as Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse, The Glenrothes distillers make no bones about the fact that the single malt range represents the apex of their art. One of the inherent problems with releasing product from a single year is that it can lead to inconsistency, as one release in all likelihood will taste different to the next. Not necessarily a negative, just that it’s not like purchasing a 12yo and then buying another later on and knowing that what you get will be exactly the same regardless of the year of production.

The Glenrothes counters this idea by claiming that whisky is in reality just like wine and should be allowed to mature at its own rate, with bottling only occurring when the spirit has reached, in The Glenrothes own words, its ‘peak of perfection’ rather than at a pre-selected age. As you might imagine, The Glenrothes crew take a very active approach to checking their casks, determining the readiness of a vintage by looking for a unified ‘personality’ across a range of casks from that year.

Speaking of casks, The Glenrothes has a very strong wood policy and the deepest of respect for their barrels. They say that the effect of the wood on their spirit is far more important that the length of time it spends aging, and that the careful selection of cask sizes and timber types is vital for achieving perfection. The Glenrothes use a mixture of first and second fill bourbon and sherry woods, and carefully marry them together to create the unique flavour profile for a vintage.

For this review we will be sampling not just one, but three releases from The Glenrothes! Their marketing team has very helpfully created a box set containing 100ml bottles of three of their more accessible drams: the 1995 and 1998 vintages, and their Select Reserve, a vatting of casks from different years created to be the holotype of The Glenrothes flavour profile. But wait, there’s more! The box set also contains three mini Glencairns monogrammed with The Glenrothes logo, a handy set of info booklets and cards describing the range, and of course the box itself, elegantly crafted from sturdy buff and copper coloured cardboard.

Glenrothes SR

All three expressions are quite light and spicy on the nose, which is probably in part thanks to the very tall stills and long distillation times used by The Glenrothes. The Select Reserve is quite broad and fat, with notes of fudge, old leather (from a classic car say), orange and almonds. In comparison the 1998 (bot. 2014) has caramelised pear, boiled caramel sweets and, rather oddly, perhaps a touch of engine grease (that’s not a bad thing. It’s a nostalgic smell that reminds you of your father working on a car when you were young). Finally, the 1995 (bot. 2013) is filled with hot, spicy and slightly sour grain mash, clover honey and curiously, a bit of melon.

Glenrothes 95

The very first touch of the Select Reserve on the lips is creamy, and then it bursts in a big ball of heat and spice inside the mouth, probably helped by the 43% used for all three of the drams. There is a hit of marzipan on the follow-through, while the finish is tangy and lingers gently on the tongue. In contrast the 1998 is smooth and creamy, and slides evenly across the tongue. The finish is fairly short and has a slight floral air to it. Again, the 1995 is sour and fruity, with green apples, pears and plums, finishing up with a nice fresh herbal zing at the end.

Glenrothes 98

The ‘ready when it’s done’ approach works out well for The Glenrothes. Each of its vintages is skilfully crafted and captures some special quirk that entered the distillation for that year. The clever and considered use of barrelling no doubt also helps to imbue each expression with its own character. Drinking a dram of The Glenrothes is a bitter-sweet thing; a happy encounter, but all the time you know that one day the vintage will run out, and never again will you meet that particular personality. So go, find that experience and capture it in your memory before it is too late.

1995 ★★★

1998 ★★★

Select Reserve ★★★