In the words of Alan Winchester, The Glenlivet’s master distiller, the Glenlivet XXV is “a whisky so exceptional, it requires the signed approval of four expert whisky makers.”
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY ADRIAN TECSON
A man walks into into a bar.
Not just any bar, but his watering hole away from home. He sits at his usual corner, a drinker’s trifecta of positional perfection: a straight line-of-sight to the door, proximity to the bartender, and, lastly, a perpetually empty seat to the left.
A woman walks into the bar.
She’s never been here. New bar, new city, and a foggy future at best. She needs a drink. She eyes the different offerings behind the bartender and takes the empty seat. “Can I get you a drink?,” some guy asks. She looks at him and his drink, deciding if she’s ready for that fifteen-minute commitment. “Make it a double.” The night is young, the whisky is old, and things have just started to get interesting.
The Glenlivet XXV is sexy, seductive, and opulent. It’s beautifully crafted wooden box flirts with your eye. Unhinge the limestone lock, and it reveals the rich, amber whisky in a batch-numbered bottle. Such exquisite presentation is representative of the care and craftsmanship that goes into the making of The Glenlivet XXV. The wax seal on the bottle is like a crown that adorns the precious liquid within. In the words of Alan Winchester, The Glenlivet’s master distiller, the Glenlivet XXV is “a whisky so exceptional, it requires the signed approval of four expert whisky makers.”
As you pour your first dram of The Glenlivet XXV, an intense anticipation comes over you. Your heart beats faster, your mouth waters, and your eyes sparkle. This is not the kind of bottling you get every day. But if you think about it, every expression of single malt whisky starts with three of the most basic ingredients: barley, water, and yeast.
The difference, according to The Glenlivet’s global brand ambassador Ian Logan, is in the time of maturation and in the casks. Twenty-five years. That’s a quarter of a century, a silver wedding anniversary, and the beginning of a 4 Non Blondes song. A lot can happen in 25 years, and within these years of aging, tasting, maturing, and moving from one cask to another, so much complexity is introduced in The Glenlivet XXV.
The first two years of its 25-year journey are spent in either a sherry cask or an American bourbon cask, depending on the master distiller’s discretion. If he is looking for spicy, chocolatey, fruity, syrupy notes, then he will go with the former. If, on the other hand, he is looking for butter, honey, coconut, vanilla, and light floral notes, then he will go with the latter.
On its third year, which is the minimum age for a spirit to be considered a whisky, the distillers check often to make sure the characteristics of the casks are properly imbibed. There are very strong flavors at this stage, which will mellow out as the aging process takes its course. Over the next 80,000 days or so, the young whisky interacts with the oak. They will be best friends for a good amount of time, extracting and reacting to each other’s chemical and environmental nuances.
Every five to six years, the distillers will take a look, a sniff, and a swig to see how they are getting along. It is also during this time when the whisky loses about 2% of its volume due to evaporation, fondly called the “angel’s share”. To the less learned, this may seem like an awful waste of whisky, but to the few who know, this serves as a tithing to the heavens, and is an indication thatall is going well with the aging process. On its 23rd year, the distillers take the now mature whisky from the sherry and bourbon casks and transfer it to specially selected first-fill sherry casks. “First-fill” means the casks have been filled with sherry, but never with whisky.
This process gives the whisky more polish and complexity, which comes through during the finish. The whisky then stays in these Oloroso sherry butts for the next two years, taking on an amber mahogany color from an almost melted buttery lightness. It is also during this time when the different notes of chocolate, spice, and fruity sweetness come through. After 25 years, the four whisky experts convene and decide if the whisky is now ready for bottling.
Held against the light, The Glenlivet XXV showcases its rich amber color and blonde hues. Swirl it around a long-stemmed snifter and you can see how The Glenlivet XXV’s sexy legs slowly drip down in an almost poetic fashion. Bring it to your nose: the first sniff is like walking into a castle. Intense, deep, and woody without being overwhelming. The maturity and the complex character resonates images of candied fruit, like pineapples and tangerines.
Raisins, cedar, and orange creme brulee notes all enveloped in creamy oakiness lure you into a second whiff. You take your first sip. Smooth, rich, and silky, The Glenlivet XXV embraces your tongue and teases it with sweetness. It then drives a buffet of spices: ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg. Layers upon layers of roasted pineapples, dark chocolate covered almonds, orange peels swirl around, crescendoing to a long and rich finish of winter spice and berry undertones.
A man walks into a bar. He asks for The Glenlivet XXV and begins to write this story on a napkin.
Adrian Tecson is the founder of The Malting Pot, The Philippines’ first single malt whisky tasting club. Pernod-Ricard provided a bottle for review. Mr. Tecson photographed The Glenlivet XXV at Pappy, Grand Midori Building, 160 Legazpi St. Legazpi Village, Makati, Philippines.