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I have previously reviewed Glenfiddich 12 yo and, in the pursuit of a comparison between what seem to be widely regarded as the two primary "gateway" drams, I purchased a 50 mL sample bottle of Glenlivet 12 yo and sampled it a couple of days after the Glenfiddich. As I'm still very much in SMSW rookie territory, take the review for what it's worth...
Nose: Overall sweet and pleasant, with green apple (though I did not note it as strongly as other reviewers appear to have) and pear present with vanilla notes providing the sweetening effect. On a couple occasions, a dry, grassy, hay-like aroma made a brief appearance.
Palate/Taste: I have discovered that I am still having issues identifying tastes within the mouth, so my grade might be seen as unfairly low. What I did find noteworthy regardless, is that the alcohol seems to smother tastes within the mouth much more so than any other dram that I have tried to date. When tastes do appear after the carpet bombing of alcohol has vacated, the previously noted apple and dry grass is noted to a small degree.
Balance/Body: overall a thin, slightly oily (which I found unusual for a Speyside) mouthfeel is noted. What little taste was noted in the mouth did seem to transfer from the nose fairly well. However, the transfer from mouth to finish was very abrupt, and biting.
Finish: Very drying/biting feel on the tongue, reminiscent of cinnamon. Initially, the finish is quite short, but lengthens after about the 3rd/4th sip. I found the bite to significantly overwhelm any taste profile...again, that could just be my lack of experience. An actual cinnamon taste does appear, with a small bit of honey occasionally poking through.
Overall, my personal preference is Glenfiddich over Glenlivet as I found it smoother, with less impact from alcohol, which allowed the flavour profile to emerge more easily. That being said, I will be more than happy to re-sample both down the road for the purposes of re-evaluating my initial impressions. I also wonder (since my reaction was not as positive as most others to The Glenlivet) if the fact that I had a 50mL sample bottle, instead of a dram from a 1/2 or full sized bottle, may have produced a different sample for tasting.
One observation I made when nosing this dram was that for me, nosing at or above the rim of the glass is much more effective in drawing out the subtle aromas, compared to putting the nose into the glass. I found that going below the rim, the alcohol tended to dominate and overpower most aromas. Above the rim, the alcohol disipates, letting the subtle aromas present themselves. Also interesting, nosing at different angles and distances to the rim allowed different aromas to become highlighted.