I had just posted a column here about how I disliked a heavy, peaty scotch and much preferred the palate and finish of the Macallan sherry cask 12 and 18 year olds. That evening, Stephanie and I went over to the Jersey City waterfront for a stroll and found ourselves settled at the Light Horse Tavern for drinks and snacks…and I learned two things that necessitated a sort of update to what I had written that morning.
I had mentioned that my experience with “the Glens” had been mostly limited to 12 year varieties. While the bottles of Macallan’s magic restorative beckoned, since I can get that at home, I opted instead for trying Glenlivet 15 year. Their website describes the palate as “Fruit and nut” and the finish (something that sets Macallan above and beyond for my tastes) “Lingering, sweet almond and spice.”
While still not something that would take the place of Macallan on my shelf, this did seem to be a case of getting more for your money. The Glenlivet 15 definitely has a richer and more complex palate than the 12, though the simple “fruit and nut” description fits. The finish was a little underwhelming, though the mild almond notes were something new to me. Whereas the difference between the 12 and 18 year old Macallan is somewhat lateral – they’re both excellent but in different ways – if you’re trying to decide between the 12 and 15 Glenlivet, go for the 15. It is an improvement over the serviceable but comparatively unremarkable 12.
I explained to our bartender what I like in a scotch and asked for a recommendation so I could try something new for my second drink. His first inclination was the Dalwhinnie 15 year. At first, I was a little skeptical given the nose was a bit more malty than I like, but I was pleasantly surprised by the palate. The flavor was definitely malty and a tad peaty – that warm smokey flavor I tend to dislike. Yet it was very well balanced by a sweetness that cut it down while retaining the dryness.
Reading through various other reviews, it seems the fans of heavier scotches find it pedestrian, but as someone who shies away from that, this is what I like about it. The drops of water and allowing it to breath a bit in the glass helps to bring it out. The finish is warm and nutty – seems like it would be a good drink on a cold winter’s evening.
If you like your scotch heavier with more of that peaty, smokey flavor, Dalwhinnie will likely underwhelm you. If you don’t like peaty/smokey, but still want the “weight” of a good malty scotch, this is an affordable option. I was pleasantly surprised and this might just need to find its way onto my shelf at home, albeit still one below the Macallan.
Gordon Bond is a NJ native with a passion for Garden State history…and finding a good single malt scotch. In 2008, he founded Garden State Legacy, a free online quarterly NJ history magazine and resources website. He has written five books and numerous articles on a wide variety of NJ history.