Google Glenlivet 80 Year Old

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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

September 3, 2021





Angus's Corner
From our correspondent and
skilled taster Angus MacRaild in Scotland
Glenlivet 80 Year Old
One of my firm beliefs about the greatest drinks in the world is that 'time' is an essential ingredient. Whether that is a crucial extra couple of days during fermentation, or cognacs that have spent over a century in cask, or wines which have matured in bottle under perfect conditions for many decades. In all circumstances time is an essential agent of beauty. It's important to bear in mind that this is something which can equally apply to excellent younger whiskies as well.


As long as I can remember, it has been fashionable in whisky to say casually critical things of longer aged whiskies, usually along the lines of them being too old, tired, woody etc.




Sometimes these criticisms are absolutely justified, but on balance, after having tasted many longer aged whiskies, I feel confident in saying that they are more often than not pretty damn good. I also think it's important to try and reserve judgment about such things to an individual basis and only after having actually tasted the bottling in question. The real, and far more tricky question, lies around issues of pricing and value. People are understandably inclined to be critical of what they cannot afford, while the nature of supply and demand for such old spirits encourages the vulgarity of stratospheric pricing.  


However, irrespective of debates about pricing, it highlights that time is one of the foundational motivating factors in most of our individual perceptions of value in quality drinks. Time is something we cannot buy more of, but we can experience the cerebral weight of time captured in liquid form. There is pleasure in consuming something with the knowledge of how far back in history it was created, and how many years it has taken to arrive in our glass. The joy of beautiful flavours in the finest alcohols lies in their intricacy, and in being conscious as we consume them, of just how profoundly infinitesimal and complex all the cumulative forces must have been to create this final, delicious liquid. Even the technical flaws that come with age often form part of the fragile charms and personality of older drinks. There is emotion and pathos in a great wine that is finally starting its decline, or a whisky ever so slightly too long in the wood. Similarly, beauty in great drinks often exists simultaneously because of, and in spite of, great age. Most of us who love great drinks, seek to possess and consume them for these very pleasures.






Gordon & MacPhail truck



I find it very cool that Gordon & MacPhail are able to release Scottish single malt whiskies of this sort of age. On a technical level it's a boundary in Scotch whisky that is always thrilling to push against and advance. As a practice it starts to have more in common with very old Cognacs, and indeed I will not be surprised if they'll be able to release a 100 year old single malt within the next couple of decades with some careful cask management. The fact they still have casks of makes like Glen Grant from the early 1950s at ABVs in the high fifties would suggest as such.



However, tasting extremely old whiskies like this can be tricky because you have to resist the emotions they can stir and assessing them almost operates on a different set of rules. I was struggling to think what I would pick as a sparring partner for this session, but thinking about the nature of spirits at this age it seems fitting to do it alongside a similarly very old 'age stated' Cognac. As we've often observed on Whiskyfun, different spirits at great age can often converge in style, so today we'll have in tandem the new 80yo Glenlivet alongside a very rare 75yo Cognac from Louis de Salignac.



Louis de Salignac '75 Years Old Fine Champagne' (OB, cognac, 1950s)

Louis de Salignac '75 Years Old Fine Champagne' (OB, cognac, 1950s)
There is no ABV stated on this bottle, but the glass and labels (along with some writing on the outer box) would all suggest it hails from the early 1950s. As such this should most likely be from pre-phylloxera vines. Colour: deep mahogany. Nose: immediately concentrated notes of fig, raisin and bitter chocolate with mentholated aspects, heavy tobacco aromas such as pipe tobacco in old leather pouches. Deeper earthy tones are also quite prominent which gives impressions of damp earthen cellars, wine must and petrichor. In time it becomes almost minty and displays bitterer herbal extracts, verbena, walnut liqueur and converges on some very old green Chartreuse. Mouth: I was afraid the addition of sugar may have hobbled this one, however the dryness remains firm and natural on arrival. Bitter chocolate, fresh espresso, roasted walnuts, cough syrup and leaf mulch. There's a heavier, slightly more rustic quality about it which to me is very typical pre-phylloxera style. Mushroom power, dried lemon peel, green walnut liqueur and black pepper. Many wee complexities continue to emerge. But it's a style which really demands patience and focus. Finish: medium in length, which is perhaps a tad disappointing, but this bitterness remains perfect and these flavours of walnuts, chocolate, earths, tobaccos and bitter herbs all remain precise and clear. Comments: exquisite and at times deceptively complex, you really have to take your time with this one. Clearly an older style of cognac and a positive example of the effects of great age. Although, ironically, many serious and knowledgeable cognac folk would probably class this as 'ready' rather than 'old'.
SGP: 561 - 91 points.



Glenlivet 1940/2020 80 Year Old (44.9%, Gordon & MacPhail 'Generations', cask #340, 1st fill sherry butt, 250 bottles)

Glenlivet 80 Year Old 1940/2020 (44.9%, Gordon & MacPhail 'Generations', cask #340, 1st fill sherry butt, 250 bottles)
Colour: amber. Nose: highly scented and polished, clearly hailing from the same family of American oak transport sherry casks that G&M were ubiquitously filling during this era. This highly aromatic mix of dried tropical fruits and coconut that can be found in many of their pre-war single malt bottlings from the 1980s and 1990s is on full display here.



However, there's also more in the way of scented exotic hardwoods and their resins. Aged dried citrus peels, pu-ehr tea, dried flowers, tobaccos. It is very evidently an 'old' single malt on the nose, but blind you might have said anything from 40 to 60 years old. So arguably it feels younger than it is. It evolves more towards extremely classical aromas of wormwood, honey and soft waxes. I also find shoe leather, honeysuckle and old mead. These herbal and resinous aspects also hint at some peat influence that has probably long broken down into these beautiful wee sub-aromas. Indeed, a totally enchanting nose that you could (and should) spend time with. Despite what I wrote in the intro, so far I would say this whisky is stylistically rather distinct from the Cognac. Mouth: quite a wonderful arrival that once again firmly reminds us of many other old G&M bottlings, which in itself is probably a paean to their cask policy during these decades. The wood is present of course, big, spicy, clean and yet still restrained enough to leave plenty breathing space for other characteristics. Myriad dried exotic fruit flavours, suggestions of some very old Fins Bois cognac, aniseed, dried figs, pollens, deeply complex earthiness, soft peppery tones, petrichor and medicinal herbal flavours. After quite some time the sweetness on the palate becomes extremely impressive, very honeyed, resinous and exotic. That you would still have freshness and a sense of assertiveness from the fruit after 80 years is rather mind blowing. Finish: good length, delicately on tobaccos, dried leaves, flowers, herbs, pollens and gently bitter exotic teas. A tad fragile but still beautiful. Comments: As I mentioned above, it's extremely hard to assess such ancient whiskies, not only while retaining a sense of neutrality, but also this nagging feeling that they do not conform to normal assessment parameters. What I would say is that this one retains excellent levels of freshness, complexity and balance, while also displaying good length and power. It's just that the fact it would do so after 80 years is just totally astounding and genuinely thrilling; please never forget I am at heart, and 100% remain, a total whisky geek! On a technical level I think this is a stunning whisky, if not into the absolute stratosphere, but what is most impressive is what it tells us about the ageing potential of great single malts if done correctly.
SGP: 652 - 93 points.



Now, after all that, let's quickly get a second opinion. Upon tasting the Glenlivet 80yo, my partner Lucy says:



"It's quite good, it's got a bit of a 'dark' aftertaste. But it's not as good as those other tropical fruity* ones I've tried."



Sometimes it's good to be brought back down to earth and remind ourselves that being a whisky geek is frequently a bit ridiculous.



(*Lucy is partial to 60s Bowmore)










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