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Reviews of the ubiquitous Glenlivet 12 can benchmark a given reviewer's palate. In my case, note that I postponed sampling to the most appropriate location: an Airbus 330.
The setting is perfect, of course. Trans-Atlantic flights always have a way of setting the mood. You don't have to worry whether you'll crave relaxation, since the airport procedures and queuing masses have taken care of your mood. You aren't even for lack of company, if your neighbor has exhibited such communal sense of space. The aromas (tin-foil wrapped leftovers, melted polyethylene cheese, and mayonnaise) have already established a truly contrasting background, prime for nosing the spirit so you can appreciate it all the more. If you want to feel the fresh winds of the Highlands, you just open the valve above your head, for a diluting whiff of filtered aerosol.
The attendant hands you a translucent disposable cup, along with a sterile napkin and of course the tiny bottle of Scottish delight. The cup is an enormous 25cl well, which is fantastic for sticking your nose in to the very bottom; and its thin material bends enough so you can practically feel your whisky.
The attendant asks whether you "want ice with that". Which is sweet, really. "Are you sure?" And her expression is maybe only half-critical when you decline. You lift the bottle (which already feels stratosphere-frozen in your palm, even without the offered ice) and empty its contents into the absorbent vessel, which is translucent and cloudy enough to appear well-frosted. A red-eye flight unfortunately means no sunlight to assess just how pale this malt is; but luckily the LCD screen in front of you gives a scientifically controlled background: blue, you conclude. Yes, this whisky must be blue.
You dunk your nose in for a first aroma of BPA, and note that this experience is authentic, if nothing else. Nose withdrawn, you give some vigorous swirls to smother the inner plastic surface, as you warm it with your palm. You push your face in to smell again, but it's still too faint... so you repeat the procedure. And by now your fellow passengers are surely wondering what to make of this ritual.
Oh well, you get the picture. Here's my review:
Nose: Light fruits, of course. I get grape flesh and fresh almond slivers, at first. Accenting this freshness is something plant-like/leafy or even "piney", like dried pineapple. There's also an impression of yellow apple and butter. (Lesser influences of vanilla, butterscotch, toasted coconut, and rose.)
Palate: A butter-smooth entrance welcomes... but quickly transforms to sour white peach, rather gingery. Then to tannic, purple grape skins and something menthol-y, like pine.
Finish: Butter and yellow apples emerge, rescuing the prickly palate. But the youth can't hide, and the finish closes with pine and powdered ginger. Vanilla/underripe peach lightly occupy the background.
The Glenlivet 12 is light and nondescript. It is not objectionable, and just served a good purpose: improving my flight by giving me something interesting (though not thrilling) to focus on for a short while. There is quite an atmosphere to overcome, and it does so suitably. I am therefore grateful for its availability. I could even like to try it back on ground.
Nevertheless, I would probably not add a bottle to my lower-altitude cabinet; the Glenlivet 18yo is a richer and more rewarding version, for example. (And the 25yo, which I just reviewed, is wonderful-- though pricey.)
The closest similar malt that I could recall is the Auchentoshan Classic, particularly in the palate. The Glenlivet 12 is better however, with less drying sour white peach. For other similar budget light malts that you might even prefer, look to the Macallan Gold, Auchentoshan Select or Arran Original.