Glenlivet Alpha: It was fun while it lasted


I have really enjoyed this whole Glenlivet Alpha thing. In case you haven’t heard (where have you been?), Glenlivet Alpha was released as quite an interesting project. It came in a lovely black bottle, with no information in the slightest on the label. I mean, it said it was Scotch whisky, it said it was 50%, but apart from that, zip, nada, nothing. No cask information, no age. The plan was to let everyone taste it, come up with all sorts of theories and then 6 weeks later, do a big reveal.


The theories

When you watch a good horror film, the directors talent is giving you just enough information. A glimpse of the horror. Your mind will do the rest. Any monster they were to show on screen is no-where near as terrifying as the imagined monster you come up with in your mind.

With Glenlivet Alpha, the true joy for me was imagining what it could be, tasting it, letting other people taste it, and discussing it. I’ll share some of the theories we came up with:

Theory 1: It will be super old

This theory has a couple of elements;

  • Last year, Chivas (Glenlivet’s parent company) released their marketing campaign “Age Matters” which suggested that the older the whisky is, the better. It was almost like saying to their competitors “we have loads of mature stock, we are going to shout about it”.
  • Macallan had just released a non age-statement range, so it felt like Glenlivet would tell us Alpha was super old, 20 years plus, to show the difference in direction between Glenlivet and Macallan.
  • Alpha is 100 quid, which is quite a bit of money for no information. It would make sense for people to feel like they had got what they would perceive to be a bargain.

Theory 2: It will be a crazy experiment

This is the theory that you can let your imagination go wild. Japanese oak, tiny casks, different yeast strains, super long fermentation, produced from their tiny illegal stills. The unfortunate thing about this theory is that when you actually find out what it is, you will always be ever so slightly disappointed, as it really isn’t ever going to beat what you imagined.

Theory 3: A completely new product and addition to the range

This theory could tie into theory one or two, but adds that it will become part of the range. Why would you try to get so much brand exposure just for a one off? Selling two or three thousand bottles is a drop in the ocean for the Glenlivet. There is a strong argument that all this excitement has been used to create interest in a new addition to the range.

Theory 4: The Non-Age Statement

Only a few people said a non age statement bottling. Most people thought Chivas’ “Age Matters” campaign meant it couldn’t be a non age statement. It would be a good way to introduce it though, as it would avoid people’s preconceptions on the subject.

So after all this talk of theories, I spoke to a few folks at different retailers in Edinburgh to get their thoughts/tasting notes on Alpha:

Jason from Whiski Rooms (and my co blogger at Edinburgh Whisky Blog)

“What a great idea this is. Just send out some mystery whisky into the world and let everybody come to their own conclusions about what it is before putting them out of their misery and revealing all AFTER everyone has bought it. Genius isn’t a strong enough word to describe it; it’s like mixing DNA from Albert Einstein and Carol Vorderman in a petri dish and using it to build an army of clones, it’s that smart.

What do I think it is? It’s a tough one. It tastes and feels young BUT I have had a few Glenlivets in the past that have disguised their maturing years with a grace that only Helen Mirren can match. So where does that leave me.

I’m going to guess this is about 20 years old not just because of past experience but because of the whole attitude that Glenlivet and their parent company have towards age statements. I’ll be pretty shocked if this turns out to be something very young as it would fly in the face of a lot of their marketing over the past couple of days although I never really expected them to release a mystery whisky anyway so what the hell do I know…”

And here’s some tasting notes from David at Royal Mile Whiskies

Nose: Fresh and light, coconut on jam sponge cake, gorse, apricot preserve, washing up soapiness, blackcurrant & mint cordial. Honey and honeysuckle, spiced wood with oatcakes. Pepper and mulled wine spice with a touch of melon. Lots going on.

Palate: Smooth sweetness. Spiced coconut with a woody toastiness. Menthol freshness. Fruit salad sweets, raspberry and melon chews. It’s very good.

Guess: 16-17 years old. 3rd fill sherry, 1st fill or 2nd fill bourbon.

Finally, here’s my tasting notes (taken from a cracking tweet tasting with Steve Rush at the Whisky Wire)

Nose: Pears, bananas, pineapple, cream, honey, I think it needs water though… tiny dash of gooseberries.

With water: I get more of a fizzy tropical nature, mangos, icing sugar, tangerine notes.

Palate: Grapefruit, pears, gooseberry, lime, lemon. It’s like a very high quality pinot gris (showing my current wine obsession).

With Water:  Spice, ginger, slight milk chocolate, some lilt notes, lemon & a #nomnomfactor (our newly created ratings system at the tasting) of 8.

Guess: I kept changing my mind, but in the end I decided I though it was from tiny casks and was probably new oak/first fill. I thought it would be one of the experiments up at The Glenlivet Distillery.

In the next article, I’ll take a look at what it actually is and whether it is as brilliant/terrifying as the Frankenstein I imagined.

Chris Hoban


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