Glenlivet 12 Years Illicit Still (2020)
For my final review of the year I turn towards one of Scotland’s biggest single malts brands. Only Glenfiddich regularly outsells Glenlivet, which sells well over one million cases per year. Last month the distillery announced a new series of limited-edition whiskies known as ‘The Original Stories’. The first release is The Glenlivet 12 Years Illicit Still.
Firstly, it’s probably not exactly a limited edition other than that there are a finite amount of bottles available. The exact number is unknown, but it would be fair to guess a five-digit number, if not more. Putting that aside, it seems like a mighty attractive release. It’s priced similarly to the Glenlivet 12 Years or Glenlivet 12 Years Double Oak, yet bottled at a very respectable strength of 48 percent. What’s the catch? I don’t know, there doesn’t seem to be any. Unless the catch is that you have to wade through a bunch of marketing stories to be actually able to taste this single malt.
Not to be confused with the Illicit Stills series by Arran Distillery, this new release is an homage to the illegal distilling adventures of Glenlivet founder George Smith. According to the brand’s website it is inspired by “how our liquid was first crafted in the early 1800s.” So The Glenlivet 12 Years Illicit Still would have to be peated, right? Whisky from that era was at the very least slightly peated, because peat was the fuel of choice at the time. They would’ve surely used peat to dry barley. But no, this new Glenlivet is not peated, because that would make too much sense.
Glenlivet 12 Years Illicit Still (48%, OB, 2020)
Nose: Jammy quince, plenty of vanilla and a touch of coconut shavings. Also a whiff of fresh strawberries and powdered sugar. Some faint herbal notes in the background and slightly perfume-y.
Taste: An interestingly fruity arrival, mainly along the citrus variety, but also somewhat dry and fairly nutty. Almonds and roasted peanut skins. A fair spiciness in the background, mainly cloves and a pinch of cinnamon powder.
Finish: Lingering oak spices and a gentle sweetness. Medium in length.
The Glenlivet 12 Years Illicit Stills is very much a modern whisky paying homage to the early days of the distillery’s existence. It’s pretty oak forward and while the lack of chill-filtration is a definite plus, that’s not quite enough to make this a throwback whisky.
Thijs is a spirits writer and accredited liquorist from The Netherlands. He runs the blog Words of Whisky and contributes to a number of Dutch and international publications.