The Glenlivet Cipher is a great example of a whisky whose marketing overwhelms the actual liquid itself. The packaging is a black box (with some hard to see black-on-black lettering, kind of like a word search puzzle), within which is an opaque black bottle (with some similar lettering). If you look hard enough for them, you'll find typical tasting keywords hidden among the letters.
If you go on the website, there is a test where you can choose from a series of keywords (tied toward the nose and palate) to see if you match the "actual" tasting notes for the whisky. Within this are some videos of Master Distiller Alan Winchester describing how you should be nosing and tasting this NAS malt. Before we reveal my score, let's see what I thought...
The colour is golden honey. More honey on the nose, as well as vanilla, milk chocolate, pear and the vaguest hints of ginger, wood smoke and spice. Very delicate. With some time, it becomes more herbal. A drop of water brings out underripe banana. A bit too closed, but quite nice.
On the palate there is a big hit of spice (cumin, pepper) with light caramel, vanilla, oak, ripened banana and citrus. It has a nice kick to it after what I felt was a too delicate nose. Mouth-watering. Biscuity. More citrus and spice reveals itself with water, with honey taking a backseat. Scrumptious.
The finish is toasted oak, mint and earthy spices. This is quite a nice Glenlivet, sticking fairly close to the house style while providing a bit more of a spicy, earthy kick. Jim Murray scored this a whopping 96.5, awarding it Best NAS Single Malt Scotch (Multiple Casks). I wouldn't go that far, but it is a lovely and exciting dram that develops the longer you leave it in the glass (FYI my bottle has been open since December, and is almost empty). So how did I score on the website? 37%. "A solid start but you'll need a little more practice if you're going to decode The Glenlivet Cipher." Now, I don't give a crap if my notes are the same as Winchester's, but this annoying, gimmicky marketing spin implies that if you don't get the same notes as you are "supposed" to, you're not good enough. That is arrogant and insulting to any whisky drinker, novice or aficionado. There are no "wrong" notes. We all taste things a little differently, as our senses are often obfuscated by what we ate earlier, what is in our surroundings, biases toward a particular brand, or something we may have a craving for at the time. Their attitude that one's notes are wrong if they are different from the distiller's is completely antithetical to my more inclusive philosophy behind whisky. It's a good whisky, but shame on you, Glenlivet.