I’ve been at sixes and sevens with a respected mate of mine as to how good this whisky is (or isn’t). I contest ‘winner’. He accedes ‘not bad’. Damning with faint praise, really, when one considers the magnitude of the malt we are debating. This is the second in Gordon & MacPhail’s Generations line, a 1940 Glenlivet. Following hard on the heels of last year’s spectacular 1938 Mortlach, this ‘Livet is again a case study in dispelling all preconceptions of inevitable over-oaking of whisky when left too long in the barrel. How the hell can something sit in wood for 70 years without coming out tasting like bitter wood chips? Mind-boggling.
The argument said mate puts forth is that simply surviving this long does not a good malt make. He is, of course, absolutely correct. Where he takes the low road and I take the high ( ) is in regards to the inherent quality of this wizened old whisky. I stand behind it…this is a really damn good whisky.
Cask #339 was a first fill sherry butt casked in 1940 with Glenlivet new make spirit. After sitting in the warehouses at the Glenlivet distillery for 40 years, Gordon & MacPhail acquired the barrel on the 10th of June, 1980. The decision to leave this whisky in wood was a brilliant one. A further 30 years passed while this cask lay biding its time in the hallowed halls of the G&M warehouses. What was finally decanted for 2011 was another fountain-of-youth miracle from Gordon & MacPhail. One hundred 70cl and one hundred and seventy five 20cl bottles saw the light of day this year, with a further hundred or so held for 2012.
It is hard not to note, as well, that at 70 years, and with an evaporation loss of about 2/3 of the cask, this spirit was still a respectable 45.9% abv. Again…astounding. I would have expected this to have been well below bottling strength by this age.
The years are worn proudly in the way of candlewax, char, warm leather and deep smoky oak notes. Soft toffee and melting chocolate are forefront. There is a surprising spice that runs perfectly in step alongside threads of orange. Muted berry, vanilla bean and creamy caramel meat smoke round out the profile. The ultimate triumph here is how restrained the wood really is. This whisky may not be too far from the tipping point but at 70 years old it still has not reached the point of being over-oaked.
The palate is rubbery and waxy, rich in a kerosene smokiness. It is oily and mouthcoating, with fruits still alive against all odds. The development is slow and comfortable. Waxy wood notes linger and tart fruit skins recede slowly through the fade. The finish is long, mature and incredibly drying. I should add…when the dram is done, the empty glass has a unique character all its own…a charming sweet smoky caramel.
This is a malt that takes me away to lakeside cabins in the fall…Canadian autumns and early snows.
That G&M has been able to release two 70 year old whiskies in the past year or so, speaks volumes about their warehouses. When asked recently about further releases in this Generations range, Michael Urquhart neatly sidestepped, confirming only that this is indeed a range. Short answer…yes…the G&M stores hold more mindblowing malts in varying stages of age-defying suspended animation.
Is this as good as last year’s Mortlach? Nae. Is it good though? Undoubtedly.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt