Two years ago I went on a quick press trip with The Glenlivet single malt scotch whisky for the release of the first Winchester Collection, a series of 50-year-old whiskies from the brand. It was a vintage 1964 release.
While on the visit we were also able to taste the 1966 vintage that has recently come out and is the second bottling of the collection.
As this has just hit the market, I decided it was a good time to revisit my visit. Those notes are below.
The press release describes the new release:
The Vintage 1966 is the second release from Winchester Collection, The Glenlivet’s first ever series of rare and precious 50-year-old single malt Scotch Whiskies.
The Vintage 1966 is a precious whisky that uses sherry casks to enhance the trademark soft, sweet and sumptuous complexity that The Glenlivet is best known for. The result is a remarkable single malt that layers the soft, smooth notes of The Glenlivet with delicate taste of spice – a teasing intermingling of cinnamon and liquorice – and offers an exceptionally long, smooth finish with a pleasing hint of dryness.
Only 100 bottles of remarkable Speyside single malt, priced at $25,000 each, have been carefully guarded and cared for by generations of The Glenlivet Master Distillers and are currently on sale around the world in limited distribution.
An Afternoon Trip along the Smuggler's Trails
The hills and fields around The Glenlivet distillery has a series of walking trails called The Smugglers Trails, in tribute to the tradition of pre-legal distilling in the area. We had a day of activities leading up to the distillery visit, and then a dinner evening at a local castle. As one does.
In the afternoon we rode ATVs around the countryside, with a view of The Glenlivet distillery off in the valley. We had a picnic in a giant portable teepee (as one does), and enjoyed a display of falconry (as is typical).
The Glenlivet Distillery Visit (Nerd Stuff)
Next we headed downhill toward the distillery located in the middle of the valley. Though Glenlivet is the first licensed distillery in the Highlands (in 1824), this is the second location of the distillery after the first one burned down. The second was erected in 1858.
We first stopped at Josie's Well, one of the many wells used as a water source for fermentation at the distillery. The waters from the various wells are blended before use. Alan Winchester (for whom the Winchester Collection is named) says that The Glenlivet is a hard water distillery.
On the way into the distillery, we pass a duck pond that is used to cool the condenser water coming off the still- and I'm sure the ducks enjoy a warm pond to swim in.
Barley for the whisky is purchased from Scotland and abroad, and it is (as you'd guess from the soft and fruity flavor profile) unpeated. Winchester says the grind of the barley determines a lot of the final whisky flavor too - a point I'd not heard many distillers discuss (versus just maximum alcohol extraction). I'd like to investigate this more in the future.
For every ton of barley that comes into the distillery, one third ends up as whisky, another third as CO2 fizzed off by fermentation, and the final third is spent solids sold as cattle feed.
After the barley is ground, it goes to the mash tun where it is washed three times with hot water to pull out all the fermentable sugars. They don't stir it before pulling off the clearest liquid here, as this produces a less cereal-flavored (and presumably more fruity-flavored) whisky.
Next the clear liquid is transferred to the Oregon wood wash backs for fermentation. After 50 hours it reached about 8.5% ABV.
There are 14 stills at The Glenlivet, not just the six pretty ones you see on the tour. A lot happens out of sight or off-site, given that the distillery is relatively small. This is the second best selling single malt scotch whisky brand so they produce a lot here. There are aging warehouses located around Scotland, and things like watering down to barrel proof also happen elsewhere.
Demineralized water is used both for barrel proofing and for bottle proofing, as is typical.
Aging takes place in ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, "traditional" (reused) barrels, and new French oak barrels.
Dinner in a Castle
After sampling a couple of 50-year-old whiskies at the distillery, a castle was a natural choice for dinner. It helps that there are a lot of castles around.
But the castle that we ended up in is Fyvie Castle, which dates back to at least 1211. We had bagpipes, suits of armor, the whole shebang.
It was a nice way to end a quick-and-lovely trip to The Glenlivet.