The December Bottles, #3: Glenlivet Archive 21 (old style bottle) – 43%

The December bottle reviews are nearly half over. For those curious about the prior reviews – the Glenmorangie Signet has continued to be enjoyable if not entirely remarkable and the Laphroaig 25y is also still a good and enjoyable different side of Laphroaig.

Today it’s time to feature another bottle. Today’s bottle is an old bottling of the Glenlivet 21y Archive. This bottle is not the style used currently – I’m unsure if it’s been reformulated since it was refreshed into a taller bottle or with the recent polish that was done to the Glenlivet line in general.

Some people I’ve talked to have cautiously floated their Scotch experiences to me and invariably mention a brush with Glenlivet. There’s a slight pause and you can almost see the person flinch in advance of what they expect will be some sort of long-winded snob diatribe from me about how their tastes are hopelessly pedestrian and that Glenlivet is just for the proles. I have to admit that when it comes to Glenlivet, there is no snob diatribe forthcoming. I honestly think it’s an underappreciated whisky.

Glenlivet is one of the biggest sellers – they sell enough every year to fill the Black Sea six times over, or so. The automatic assumption is that because they sell this much, the quality can’t possibly be there. We’ve been trained to believe that the only high-quality experience can be delivered by some guy who sings to his barley every night and begins the process of fermenting it with his tears – his unique biochemistry is part of the recipe – and makes six bottles a decade.

Frankly, that’s untrue.

Glenlivet is underrated. And we’ll cover other expressions in the Glenlivet range over time to allow me to bolster my opinion. Today, we’re starting this defense of a top-seller with and old bottle of the 21 year old Archive.

This bottling, as best as I can tell, is at least five years old and maybe more. For a while now the 21 has been packaged in a more fancy special wooden box, which seems to be the way high quality must be signaled. (And yet the 2007 official release of Brora comes in a boring tin…) But not this one! It comes in a boring cardboard box and some wrapping paper! Excellent – no money wasted on extra junk.

Now, you can’t sell a whisky over 20 years without some elaborate origin story. Archive 21′s origin story involves some sort of secret chamber of amazing select whiskies. It’s probably like the disappearing room in the Harry Potter movies. I’d tell you more but I recently submitted my application to be a Guardian of the Glenlivet and I’ve been told the first rule is that you don’t talk about the Archive room. (Actually, the first rule is that you bring whisky to the meetings, but that said…)

Alright. Enough joking around – what’s the story with this whisky that’s legally old enough to drink itself?

The nose was surprising to me initially. There was a sherry influence that was heavier than I normally detect on Glenlivets. Interesting! There were dried fruits – orange and apple and also a touch of raisin. Malty aromas provided the foundation for everything, with a bit of vanilla. Unsurprisingly for an older whisky, there were hints of a waxy apple skin note. A bit of white pepper provided some spice to keep things interesting.

The whisky was slightly bitter at first, but this went away as the fruit notes from the nose quickly opened up. Sherry was right along behind it, bringing the waxy fruit notes with it in a big way. The apple notes from the nose continued on the palate. This comes up over and over for me on old whiskies and it’s usually pretty enjoyable. This time is no exception. Much as the nose hints at, this is a fairly malty body with pepper and a trace of cinnamon.

It’s warming initially with an unmistakable note of cinnamon immediately as the finish starts. Dried fruits continue; apple and malt dominate. There’s a slight cereal flavor to it all.

It’s a very well-executed Glenlivet with more balanced sherry than I normally would expect. It’s got a lot of heft and is rich and full. It’s enjoyable but unlike some whiskies in the over-20 set it’s not tired. My only complaint is that it doesn’t hold a lot of surprise beyond the initial sherry. I don’t think I’d hesitate to recommend this to someone looking to impress with a gift of an older whisky at a price that won’t break the bank.

There’s one more bottle in the December whiskies and it’s a puzzler to me still. Stay tuned – and until the next time, happy holidays!

At a glance:

Glenlivet Archive 21y (old bottle) – 43% ABV
Nose: 
Strong sherry influence; nice dried fruits note, a touch of raisin. Malt and vanilla. Waxy with a hint of apple. A slight dusting of white pepper. 
Palate: 
Slightly bitter immediately upon entry; fruits open up quickly with a moderate sherry influence. The waxy fruit notes are pronounced; apple notes are present. Fairly malty; pepper and a trace of cinnamon. 
Finish: 
Warming – definite cinnamon immediately at the start; dried fruits. Apple. Malt. Slight cereal grains. 
Comment: 
A very well-executed Glenlivet with more balanced sherry notes than I would have expected. Good, weighty, full and enjoyable but not tired. 
Rating:
B

2 thoughts on “The December Bottles, #3: Glenlivet Archive 21 (old style bottle) – 43%”

  1. Nice review Tim.  I am glad to see another whisky anorak not afraid to publicly admit that Glenlivet is a very respectable distillery.  For many years the standard Glenlivet 12 YO was my go to Friday night drink of choice.  There were reasons: it was easy to find, low cost, and it has a great nose.  The lack of complexity on the palate makes it easy and fun to drink.  I still drink it every now and again, but there are so many whiskies available now and so little time.  Bottom line is Glenlivet is a fine distillery and they product excellent and consistent products.

    1. Thanks! I honestly think Glenlivet doesn’t get a fair shake. Is it the most complex and nuanced whisky on the planet? No. But it tends to be a solid whisky at a very fair price. That’s hard not to like. Sometimes I want something that I don’t have to spend 2/3 of the bottle figuring out what the hell is even going on with it. 

      I really haven’t had anything that I haven’t liked – and I think the only thing I haven’t had (aside from the Archive bottles which are more than I want to spend, or the 70y) is the 25. Everything else is totally enjoyable and a good one to unwind with. I think the 18 is hideously underappreciated. The 15 is a great after-dinner treat. 
      I compare this one to the Signet, for instance, and I think I’d go for the Glenlivet nine times out of ten. 

      I think people feel there’s a direct parallel to American breweries and that Glenlivet can’t possibly be good because it matches Kilchoman’s annual output every week of the year. Nope. It’s very worthwhile. (Not intended as a slight against Kilchoman who I also believe to be doing a great thing, even though it’s doing something very different). 

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