Goodbye, Glenlivet 12yo

Glenlivet bottles

As some of you may be aware, particularly if you’re a ‘Glenlivet Guardian’ or have read these blog articles from Thijs Klaverstijn and Oliver Klimek, The Glenlivet 12yo is being pulled from the UK market as of next month to be replaced with the NAS Founder’s Reserve. I’ll reiterate that, just so it sinks in. Glenlivet 12yo is being discontinued in the UK and replaced with an NAS bottling. Quite remarkable, isn’t it?

I mean, when Macallan removed their age statement whisky from the UK and other ‘established markets’, and brought out the 1824 Series instead, I did wonder which brand would be next to follow suit. Unprecedented global demand for Scotch whisky has meant distillers are playing catch up. The lag time taken to expand a distillery, ramp up production and see the fruits of your labour is a decade at the absolute least. And who can predict what the industry will be like in ten years time? Back in 2005, I don’t think many people saw the meteoric rise of Scotch whisky to its current state. But that’s the thing with hindsight, you always see it in perfect 20/20 vision.

In my opinion, the Macallan liquid is confusing, underpowered, and off-puttingly overpriced. Chris wrote a rather in-depth article way back when this series was first launched, and I urge you to reacquaint yourself with it here. The Glenlivet 12yo has been a constant member of my whisky shelf for as far back as I can remember, much like Macallan 12yo used to be. Used to be. I currently have a Macallan 2004 Speymalt from Gordon & MacPhail in its place. Instead of Macallan 18yo, I have a bottling from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Both bottles are better priced, contain better liquid, and provide a better experience than their ‘official’ counterparts. And I suppose that last point is crucial: experience.

When I think of Macallan certain things come to mind; the heritage, the prestige, the unmistakeable nose and flavour profile, and the knowledge I’m drinking a high quality drink. The whole experience draws me in to the whisky. Well, that’s how it used to be anyway. For Glenlivet to replace the 12yo with an NAS bottling successfully, they must recreate the experience of their 12yo down to a tee. This will, of course, vary from person to person. That’s the wonderfully subjective nature of whisky. Generically speaking though, the liquid must deliver and it must be appropriately priced. Even if they get this spot on, there’s still something which doesn’t quite add up for me.

In 2010, Pernod Ricard (the owners of The Glenlivet) launched their ‘Age Matters’ campaign, which aimed to “advocate the importance and value of the age statements to consumers”. To me, this seemed to be a bit of gamesmanship between themselves and other companies. In my opinion, Pernod seemed to be jumping up and down, flipping the bird to their competitors, and proclaiming how much aged stock they have, that age statements are the benchmarks of consumer pricing, and that nothing would change their stance. For them to then drop their 12yo from the home market and replace it with an NAS bottling is a big surprise, to say the least.

Perhaps Glenlivet, like Macallan, are victims of their own success. They maybe didn’t see the whisky boom lasting quite so long or taking off quite so dramatically. Growth in developing markets is astounding, and it seems as though this is where Glenlivet would rather push its 12yo. Pernod are quoted in Thijs Klaverstijn’s article as saying: “Founder’s Reserve will roll out in countries where whisky knowledge is strong, consumers are becoming more familiar with new concepts, are by far the most developed in their tastes and have the greater thirst for new products”. Read into that marketing-speak what you will. Germany is already on the hit list for losing the 12yo, and I’m sure many other established markets will follow. Some countries will lose the 12yo, others will retain it alongside the Founder’s Reserve, while the offering in some countries simply won’t change. They’ll keep the 12yo but not gain the Founder’s Reserve. It remains to be seen which countries fall into each category.

No matter how good the Founder’s Reserve is, I fear for Glenlivet’s reputation in the UK. I think it’s fair to say that Macallan’s reputation has taken a bit of a hammering since they switch from age statements to the 1824 series, and I’d hate to see that happen to Glenlivet. I’m heading up to the distillery next week to spend a day focussing on the Founder’s Reserve and everything that surrounds it. Rest assured I’ll be asking some rather pointed questions, and if there’s anything you’d like to ask, please comment below or tweet us at @EdinburghWhisky and I’ll put your question to those in the know.

Perhaps the very faint silver lining of this rather ominous cloud is that Glenlivet 12yo may return to shelves in the UK at some point in the future. Pernod have said that the 12yo “remains, and will remain, the biggest reference point in The Glenlivet portfolio globally and the core reference for the brand”. Fingers crossed this is a temporary move from Glenlivet, and instead of a final ‘goodbye’ this is a mere ‘see you in a while’.

Tiger

 

Comments

  1. Hi there,

    “Perhaps Glenlivet, like Macallan, are victims of their own success. They maybe didn’t see the whisky boom lasting quite so long or taking off quite so dramatically. Growth in developing markets is astounding, and it seems as though this is where Glenlivet would rather push its 12yo.”

    We shouldn’t think so. Not with Glenlivet. The distillery has been expanded in 2009 by four more pot stills to a capacity of 8,500,000 litres per year and again 2010 with still two extra stills to a capacity of 10,500,000 litres per year. The newest plans are for 30,000,000 litres a year.
    And with good reason – seen from their point of view.

    Glenlivet 12yo has been breathing down 12yo Glenfiddich’s neck for years in the competiton for wolds biggest single malt seller. Glenlivet hat caught up to some 1000 cases. That is very close.

    I can not believe that somebody reaching for the world title of “most sold single malt” has not planned stocks large enough to be able to reach that goal – unless they miscalculated the pace of the race.

    The UK and Germany are no small whisky markets. They are not as big as others and have had their problems for the industry but they are important.
    To remove the Glenlivet 12yo from markets of this kind means quitting and letting Glenfiddich take the price for years to come.
    Did we hear champagne corks popping en masse from the direction of Dufftown? You bet.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    PS As an afterthought…. Pernod Ricard has plans to leave even Diageo behind….

    http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2015/02/pernod-ricard-the-thirst-to-be-first/

    Interesting strategy as far as Glenlivet is concerned.

  2. As a Whisky Afcionado from Germany i can say that this decision will really give me a “greater thirst for new products”, mainly from other distilleries than The Glenlivet. I also fear that this is not the end of this development. The Glenlivet 21 Archive is already gone, only the remaining stock is now sold for steep raising prices. And no one knows what will happen to the 15 and the 18 years old. I assume that the prices will go way up this year. So i will stock up a few Nadurras for myself and thats it with The Glenlivet for me.

  3. Kallaskander, thanks for your comment. Glenlivet may have ramped up production and expanded the distillery, but that only started in 2009, just 6 years ago. It’ll take a minimum of another 6 years to see an increased output of the 12yo, so we may well be in the middle of the ‘lag time’ I mentioned in the article. Perhaps this increased production will mean we see a return of the 12yo to all markets in a few years time, once this ‘lag time’ is over? I agree with you that Glenfiddich will be pleased at this announcement though, just so long as it has enough aged stock to supply its own massive demand.

    Kfakler, thanks also for your comment. You raise a good point about the fate of the 15yo and the 18yo… will the selective distribution of other expressions follow?

  4. I hope the NAS replacement is half the price.
    BTW, it’s disingenuous to call the entry-level offering “Founders Reserve”. Unless the founders are customer-centric and keep the cheap stuff for themselves and give the better stuff away.

  5. Hi Alex, thanks for your comment. According to the official press release, the Founder’s Reserve will be “priced alongside The Glenlivet’s 12 year Old expression”. Looks like Glenlivet see this as a like-for-like substitution in the UK.

  6. Thanks for your article on this. It’s pity and more and more companies are leaving off age statements and going for fancy sounding titles. I know that age statements were never a guide for quality, but it was always something that let us know what we were getting. I suppose that time will tell, and probably in a few years we’ll all get used to this and wonder what the fuss was about.

  7. I have stocked up on the 12yo. It is one of my favourite and a classic. Very sad.

    Jeannette

  8. I purchased a bottle of the 12yo in late Dec 2015. It seemed off. Lighter colour, thinner taste, smelled different too. At the time, I gave it the “benefit of the doubt” one-off type of quality. I purchased a bottle today, and the same thing. After reading this article, I’m wondering if Glenlivet is bottling NAS in 12yo bottles. I live in Ontario, Canada. I’ve been enjoying the 12yo for several years, so I’m familiar with the taste.

  9. Feeling very sad at the demise of Glenlivet 12 yo, my all time favourite, and the rise of market speak.

    I bought two bottles of one of their age omitted special reserve bottles at Heathrow duty free a few years ago, it was about the same as very rough blended whisky. I have not risked my hard earned cash on any whisky of unspecified age since.

    Glenlivet, protect your brand, sack your marketing team.

  10. Living in Mexico and having enjoyed Glenlivet 12yo for several years, it has now been taken off the market here, I have started drinking Glenfiddich 12 yo which is vastly superior to Glenlivet’s Founder’s Reserve. Even the “Founder” would have a “Reserve” about this one? Not the smartest of moves

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