Saturday, June 08, 2013

The Glenlivet Alpha



Warning: The scotch review you are about to read is one of the most unusual tastings this intrepid blogger has ever experienced. While reading it, you will undoubtedly question its veracity. I assure you, however, that the details herein are 100% true. And besides, it’s not the right time of year for an April Fool’s gag, anyway

If you were invited to a scotch tasting featuring a new expression from a well-known brand, would you attend? Well, I suppose if you’re a whisky fan you probably would and if you’re a scotch enthusiast, it’s a foolish question – of course you’d go! But what if I told you a couple of disconcerting facts about the tasting? Namely: (a) the new expression you’d be sampling would not be available in the United States (so even if you liked it, you couldn’t buy it here) and (b) the entire tasting would be conducted in the dark! Would either or both of these additional pieces of information make you more or less inclined to reserve a spot for yourself?

In the case of this humble blogger, the mystery behind this entire event was utterly irresistible. With this entire tasting cloaked in secrecy, how was I going to skip the thing? So, I reserved a spot, received confirmation and anxiously awaited the evening, which was held at 632 Below in the Meatpacking District part of Manhattan.

Upon arrival, I was advised that both photographers and videographers were present and to keep that in mind if I had issues with my image being recorded. Once I entered, I was greeted with a dram of The Glenlivet 12 (which was happily refilled while awaiting the commencement of the tasting). Additionally, I was advised by one of the hostesses to check my cell phone and wristwatch with them because they didn’t want any distracting noises during the tasting – since we’re in the dark, they wanted our senses focused on simply taste and smell, as it was explained to me.


Following a bit of a wait (which included a warm up of the scotch with a variety of passed hors d'oeuvres), we eventually got on line, paired up and escorted down to the basement by a waiter wearing night vision goggles. Our waiter would quite literally act as our guide all throughout the tasting – since we were being led into a room in total darkness, we each had to place a hand on his shoulder as he walked us to our seats and then he would serve us the dram each of us would be sampling.

Besides being in pitch black, the basement area was a bit of a tight squeeze – you could feel the presence of another person sitting on either side. If the stress of being in total darkness wasn’t going to get to me, the claustrophobia would. With everyone seated, the event began with The Glenlivet’s Brand Ambassador Craig Bridger conducting the tasting. We were informed that in addition to the photographer and videographer in the upstairs reception area, there would be additional photographers in the basement – equipped with special infrared cameras, they would be photographing everyone in the dark during the tasting.

First, we were teased a bit by being given a glass containing a dram of Alpha but were told not to sip it just yet. Instead, we were instructed to simply nose the glass. Before even an initial delibation, Alpha had a certain presence of complexity about it merely from its aroma; there were so many different types of scents hitting you simultaneously, it was difficult to isolate one from another. Then, we placed the glass on a table in front of us and our waiter placed an object into our hand which we were told to smell – it was cinnamon. Another item was given to us to smell – crushed oatmeal cookies. We returned to the dram again and took another sniff – this time, with the memories of the cinnamon and oatmeal cookies still fresh in our mind, we could detect these scents in Alpha.


Finally, we were given a chance to actually taste the dram; I detected an initial sweetness on the front of the tongue followed by a bit of a sting on the back. We were then given some items to taste – first, almonds, then a small slice of pineapple, followed by a tiny piece of banana cream pie. All of this, we were told, would be evident in the taste of the Alpha, provided you swish it around your tongue first (or “chewing” as it was referred to by Craig). Taking another sip, we were told that the wood from the cask imparted the almond flavor and that the hint of pineapple was something of a typical flavor from many of The Glenlivet’s expressions.

Winding up the tasting, Craig informed us that the 100 proof Alpha was aged in two different barrels, then “married” before bottling. One barrel is a former bourbon cask (typical of scotch) while the other is a new cask. The aging? Well, no exact mention was made of that – something else that they appear to be keeping a mystery.

Chatting up another company representative afterwards, they confirmed that there are no short-term plans to sell the Alpha in the United States, but it can be purchased throughout The United Kingdom, South Africa and Japan.

For more information, check out this video:



At this point, I’d normally recommend attending one of these unusual tastings should you get the opportunity – unfortunately, that probably won’t be the case. We were informed that this would be the only tasting of Alpha conducted in the country.

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