reserve

The Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet master distillers reserve

The Glenlivet is one of the grand old boys of Scottish whisky. A distillery whom Whisky Waffle considered reliable, safe and go-to. Of course, all this changed when they replaced their 12 Year Old with the Founders Reserve. Sigh. What were they thinking?

But, never fear fellow Wafflers! If, like us, you have lamented the lack of 12 Year Old in bottle shops near you, then we have your solution: The Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve, named for Alan Winchester, Glenlivet’s own master distiller since 2008. Now, this bottle was once upon a time only available to frequent flyers buried in duty free, however many online liqueur stores <cough> perhaps one that shares a name with this reviewer <cough> have procured stock and let me tell you, it’s well worth it.

It’s not a complex dram: it’s only 40% and has been triple matured in American oak, ex-sherry casks and ‘traditional oak casks’ (whatever that means). On the nose are apples and pears, but also creamy notes, like particularly milky tea. The palate isn’t smooth per se, but it’s easy to drink. There are flavours of vanilla, oranges and choc chip biscuits. The finish is nutty and pleasantly long and, again, particularly creamy.

I’m not claiming the Master Distiller’s Reserve is a masterpiece – simply that it is interesting, reliable and nice to drink – everything the Founders Reserve is not. This is NAS whisky done well.

★★★

 

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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.

Nant Homestead Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Nant Homestead Reserve

It’s no secret that Jim Murray, whisky writing’s answer to Simon Cowell, is a fan of Tasmania’s Nant Distillery. And that’s fine, he’s allowed to have favourite distilleries. Although, rarely does he offer to fly to the home country of said distillery to create an all-new product for them. But in the case of the Nant Homestead Reserve, a marriage of Nant’s bourbon, sherry and port matured whisky, that’s exactly what he has done.

Nant are makers of some fantastic drams, and Jim has praised their power, their full-bodied flavour and their uniquely memorable Tasmanian nature. But for some reason when offered the chance to create his own, he has failed to include any of the above characteristics. Instead he has created a whisky that proves it is possible to be too smooth.

The nose is familiar if you have ever had a Nant whisky before. It is fruity and candied with touches of vanilla. But it is understated and almost feels like it is missing an element. The palate displays subtle notes of orange, toffee and leafy vegetation. The finish dies away rapidly as if instead of drinking whisky you were simply sipping a glass of water. All together the final impression is that of dissatisfaction.

Of course, this is only one whisky drinker’s opinion. This may be an elegant easy drinking whisky to some. It may also be a viable starting point for non-whisky drinkers. Though for me it lacks the magic of some of Nant’s other releases such as the port, sherry and bourbon matured bottlings. They are all, without a doubt, more complex, interesting and flavoursome than the Homestead Reserve. This whisky is a case where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

★★

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 ★★★

Yamazaki Distillers Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Yamazaki Distillers Reserve whisky waffle

Even the most diehard Scotch whisky traditionalists can no longer argue that countries other than Scotland cannot produce top quality single malts. Japan has become one of the leaders in New-World whisky-making and recent awards, such as the number one spot in Jim Murray’s 2015 whisky bible, suggest that the status quo is changing – slightly – but noticeably.

The establishment responsible for the latest-greatest single malt is Yamazaki, Japan’s oldest distillery. Some of their products are undoubtedly spectacular and produce flavours that will stand out in any collection. Others, however, are more content to blend into the background.

The Yamazaki Distillers Reserve features younger spirits matured in ex-red wine casks married with older sherry and Japanese oak (mizunara) casks. The results are pleasant, although certainly not world-beating.

Dark fruits are immediately noticeable on the nose along with some sappier floral notes. There is also a slight dollop of vanilla with subtle hints of wood shavings. It is lively across the palate – spicy and challenging and certainly not smooth. Although far from sweet, it contains notes of stewed apricots and raspberry jam, but these compete for attention with oaky tannins and form an intriguing but overall unbalanced flavour. There is a bitterness to the finish which partially hides the more pleasant fruitier notes and the overall impression is one of ‘so close, but yet so far’.

The Yamazaki Distillers Reserve is far from a bad whisky. It is interesting, challenging and uniquely Japanese. It is, however, far from Yamazaki’s best drop and certainly lacks the balance of flavours found among the distillery’s more accomplished products.

★★