All Mouth And Some Trousers: The Glenlivet 50 Year Old
Ten quid. What’ll it buy you? A starter in an OK restaurant. A decent martini. One day’s congestion charge in London. A 72-inch inflatable shark. Back in 1824, it would buy you a license from London to distil Scotch whisky, so a Mr George Smith decided to skip his average starter, forgo any inflatables and become the first licensed distiller in the Highlands. This proved much to the dismay, annoyance and even rage of his neighbours along the Spey river. They, like much of Britain at the time, weren’t exactly enamoured of George IV’s tax-happy ways, and had resolved to unite and ignore.
King George, for his part, was enamoured with the enterprising Mr. Smith’s ‘uisge beatha’, so the distiller simply carried around a couple of pistols to ward off the irascible locals and just got on with it. Not that that was quite the end of his tribulations, what with wars, fires and legal wrangling, but suffice to say The Glenlivet has earned the capitalised ‘T’ in its pronoun. It is considered globally as the original straight-shootin’/less talkin’ Speyside single malt.
What pleasure then, when just the other week, I found myself perched next to Alan Winchester, The Glenlivet’s interminably good-humoured master distiller, who has held down pretty much every position to be held in more than 20 distilleries. Knows his stuff and damn anyone else’s opinions, you’d imagine.
Yet much to my bemusement throughout our whisky dinner in London’s stunning Rosewood Hotel, he and his colleague incessantly turned to me for tasting notes and tips: geeking out on barrels and evaporation while admiring one of my personal favourites, The Glenlivet Nadurra. Unripe pear, green banana, coconut and vanilla whispers; talking about having a ‘Meg Ryan moment’. Alan’s favourite – the stewed-fruit-flecked and chewy chocolate The Glenlivet 18 – gets a second in the mouth for each year. The Glenlivet XXV was, of course, a no-brainer when matched with our caramel custard tart with milk ice cream.
As delightful as this was, the time came for us to dust off our dinner pants and stand huddled around the draped box we had been eyeing up with curiosity in the corner of the room. Threatening me one final time that they would have me lead the tasting, Alan whisked the cloth off to reveal a finely crafted yet understated John Galvin-designed box containing the first tribute to Alan and his decades of dedication to the Scotch industry: the never-seen-before first bottle of The Winchester Collection: The Glenlivet 50-year-old.
Seeing as there are only 100 bottles of these ever to be produced and no one outside of the distillery had yet tasted a drop, our geek-casual banter quickly died down as we took in subtle details of the packaging: the hand-blown crystal Glasstorm decanter and the bespoke Richard Fox rose gold detail, making the entire package a positive dream team effort of who’s who in cutting-edge Scottish craftsmanship.
As you might expect, it didn’t taste half bad, either. The unripe pear detected on the Nadurra has become ripe and juicy on the nose, dotted with morello cherries, a curious hint of iris and a blast of candied fruits. On the palette, it gracefully unfolds revealing dried apple, custard, hazelnut, orange peel, finishing off with clove and nutmeg. Shockingly, for such a long time spent in the cask, the wood is very subtlety integrated. Alan agreed, with a twinkle in his eye.
Stunned into an untypical silence I decided, once the last drop had slipped out of my palette’s grasp, to slip into something else comfortable; namely Rosewood’s excellent Scarfes Bar. Alan joined me, and it was only a matter of time until my tongue decided to waggle back into full swagger, sensing an opportunity to introduce a true master to something new. Thus, we spent the rest of the evening sinking a small inflatable shark’s worth of fine single malt cocktails. He’s a quick learner, is that Alan.
Julian de Féral is an award-winning bartender-turned international drinks consultant and occasional raconteur.
The Glenlivet is the No. 2 single malt Scotch whisky in the world. The Glenlivet 50-year-old Winchester Collection 1964 is available to buy from Harrods or pre-order from The Whisky Shop, priced at £18,000 www.theglenlivet.com.