By the time you hit the 18-year-old expressions, you’re almost certainly knee deep in Sherry territory, just one stop shy of Rum or Port country. The packaging is starting to get larger, elaborate and trickier to dispose of, but not quite at the stage where it’s a wooden box with metal clasps that is “just too nice to throw away” but ends up sitting in a cupboard, gathering dust until it’s thrown out years later anyway. The bottles now feature batch numbers, seals of approval and signatures (that are printed but made to look hand-written) and thicker glass can ensure a pleasantly premium weight that takes two hands to pour. The tasting notes no longer refer to mixing with soda or lemonade, just to drinking it neat or with ice in a poorly chosen, wide diameter tumbler that would render any smells impossible to detect. And the price is at the point where you find yourself standing in the bottle store for a good 30 minutes weighing up your decisions in life, but not yet so expensive that it’s competing with unicorn tears, or the preserved blood of Jesus Christ, or printer ink.
The Glenlivet 18 is no exception – a premium styled mainstream whisky that’s a tough purchase considering the bare minimum 43% ABV, probable colorant and chill-filtration, and meagre transparency. But, I hear whispers. Whispers from the whisky snobs when – in moments of weakness or Laphroaig induced poor judgment – that the The Glenlivet 18 is in fact very good stuff. They then promptly scuttle off back to their noxious home bars bedecked in sailing and war memorabilia and weep into Glencairns filled with 1972 Port Ellen. Their salty tears really help emphasise the maritime character of the spirit.
I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since a flight attendant stole me a miniature from 1st Class. Here we go!
Unsurprisingly similar to the 15-year-old. I had the benefit of tasting them side-by-side, and altogether I’d say the 18 is less sweet on the nose and a little creamier overall. There’s a distinct Glenmorangie-ness about it (citrus and spice). Lemon zest, raisins, a light tree bark, and just… very well balanced. Yes.
Silky! (My new word to avoid using the word “smooth”.) The sweetness hits first – a chewy, microwave-fudge and caramel arrival – and then you’re taking a deep dive into some quality malt. Apples, oranges, All-Bran Flakes, toasted cereal. Some more drippy sherry than the 15 – stronger suggestions of Christmas cake and marzipan, and a rich citrus throughout. Buttery, warming, and… smooth (sigh). Finishing up you get some gentle braai smoke, spicy and bitter.
Nooooope. Just like its younger brother, treat yourself to a single, big block of ice and drink it quickly… or just have it neat.
Absolutely delicious, as one might expect of the “third tier” expression in a major distillery’s core lineup. The price competes neck-and-neck with Glenmorangie and Glenfiddich 18, while of course significantly cheaper than the 18-year expressions from the likes of “nerd approved” distilleries like Highland Park, Aberlour or Springbank.
The difference is, this is a ludicrously approachable, utterly inoffensive whisky. An absolute crowd pleaser – and while it certainly won’t pass the snob/peat test, it’s perfect to crack open for a special occasion, or to keep around and serve to the novices who need impressing. It feels “special”, as it should, without needing to go heavy handed on casks, peat or bullshittery to make it stand out. I suppose the “18” on the bottle already does that.
Try it! If you like them lighter, buy it!