At the end of 2010, Glenlivet launched the 'Founder's Reserve'. A 21 year old whisky, bottled at 55.6% ABV, with an outturn of just 1824 bottles (a reference to the year the distillery opened) and presented in a smart wooden box with clever magnetic clasps. It was really rather a good thing indeed. In 2015 Glenlivet released a new Founder's Reserve. Bottled at 40% it comes wrapped in paper not too dissimilar to a hobos’ brown-bagged takeout. It's a totally different thing, and unfortunately not a particularly good thing.
Much has already been written about this whisky and its perceived impact on the market. From the naysayers who insist that Glenlivet’s move to an entry-level NAS bottling is the equivalent of the sky falling in, to the apologists (usually whisky bloggers desperate for any and all free samples) who can’t call a spade a spade and instead have used the words ‘fresh’, ‘nice’ ‘sweet’ and ‘brave’ to describe this whisky, when in fact, ‘insipid’, ‘cloying’ and ‘lamentable’ are much more accurate descriptors.
The truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle. The move to entry and core-range NAS bottlings is not a new phenomenon - whether you believe that NAS whiskies provide freedom from age-statements to offer increased innovation and creativity, or that they’re a insincere compromise due to poor long-term inventory management is now largely irrelevant – NAS is here to stay. The battleground needs to be redrawn to ensure that quality and value for money remain tantamount over time, and that whilst NAS bottlings don’t demonstrate their age, they at least demonstrate a maturity in approach.
Until then, well…..
Nose: Immediate sweetness from both caramel and artificially sweetened pear drops. Heavy-handed vanilla and a floral note rather akin to Daz washing powder. Mildest hint of butter and vague undefined notes of citrus. A real metallic aroma pervades throughout the whole experience and implies some real youth to the whiskies which make up this bottling. There is a solid almond note which, when combined with the overt sweetness reminds me somewhat of Bakewell tarts - that's pleasant enough.
Taste: Thin mouthfeel which also provides a fairly brutal arrival of raw alcohol, glue and nail polish. The distillery character is certainly here - mainly because much of the palate tastes of either new make spirit or at best very young whisky. Possible apples and pears, but masked heavily by a cloying sweetness which only increases over time. There's a very light hint of earthiness and our metallic aroma now presents itself as akin to aluminium cans. There's fruit certainly but it too tastes tinned and is largely artifical. Some oak spicing is present in the form of cinnamon and mild nutmeg.
Finish: Medium in length and packed full of astringent oak and alcoholic burn on the lips. This feels jarring against the big sweetness of the rest of the experience.
Glenlivet Founder's Reserve is very simplistic, pumped full of first-fill vanilla (in an attempt to cover the youth of the liquid) and is incredibly sweet. Let's be clear here, its not offensive, but its also not good either. There's no measure of poise or complexity, rather a saccarine-fueled fest of vague fruits, raw young spirit and poorly balanced jarring notes. In the UK you’ll find Founder’s Reserve in virtually every supermarket up and down the country. Indeed, it’s largely replaced the 12 year old as the entry Glenlivet bottling here. At £36 it’s certainly not expensive, but not particularly cheap either.
Founder’s Reserve is clearly marketed to compete with other entry-level whiskies. It positions itself as time-tested, well established and associated with distillery founder George Smith. Given its surely large volume sales, but fairly mediocre drinking experience, I do wonder if this bottle will either reaffirm the incorrect assertion that all NAS expressions are simply inferior, or, more alarmingly, prove to be a milestone in an overall reduction in the quality of Scotch whisky. Time will tell.