The Glenlivet is one of the biggest selling single malt whisky brands in the world but how good are their whiskies? Well, I put that to a very precise test and here’s what I found.
Glenlivet whiskies are very good. They’re sweet, smooth and easy to drink. I would recommend the Glenlivet 12 Year Old Double Oak for less experienced whisky drinkers, the Glenlivet 18 Year Old Batch Reserve as a complex whisky that’s not too expensive and The Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso as a good, cask strength sherried whisky.
There are over 30 different Glenlivet whiskies and I examined 11 of them. I didn’t look at limited releases, travel retail exclusives, single cask editions or those that are rare or super expensive.
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How I Determined Whether Glenlivet Whiskies Are Good
I didn’t want to present just my own personal opinion about these whiskies but rather a more general consensus, so I gathered a team of experts (translation: anyone who would help me with this project and who knows a thing or two about whisky) and amalgamated all our tasting notes. I left out those aromas and flavors that were found by only one person and focused on those experienced by more than one member of the group. Descriptors that appear earlier in the coming lists were detected by more people.
Everyone scored each whisky out of 100 and I calculated the average.
The notes after each table are my summary of the general consensus and the combined results present a pretty clear picture of these whiskies.
Here’s what we found:
The Glenlivet 12 Year Old Double Oak
- Price: $49.99 approx. for 750ml & $63.12 approx. for 1L
This is the first of the Glenlivet core range. It’s matured mostly in European oak casks but then also in ex-bourbon American oak casks, for a total of 12 years.
|Nose||Apples, vanilla, honey, pears, fruit, citrus, peaches, grass, pineapple, oranges, spices|
|Taste||Apples, fruit, toffee, honey, citrus, malt, cream, spices, vanilla, astringent, oak|
|Finish||Short to Medium: Dry, oak, apples, bitter, astringent|
|Average Score – 72|
Overall, the consensus was that this is a good quality, tasty whisky. It has a light body, it’s sweet, the flavors go well together and it’s very easy to drink. It’s also incredibly smooth and gentle.
The only issue with this whisky is that it’s not complex at all, making it too mild and boring for more experienced whisky drinkers who would rather spend a bit more money on a whisky that’s got more flavors to explore.
This means it makes a great whisky for anyone below the level of ‘experienced whisky drinker’ (especially if they’re new to whisky) who wants an inexpensive yet good single malt Scotch. In fact, it seems to me that Glenlivet 12 was a lot of people’s first ever whisky, and it’s easy to understand why.
You can buy a bottle of The Glenlivet 12 Year Old Double Oak here.
The Glenlivet 15 Year Old French Oak Reserve
- Price: $80.09 approx. for 750ml
Although all of this whisky is matured for 15 years, some of it is matured in French oak casks for a limited amount of time. The Limousin (name of a forest in France) oak used for the French casks has a lower density than other oaks which lets the whisky sink deeper into the wood and add a ‘rich and exotic character’ to the classic Glenlivet profile. Let’s see if that worked.
|Nose||Oak, vanilla, fruit, cinnamon, spices, apples, caramel, honey, butter, lemon, pears, nuts, wood|
|Taste||Vanilla, apples, cinnamon, spices, wood, pears, honey, fruit, pepper, oak|
|Finish||Medium: Spices, vanilla, fruit, cinnamon, wood, honey, apples|
|Average Score – 77|
First things first. Although this is also not a complex whisky, it is a good, enjoyable, drinkable Scotch. It has a light mouthfeel, it’s sweet, it’s smooth and it’s very well balanced.
As for the effect of the French oak casks, it does add some non-sherry fruity sweetness. Whether this is enough to give it a ‘rich and exotic character’ I leave to you, but it does make it better than the 12 – if you like non-sherry fruity sweetness.
It’s also quite well priced for what it is, and you can buy a bottle here.
The Glenlivet 18 Year Old Batch Reserve
- 40%ABV (there was a 43%ABV but it’s now discontinued)
- Price: $137.49 approx. for 750ml
The Glenlivet 18 Year Old Batch Reserve is matured in first and second-fill American oak and ex-sherry oak casks. More importantly however, is the fact that the 18 has won more awards than any other Glenlivet, so I was expecting a lot of socks to be knocked off.
|Nose||Apples, orange peel, fruit, sherry, cinnamon, malt, toffee, spices, apricots|
|Taste||Vanilla, spices, sherry, apples, oranges, baking spices, butter, citrus fruit, honey, caramel, wood|
|Finish||Medium to long: Oak, spices, sherry, raisins, fruit|
|Average Score – 80|
The Glenlivet 18 has the same flavor profile as the 12 (because unlike the 15 it’s not matured in French oak casks) but the six extra years give it much more depth and complexity. The mouthfeel is still light, but it’s very smooth, incredibly sweet (from the extra years of maturation and the sherry cask) and super easy to drink. A very nice whisky.
Annoyingly, it’s only 40%ABV which means it’s not as good as it could have been. The 43%ABV version was probably better, but it was discontinued – presumably because the company preferred to appeal to a wider audience. I would argue that the 40% does indeed appeal to a wider audience but that it was the 43% that won all the awards.
That being said, the price is not too bad for what is certainly a good quality, 18 year old whisky. You can buy a bottle of The Glenlivet 18 Year Old Batch Reserve here.
The Glenlivet 21 Year Old Archive
- Price: $294.49 approx. for 750ml
This whisky is aged for 21 years in hand-selected American oak casks and ex-sherry casks.
|Color||Amber, red copper|
|Nose||Cinnamon, oak, fruit, vanilla, sherry, caramel, tobacco, apples, strawberries, honey, toffee, raisins, wood|
|Taste||Vanilla, cinnamon, oak, caramel, sherry, spices, fruit, apples, orange peel, wood, cherry, malt, cloves|
|Finish||Medium to long: Oak, sherry, toffee, spices, pepper, vanilla, wood, caramel|
|Average Score – 87|
After 21 years of maturation, you might expect that the Glenlivet profile is exceedingly well developed.
And you’d be exceedingly right.
The Glenlivet 21 Year Old has a medium body, a velvety oily mouthfeel and lots of flavors. It’s sweet, extremely smooth, complex and very well balanced. It has a nice sherry character from the ex-sherry casks that doesn’t overpower the other flavors but is not too mild either. A delicious, enjoyable, and deliciously enjoyable whisky.
Even though unlike the 18, it is 43%ABV, there were still some who thought it would have been even better at 46%ABV, and that the lower alcohol content makes it lose some of its depth. This may be true, but don’t let that put you off. Personally, I think this type of not-going-to-be-satisfied-with-anything-less-than-perfection criticism only proves how much we love whisky.
What you can let put you off is the price, but on the other hand it is a good whisky that’s more than two decades old. You can buy a bottle of the Glenlivet 21 Archive here.
The Glenlivet XXV
- Price: $459.99 approx. for 750ml
The oldest in the Glenlivet core range is made from the rarest of their whiskies that have been aged for at least 25 years and is finished ex-Oloroso sherry casks.
|Nose||Vanilla, caramel, honey, sherry, fruit, candied apple, wood, brown sugar, citrus, cinnamon, banana, spices, currants, figs, pipe tobacco, floral, oak, berries|
|Taste||Caramel, sherry, oak, cinnamon, tobacco, dark chocolate, nuts, floral, honey, raisins, pepper, lemon, anise seed, spices, apples, tannins, sea salt|
|Finish||Long: Spices, oak, sherry, fruit, wine, leather, dry|
|Average Score – 88|
The Glenlivet XXV is the best of their core range. It has a medium mouthfeel with a somewhat oily texture. It’s delicious, it has a lot of flavors, it’s well balanced and it’s complex all the way through.
Like the 21, the XXV spends time in ex-sherry casks which once again adds a sherry character to the base flavor profile that’s neither a sherry bomb or so mild as to be insignificant. And like the 21, while it’s a good Glenlivet it would be even better at a slightly higher ABV.
The real sticking point is the price – you thought the 21 was expensive – but if you can afford it and you want a great whisky you can buy a bottle of the Glenlivet XXV here.
The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve
- Price: $41.46 approx. for 750ml
As the name suggests, this whisky is an attempt to give the classic Glenlivet profile a tropical feel. To that end some of the whisky that makes up the Caribbean Reserve is finished in casks that previously held Caribbean rum.
|Nose||Banana, apple juice, vanilla, honey, citrus, caramel, fruit, brown sugar, apples, tropical fruit|
|Taste||Rum, vanilla, pepper, caramel, apples, spices, tropical fruit, butterscotch, banana, pineapple, oak, oranges, malt, coconut, sugar cane|
|Finish||Short to medium: Tropical fruit, rum, dry, honey, caramel, sugar|
|Average Score – 75|
We found the rum influence was prominent in this whisky. Whether this gives it a ‘tropical’ feel or simply adds rum sweetness, I’ll leave to you, the important point is that this is a whisky for those who like rum.
On the negative side there was a bit of heat from the alcohol, although it was more or less hidden by the dominant rum sweetness, and it is a young (there’s no age statement but it can’t be too old), simple whisky. But it’s not expensive and will be great if you like rum or sweeter whiskies or want to use it as a mixer.
You can buy a bottle of The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve here.
The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve
- Price: $41.99 approx. for 750ml & $74.39 approx. for 1.75L
This whisky is a tribute to the founder of the Glenlivet distillery, George Smith, as it not only uses his distillation methods that are applied to all Glenlivet whiskies, but it also replicates his selecting of whisky from casks of a range of ages. Since nowadays there are also a range of casks, the free selection applies to that too and includes whisky aged in traditional oak casks and American first-fill oak casks.
|Nose||Vanilla, fruit, apples, pears, caramel, toffee, chocolate, grass, wine, citrus, almond, strawberry, bananas, apricots, pineapple, butter|
|Taste||Fruit, vanilla, apples, citrus, pears, salt, bananas, toffee|
|Finish||Short to medium: Fruit, oak, nuts|
|Average Score – 70|
The Founder’s Reserve is a good, easy to drink whisky. It’s a bit thin but it has a soft and creamy mouthfeel and it’s sweet, smooth and tasty.
There’s no age statement but it’s clearly a very young whisky so it has even less depth and complexity than the 12, but this makes it that much more accessible for inexperienced whisky drinkers – as does the cheaper price!
You can buy a bottle of The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve here.
The Glenlivet 14 Year Old
- Price: $62.99 approx. for 750ml
The 14 Year Old is a relatively new offering from Glenlivet and it’s matured in first-fill ex-bourbon American oak casks, first-fill ex-sherry casks and ex-cognac casks.
|Nose||Vanilla, honey, citrus, grapes, oranges, pears, brown sugar, spices, fruit, apples, raisins|
|Taste||Spices, fruit, apples, caramel, honey, cinnamon, cognac, grapes, pears, toffee, raisins, vanilla, nutmeg, chocolate|
|Finish||Medium: Spices, raisins, fruit|
|Average Score – 73|
The 14 has the basic Glenlivet profile with a cognac influence that unlike the rum in the Caribbean Reserve, doesn’t dominate the whisky, but nonetheless means that if you’re somebody who enjoys cognac this is a whisky worth trying.
Aside from that, the whisky is good. Although the body is thin and it’s not very complex, it’s smooth, it’s sweet and it’s tasty. In comparison to other Glenlivet’s, it’s better than the 12 but not as good as the 18. Perhaps more importantly it’s only slightly more expensive than the 12 but much cheaper than the 18.
You can buy a bottle of The Glenlivet 14 Year Old here.
The Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso
- 60%ABV – 61.3%ABV
- Price: $93.49 approx. for 750ml
The Glenlivet Nàdurra range are natural whiskies (Nàdurra is Gaelic for ‘natural’) in that they are bottled at cask strength and not chill filtered, so the whisky in your bottle is exactly the same as it was when it came out the cask. This expression is matured in first-fill Oloroso sherry oak casks for an unknown number of years.
|Nose||Sherry, raisins, oak, vanilla, toffee, plums, balsamic vinegar, honey, dark chocolate, dried fruits, apples, apricots|
|Taste||Raisins, spices, sherry, dark chocolate, oak, apples, plums, honey, caramel, fruit, cherries, grapes, pepper, nuts|
|Finish||Medium to long: Spicy, sherry, dark chocolate, grapes, oak, cinnamon hearts, honeycomb|
|Average Score – 77|
Overall, this is a very enjoyable and tasty, sherried Scotch. It has a lot of sherry without being a sherry bomb but there was some disagreement as to whether the balance of sherry and fruity flavors was good, or whether the sherry overpowered the basic Glenlivet profile too much.
Another issue is that this is a young whisky that would be improved with a few more years in the cask. That being said, it’s still pretty good at its present (and undisclosed) age.
If you like cask strength sherried whiskies, you can buy a bottle of The Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso here.
The Glenlivet Nàdurra First Fill Selection
- 59.1%ABV – 63.1%ABV
- Price: $91.99 approx. for 750ml
Continuing the Nàdurra range of natural whiskies, this expression is matured for an unknown number of years in first-fill American white oak casks. Not first-fill ex-bourbon American white oak casks, but new white oak casks, just like American whiskeys.
|Nose||Vanilla, pears, honey, citrus, apples, floral, chocolate, pineapple, custard, candy, fruit, toffee, peach, grass|
|Taste||Vanilla, citrus, pepper, oak, honey, bananas, pineapple, lemon, pears|
|Finish||Medium to long: Oak, vanilla, pears, pepper, spices, citrus, dry, malt, nuts, fruit, ginger|
|Average Score – 84|
Being aged in new white oak casks like American whiskeys is relatively unique for a Scotch and it gives the whisky a nice combination of sweet and fruit notes. Overall, the Nàdurra First Fill Selection has the basic Glenlivet profile of the 12 but with a lot more punch and complexity, making it a strong, flavorful and very enjoyable whisky.
The only issue was that some felt the alcohol burns a bit in your mouth which apart from being unpleasant also makes it harder to detect the whisky’s flavors. A few more years in the cask would help tame the alcohol’s intensity and add even more flavor to another young whisky, making it even better than it already is.
If you want a good, cask strength Scotch, which also has the characteristics that come with being aged in new American white oak casks, you can buy a bottle of The Glenlivet Nàdurra First Fill Selection here.
The Glenlivet Nàdurra Peated Whisky Cask Finish
- 61.5%ABV – 62%ABV
- Price: $89.99 approx. for 750ml
The latest of the Nàdurra range, this expression is not a peated whisky itself (meaning made from malted barley that’s dried in peat smoke) but finished in casks that previously held heavily peated Scotch.
|Nose||Light smoke, apples, pears, light peat, vanilla, banana, lemon, tropical fruit, malty chocolate, grass, citrus|
|Taste||Apples, smoke, peat, honey, citrus, vanilla, floral, pineapple, milk chocolate, fruit|
|Finish||Medium to long: Smoke, peat, vanilla, apples, honey, chocolate|
|Average Score – 81|
Since Glenlivet don’t make peated whiskies, to now make one would entail too much effort and expense. That’s why they have to resort to the unusual method of using ex-peated whisky casks to give this expression a peat profile. This in turn means that the peat character is relatively light compared to real peated whiskies, so if you prefer a peat bomb this whisky is not for you.
With the basic Glenlivet profile that’s stronger and more complex than the 12, and a light peat that doesn’t dominate, all the flavors balance well to make a really good whisky – despite the fact that it’s also young and would benefit from more time in the cask.
If you prefer a lightly peated whisky or you want an easy introduction to peated whiskies, you can buy a bottle of The Glenlivet Nàdurra Peated Whisky Cask Finish here.