Review: Glenlivet 21 Archive
Price: $130 - 150
Strength: 43% ABV
Every so often, the "good Scotch Fairy" visits our house and brings a bottle of something special. A few weeks ago, we got our income tax refund, and the "good Scotch Fairy" came and brought us (well, me) a bottle of Glenlivet's 21 year old Archive, at a steal for about $100. Once you get past a certain price point, it seems hard for me to justify the extra expense. I mean, can I reliably claim to taste the difference between a $200 and a $300 bottle of single malt? I'd like to think my palate is discriminating and getting more experienced every day, but there's got to be a point where I just can't tell the difference. Happily, I don't think I've reached that point yet, and regardless, this Scotch feels like a bargain, a great bottle for a decent price.
I like Glenlivet; they're a reliable, if not exciting distillery, and in my experience (at least until now), their expressions progress fairly linearly with age. I've had a few different offerings from Glenlivet; the 12 year, the Nádurra, and a few others at WAGG back in 2009. I've read that some of the older expressions get some sherry aging, but at least of what I've had, it's been all oak, at least until I tried the 21 Archive. Right out of the bottle, there has clearly been some sherry aging...this malt is a deep reddish amber color that just shouts sherry. Now, I've had plenty of single malts that were aged in American oak and finished in sherry casks, so I figured I knew what to expect: toffee and vanilla from the oak, and raisins and dried fruit from the sherry. Imagine my surprise, then, when this whisky jumped out as something familiar, yet pleasantly different!
The nose is clean and sweet, with grassy or floral notes, and a familiar toffee. Every review I've ever read of a Glenlivet mentions floral notes, yet I never seem to find them. Buttery oak and toffee, yes, but herbal or floral notes, not until now. A first sip is full of sweetness; huge notes of honey and caramel. The surprise, then, is that instead of the typical dried fruit of the sherry aging, the flavor profile is instead overtaken by huge notes of dark chocolate. Nothing quite bitter, but big, earthy, complex flavors of high quality, high cocoa percentage chocolate. I've found cocoa notes mingling about in a Scotch before, but always in the background, never so far forward in the flavor profile. There's sherry here, raisins and maybe orange peel, but these notes take a surprising and refreshing backstage to the dark chocolate.
A few drops of water mildly amplify most of the notes, but I don't think the water is necessary. Perhaps I've been spoiled a little bit of late, with all the non-chill filtered malts I've had, but the texture here could be bigger, and the addition of water only seems to thin the mouthfeel a hair more. However, I must say, I don't even taste the alcohol. Perhaps that's a product of the maturation; malts aged over twenty years seems to share a certain smoothness that I can only ascribe to aging, and of course, this is not a cask strength malt, bottled instead at 43% ABV. The finish is decently long, strong, and clean, with all the parts of the profile mingling about on my tongue: honey, sherry, herbs, and lots of chocolate all playing together. Famous whisky writer Michael Jackson wrote that a good finish leaves you "humming the tune" long after the dram is done, and this wonderful whisky is a great example. 95 points (A)
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