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Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Live and Glenivet

A wise man once told me that "single cask" is the whisky equivalent of a bootleg record in music.

How true this can be.

Around about 15 years ago, I fell in love with punk music. The Clash and The Sex Pistols became demi-gods in my world and so I would take regular trips from Oxford to London to visit Camden Market, the best place in town to buy t-shirts, badges, second hand clothes and, of course, bootleg CD’s. It wasn’t so much the recordings that were fascinating (especially with the DIY punk ethic, where most of the musicians could barely play their instrument) but, on live bootlegs or studio out-takes, it was the chat between songs that caught the ear.

There was a desire to connect with the (wo)men behind the music. You wanted intimate banter between the lead singer and the front row of the audience. You wanted words from the producer to the lead guitarist, or comments from the drummer to his engineer. It was all about discovery of the core personalities within the group. Something that was often produced out of many studio albums.

Rough and ready rock ‘n’ roll is what you want!

Usually, these bootlegs are tape recordings done by fans at shows which have made their way, via a Russian pressing plant, on to a 12” picture disc or CD. Housed in “unofficial” covers, with “unofficial” artwork, the very sense of uniqueness radiates from the sleeve. But every now and then, often to support a major release or sometimes as b-side, an artists' record label sticks something out which shows this side of their act. The Who Live At Leeds is a classic example. Made to look like a bootleg with rough and ready artwork, this was a revelation when it hit the shops in 1985.

In front of me I have two whiskies from the same distillery, The Glenlivet. One is a new release from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. The other is an official release, The Nadurra.

As always with the SMWS, their bottling are the most “bootleg” on the market. Even though they recently “cleaned up” their bottles which now look a lot more on-brand than their previous, artisanal, handfilled-looking relatives, there is still no distillery name, but plenty of information.

The Nadurra, on the other hand comes very much baring the hallmarks of a distillery released bottle. However, the contents of this is a little different from your usual ‘Livet, being released at natural cask strength and matured in 100% ex-American Oak, unlike the other standard releases of The Glenlivet, which all have key elements of European Oak in. This is the “official bootleg”, if you will. Plenty of distillery character, but raw and ready. Rock ‘n Roll!

Let’s take a look at the two and see if one is The Who Live At Leeds and the other is Oasis Live By The Sea...

The Glenlivet - SMWS - 2.78 Kissed By Sweet Promises – 21 Years Old – 512 Bottles – Refill Sherry Butt – 58.4% Vol

Before we start, a word on the colour (which we don’t usually do). This is 5 years older than the Nadurra and has been in an ex-sherry cask, but the colour is lighter! It may be that this is in a 2nd or 3rd refill sherry butt, the bottle doesn’t make it clear. However, the sherry influence is minimal, at least in the colour...

Nose: Initially a big nose prickle followed by lots of fresh wood (pine) and then a huge hit of plum, much like the Hibiki 12 Year Old. It’s very floral for a Glenlivet and there is a touch of oomph provided by a liquorice tone. Very well rounded, if not a little strong.

Palate: Bread and butter pudding, with some spiced custard over the top and a glass of light red wine! Here the sherry shows itself with some subtle red fruits and works it way around using spices to give itself some energy. With water: the apple pie really comes to life here, with the breadiness of the pastry standing out.

Finish: Like a heavy white wine, with a little bitterness, cloves and some more of that liquorice. With water: spicer and fruitier.

Overall: A very pleasant dram if not a touch overpowering at first. Needs water to highlight the subtle flavours which make this bottling well worth hunting out.

The Glenlivet – Nadurra – 16 Years Old – Batch 11091 – 100% ex-American Oak – 54.2% Vol

Nose: A much gentler note on the nose than the SMWS bottling, there are elements of deeper wood, vanillas, orange and lavender. An touch of horseradish sauce in there too.

Palate: Initially there are violets and heather, later honey comes through and some lightly spiced apple pie. With water: the vanilla is highlighted and with ice cream notes coming through. Almost like Neil’s cranachan with his whisky-cream...!

Finish: Sweet and long with elements of ginger and candyfloss. With water: retains the spices, but the vanillas balance it out nicely.

Overall: Not what you would expect from The Glenlivet, but this really does a fantastic job of showing off true, delicate yet robust distillery character without the need to add “complexity” from sherry casking. All they need to do now is add a new make to the range and you’ll be able to see a real journey from grain to glass via wood in your very own home!

Both of these whiskies are crackers. If you want true, usual bootleg-style fun, then go for the SMWS. You wouldn’t know it was sherried from the colour, but the palate holds some real surprises. If you want something a little more original, but still with that feeling that you’ve unearthed something other people haven’t, go for the Nadurra. Be warned, however. It’s Glenlivet, but how we know it...

As will now be the norm with our postings, you can download these tasting notes as a handy little pdf file at the Cask Strength Warehouse.