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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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The Glenlivet

 

By Gil Kulers, CWE, Kulers Uncorked

By Gil Kulers, CWE, Kulers Uncorked

The Glenlivet 21 Year Single Malt Scotch, Speyside, Scotland

The Glenlivet 21 Year Single Malt Scotch, Speyside, Scotland

$130/750ml

•  Two Thumbs Way Up

 • Delicate aromas of brown sugar, honey, orange rind, bell pepper, cream soda, and bananas with a distinct mineral quality. It offered lots of spicy, white pepper notes along with flavors similar to its aromas. It had a long finish with plenty of citrus, orange and ginger.

A Wine Lover Looks At Scotch 

Scotch—the revered and ballyhooed firewater from Scotland—is something I’ve never really enjoyed. Whiskies, in general, whether they are from the Emerald Isles of Ireland or the rolling hills of Kentucky, have never really been “my thing.”

This is not for lack of trying. Numerous friends and colleagues sing rapturously about the delicate, floral nuances from Scotland’s northern Speyside or the smoky, earthy notes found in Islay in the southwest. On two separate occasions, I’ve been honored to sit next to a master distiller, who patiently took me step by step on how to appreciate and sip their creations.

Floral nuances? Really? Frankly, they just gave me “the willies” (the whiskies, not the distillers, who surely wrote me off as a lost cause).

And while I can’t quite get my palate around the stuff, I have tried to understand and appreciate these spirits academically. At the tail end of last year, I read the gloriously illustrated The World Atlas of Whisky by Dave Broom. It was a wonderfully enlightening book that made the lands, the people and the whiskies seem so beguiling that I wonder if I have a recessive spirits gene.

This all sets up my invitation from Ricky Crawford, the national brand manager for The Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Crawford’s job, in part, is to conduct Scotch tastings, sometimes as many as four a day. He wanted to know if I would like to sit in on one of those tastings.

“Oh, brother!” I thought to myself. “Another one of those spirits evangelists coming to convert the unwashed. Could I really endure another lesson on Scotch?” Perhaps the only reason I said, “Sure,” was that I was not doing anything else that evening.

Crawford is a cheerful man from Paisley, Scotland, and surprisingly fit for a guy who tastes Scotch all day long. I met Crawford at Hal’s On Old Ivy, the Buckhead steak landmark. It didn’t take too long after I sat down in front of my six samples to figure out that this would be a Scotch-only dinner, with no chance of a cabernet sauvignon for my bone-in filet mignon.

After pleasantries, I flat out told Crawford I don’t like Scotch, harboring the vague hope that he might insist I go home. Rather than dismissing me, he wanted to know what Scotches I’ve tried. I explained I had a tastings with a blended Scotch maker and one with a distillery from the Islay region.

Little did I know that Islay single-malt Scotches are generally regarded as the last stop on your train ride to whisky appreciation. They have a mushroom-like, sulfur, burnt-earth quality that can take a lifetime to appreciate, let alone come to love. “That’s not a good place to start,” Crawford laughed. Many Scotch lovers avoid them at all costs, he said. He also explained away issues I’ve had with blended whiskies and certain bourbons.

“Hmmm, maybe I’ve just had a bad run of luck,” I thought. “But this guy is a salesman…”      

We got down to the business of smelling, tasting and evaluating the contents of the glasses. Crawford said he was glad I could make the tasting. He enjoys tasting with wine guys like me because even when we’re a little skeptical we are thoughtful in our evaluations.

More than anything, I am put off by the aroma of spirits, which I describe as harshly medicinal, the smell of an electrical fire and something akin to a rotten egg. So as I stuck my nose in these glasses of Scotch, I was surprised to find green apple, orange peel, bacon fat, honey comb, toasted coconut, vanilla and, yes, flowers. Where was the electrical fire?

An amused Crawford explained that, like wines, all spirits don’t smell or taste the same. The Scotches from the Speyside region, home to The Glenlivet, are known for their delicacy and are a better place to begin a lifelong journey of whisky appreciation.

Able to get past the nose of the spirit, tasting The Glenlivet 12-Year was as pleasurable as it was surprising. This was the first Scotch I have ever truly enjoyed. The night was looking up.

OK, so single-malt Scotch is not so bad after all, but Scotch and food?

Well, I’d still have to pick wine every time for my food pairings, but the 18-Year and the 21-Year versions of The Glenlivet brought a little smoky goodness to the steak and the 25-Year seemed like it had potential with chocolaty or molasses-based desserts, although I didn’t exactly have a dessert this night.

What exactly did I have at the end of the meal? Well, I’ve long subscribed to the concept that nice glass of vintage-class port, which at one time I did not enjoy either, makes for a fine dessert in and of itself. So, as politely (and humbly) as I could, I stretched out my snifter and asked Crawford if he could please pour me two fingers of the 21 Year. I’m certain it won’t be the last time for this new Scotch lover. 

Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator with the Society of Wine Educators. You can reach him at gil.kulers@winekulers.com.

Note: Wines (and Scotch) are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.

17 comments Add your comment

Hindu Elvis Pimp

April 21st, 2011
1:08 pm

Now if we could get you to truly enjoy a fine ale………

Al Kaholic

April 21st, 2011
9:54 pm

I bought a bottle of the potion once; it was on my then-girlfriend’s liquor list. The guy at the package store had to climb to the top shelf to retrieve the little-sold item. It came in a lovely tin that had a representation of Royal Troon golf course. I thought the tin would made marvelous storage unit for cookies. You know, something useful. Anyway, I have no idea if she imbibed any of the expensive poison. Maybe she gave it to her daddy.

Ben

April 21st, 2011
10:21 pm

Solid, solid scotch. You should check out Macallan next. Nectar of the Gods.

Terry

April 21st, 2011
11:16 pm

Ben you have it right, Scotch is the Nectar of the Gods. I’ve found some bad ones but nothing beats a good/great single malt scotch.

Speyside is a good place

April 21st, 2011
11:18 pm

to start. Scotch is a lot like wine. But you have to know your betters, and bourbon is your betters. That’s why they use Bourbon casks to age scotch. Always..

74Dawg

April 21st, 2011
11:19 pm

that is me ,sorry

74Dawg

April 21st, 2011
11:21 pm

A’boud’n ya”ll

Found a better one

April 22nd, 2011
1:29 am

Dalwhinnie Single Highland Malt, 15 years old.

You’re welcome.

JASon

April 22nd, 2011
3:42 am

“It didn’t take too long after I sat down in front of my six samples to figure out that this would be a Scotch-only dinner”

Those of us who appreciate good writing did not miss this fantastic quote. As for the scotch, who could forget the “glenlivy” was bunk’s trademark. Mcnulty was loyal to the “jimmy” though.

Jack Cornhole

April 22nd, 2011
11:18 am

Cutty Sark is also an excellent Scotch and you can get a big bottle for not a lot of money.

Billy

April 22nd, 2011
11:32 am

Thanks for the article. I’ve wanted to buy a good scotch, but because of the prices, I wanted some good advice. I will definitely try this one.

kp

April 22nd, 2011
1:51 pm

Glad to see some spirits making into the “beer, wine, and spirits blog”.

For some good whiskey and food pairings check out the whiskey dinners at Mac McGee in Decatur.

Give me those Islay single-malt Scotches any day. I love the big abusive peaty character. A nice imperial stout aged in one of these barrels is great along side or by itself. A Laphroag 10 Cask Edition along side a Southern Tier Choclat is a great whiskey/beer pairing.

Gil Kulers

April 22nd, 2011
2:08 pm

Wow! Thanks everybody for reading and writing.
Hindu Elvis: I guess if you don’t get my weekly e-newsletter you wouldn’t have known that I went on and on about Growlers entering the ATL. Experienced the big difference between bottled beer and stuff right out of the keg at a Mother Earth Brewing in Kinston, NC. I’m a wine guy who loves beer.

Ben, funny you should mention Macallan. Crawford and I talked about other Scotches for me. He has great respect for Macallan.

Billy, you should try The Glenlivet 15. It’s a relatively new product and they use new French oak to age it. This is pretty radical as far as I know. It really gives it a creamy quality. It is marketed as an entry level Scotch that has a little more panache than their 12-year old standard bearer. The best part is goes for about $55-$60 a bottle. Even a wine writer could afford that.

Gil Kulers

April 22nd, 2011
2:10 pm

Oh, if you want in on my weekly e-newsletter go to http://www.winekulers.com or write me at gil.kulers@winekulers.com

Gordon

April 25th, 2011
3:16 pm

Gil, I’ve never been a fan of the Glenlivit 12 yr old, but you now have perked my interest in the 21 yr old. I find these aged Scotches allow you to really get a true taste of the flavors and complexity in the bottle. My pick: Mcallan 25 yr old. That is the true nectar of the Gods!Macallan

Gordon

April 25th, 2011
3:18 pm

“Found a better one: The 15yr old Dalwhinne..a true gem! Hints of Honey all throughout.

Gil Kulers

April 25th, 2011
4:00 pm

Gordon,
The 12 was OK. Again, I was just surprised it didn’t make me shiver. Everything afterward was huge steps up the quality ladder (maybe with the exception of the Nadura, which was cask strength). I would really recommend the 15 year for just having something when friends come over. Mr. Crawford prefers the 18-year and it was indeed killer. The 21 year was just a couple ticks better for me.
15-year, Dalwhinne. Got it! Thanks.