Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Blind Head to Head - Glenlivet 12 vs Glenlivet Founder's Reserve NAS

Or.... do you???
Well, well, well.... Another big whisky company has announced they are replacing a core expression of their product line with... a No Age Statement whisky. Now, mind you they have stated that the Glenlivet 12 (one of the most recognized & affordable whiskies) is not dead. That the Founder's Reserve will replace the 12 in 'mature' markets worldwide including the UK as of March 2015. Ughhhhhh.... I rolled my eyes after reading the headlines on 23 different twitter accounts, why... because I knew I would have to avoid social media and whisky forums for a few days as the trolls and preachers of NAS evil would jump on that news faster than green grass through a goose! I turned off the feeds, drank my whiskies... Tried not to care.

As fate would have it, I received a bottle of the Founder's Reserve as a surprise from a very lovely friend and the plan was immediately hatched: I posted the photo of my new bottle on our whisky society FB page and requested volunteers (especially if they were huge Glenlivet 12 fans) to come to my house for a whisky experiment. We would perform a blind H2H challenge of the 12 vs the Founder's Reserve. Within 10 minutes of posting I had 5 volunteers. (The power of social media or free whisky, or maybe both? hehe) I received a message on the day of the blind taste test that one participant had come down with the flu and wouldn't be coming (thankfully... love ya, but stay away!). He was supposed to bring a friend, well boo! Although I would have preferred a larger group, I was down to 3 people plus Graham and I...

On a random winter evening, I think it was a Monday, the five of us ranging from novice whisky drinker to hard core Glenlivet 12 fans sat down together in my living room. To keep things completely unbiased I enlisted the help of Graham (my partner) to pour 4 pairs in marked glassware (white blank tag vs unlabelled). After he poured and brought those out I went in the kitchen and poured his blind as well, not having any clue what sequence Graham had used. Then the table was set: Water, oat cakes, each a tagged and non-labelled glass with 1 oz whisky pours in them, pen and paper. 

Rules: No talking, nose/taste each of the two whiskies, write down whatever you think, if you had a preference and (optional) which you think is the Glenlivet 12. All nodded and we began. I watched for a few minutes as each person went through their own personal routine of noting color, nose, palate, etc. and making notes as they went. Not one of us did it the same way (remember that statement for later!) No discussions were had, well except the occasional grunt and I was impressed with how much time each person was spending with both samples as I didn't give any type of timeline or deadline. Thirty minutes later the final pen went down and we did a round table. Each person reading out their impressions of the tagged sample as well as the unlabelled one then stating which of the two they preferred. Nobody said out loud which they thought was the Glenlivet 12 except myself. 

Greg: No tag - Seems a bit darker in color than the tagged sample, smooth, just a hint of smoky peat on the palate. Tagged - A sweeter aftertaste, lighter in color, smoother. I prefer the tagged sample. 

John: No tag - Lighter in color - amber. Mild cider on the nose like a fruit wine, slightly oily on the palate with a lovely after taste. Tagged - Color is a medium amber. On the nose I find a dry white wine (a bit of oak) whereas the palate is smooth with a lovely after taste. The tagged is beautifully balanced for this style. I'd give it an 8/10. I prefer the tagged.
Steven: No tag - Not getting much on the nose, barely any aromas for me. The palate is somewhat harsh and it has a long finish. Tagged - I can detect more sweetness on the nose, caramel creaminess on the palate and a sweet finish. I prefer the tagged.

Graham: No tag - Grassy with a touch of wine gummies on the nose. Palate is much more mellow that tagged sample. Tagged - Much lighter on the nose, I get way more grassy and hay like notes. On the palate there was spirit burn and more grassiness. I prefer the untagged sample.

Johanne: No tag - Lighter on the nose than tagged sample, I get cereal and grassy. Once it's sat in the glass I do start to get a honeyed aroma. Not very viscous in nature. Thin on the palate with lots of harsh and citric notes. The finish is hot, quite bitter to me and it lingers... Not something I would drink, personally. Tagged - Much more rich on the nose, orchard fruit like pears or apple blossoms. After it sat in the glass much more of a ripe banana overtone. The palate was thin as well but I found it to contain Seville orange citrus vs just citric. No hot finish, no long finish. A more balanced whisky than the untagged. I preferred the tagged and thought the Untagged was the Glenlivet 12.
Greg, Steven, John and I had: 12 year old - Untagged and Founder's Reserve - Tagged, whereas Graham had the opposite. 

Greg and Steven said they would buy a bottle of the Founder's Reserve after the reveal. I don't recall what John said? Graham also stated he'd be more likely to buy the Founders Reserve over the Glenlivet 12 - Price/quality. In our discussion afterward, some were surprised and one was a bit let down that the Glenlivet 12 didn't come out on top. But all 5 of out 5 preferred the Founder's Reserve overall. What exactly does that tell us or you for that matter? 

Well other than the fact that five friends sat down on a random Monday night, nosed/tasted two blind samples and all liked one whisky over the other, not much really? Because the reality is 5 other people in the exact same experiment might have stated the complete opposite. 

Now... I was once told I had a whisky agenda. I was a bit perplexed by that comment at the time but with some thought I guess I do. My agenda, announced here for the first time is: Be open to every whisky experience that is presented to you.

  1. For every person that will ridicule others for putting ice in their whiskies there are five more that will say it's your whisky - do as you please.
  2. For every one 'Messiah' who will make you wait a full hour before you drink a whisky in his masterclass and tell you Scotch is dead while bourbon is the new king - ALL HAIL Pappy Van Winkle!!! There are ten more who will tell you drink what you like.
  3. For every soap box hero that condemns the industry for NAS whiskies, there are just as many who will give the opinion that some of the NAS's on the market are great. And yes, I'm aware some are not just as much as I'm aware that some of the Age Statement Whiskies suck too! Bad whisky is bad whisky regardless. But my worst whisky could be your best so:  

Here is why I will ALWAYS urge you to make an opinion for yourself. Whisky like everything else in your life is subjective. Would you put your complete trust in a stranger who preached that new Hanes underwear should never be bought by everyone because they are now cheaply made, no longer have the 'Inspected by #12" sticker on the inside and they all fit funny? Seriously... then why trust someone else's judgment on the whiskies you drink?

Back to how each of us had our own way of performing this little experiment (told you that was coming) 

SUBJECTIVE: Relating to the way a person experiences things based on their feelings and opinions rather than facts

Objective: Based on facts rather than influence by personal feelings or opinions.

The five of us gave you a subjective opinion on two whiskies we tried. Objectively we can state we tried two forms of Glenlivet, both at 40% ABV. Subjectively we can tell you, all 5 of our personal opinions matched in this case. Objectively we can say that for the price range it was a good whisky to own, 4 (I don't recall if John said he would) would buy the Founder's Reserve over the 12 year old. 

I urge every single one of you to continually try whiskies for whatever reason you choose. Don't be swayed by one person's opinion may it be mine or anyone else's. My philosophy is quite simple: I want to try every whisky I can before I leave this earth knowing full well some will be stupendous, some horrible and some inevitably will be mediocre in nature. 

Now it's your turn. If you are set in your ways, so be it. If you absolutely refuse to try anything new, so be it. But for the rest of you, no matter where you are on your journey be brave, be bold and don't let the opinion of Simon, Jim, or the Johanne's of the world be yours, please. 

If I had listened to many of the self-professed experts this whisky world has to offer, I know I would have missed out on some real gems in my lifetime. Don't get me wrong because they are certainly entitled to their opinions. My point is: so are you and the only way to make that opinion is to TRY THE WHISKY. 

So what will I say about the Founder's Reserve: In a head to head with the Glenlivet 12, I preferred it immensely over the 12. My confession: I don't like the 12, although we do have a bottle of it in the house I don't ever recall pouring myself a dram. I have never used it in a led tasting nor do I recall ever recommending it. It's there for when visiting friends who like it, can have it. 

The Founder's Reserve has been purchased and I will likely recommend it to friends for what it is: Tasty, balanced and a great example of an extremely affordable whisky that (again in my opinion) is done right. Will I even mention it's NAS? Not unless they ask because for me, in the event you didn't already notice -> It doesn't matter...

When the annoucement first came out I noticed many people freaking out and speculating that the NAS would be super expensive! WRONG....

Pernod Ricard is not going to charge you an arm and a leg for this bottle. It's actually going to be a few dollars cheaper than what the 12 is currently going for. Yes, you read correctly. On average, in Canada the 12 sells for about $46 whereas the Founder's Reserve is $2-3 cheaper.  

In conclusion, thanks very much to my friend for bringing me this bottle. She knows me well enough to know that I would appreciate having something different and that I wouldn't judge a whisky before trying it. As for the rest of you: You like the 12 because it's one of your staples? Great! Get out there and buy more, however I do hope will consider trying the Founder's Reserve. 

Either way, don't be blind or get led by hand by anyone. Put down the book, the blog, the forum. Pour yourself a dram and try the whisky for yourself then decide if it's worth buying.



  1. Thanks for doing this, Johanne, and I apologize for getting sick at such an inopportune time... :-)

    As you know, I am far from a whisky snob, I am a 'best bang for buck' kind of guy, so after reading this, I will definitely be picking up a bottle of the Founders Reserve when it is available locally!

    1. Once you are feeling better Chris, we should try to get you a sample of the Founder's to try for yourself.

  2. Nice write up.
    Did i read that correctly; Gregs notag was darker than his tagged sample but Johns notag was
    lighter than his tagged sample?

    1. You did read correctly indeed. Goes to show how you can have 5 people sitting in the same light, same table, same situation and "subjectively" mark the color of the whiskies differently. 4 of the 5 saw the Founder's Reserve as a lighter or same in color as the 12.

  3. An amusing experiment. I'm not such a big fan of Glenlivet 12 however completely agree that your personal palate reigns supreme without marketing hooey and gimmicks! I've had some NAS that easily outclass their aged counterparts and even some young'uns that are quite interesting and surprisingly complex!

  4. Johanne, John here.

    Regarding your question on whether I would buy a bottle of the Founder's Reserve after the reveal; absolutely.

    And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t enjoy the Glenlivet 12 and one who's not in favour of the NAS movement as undertaken by you know who (who’ve taken away two of my all-time favorite drams for all the wrong reasons.....bastards.)

    That’s having been said, some distilleries have put out brilliant NAS whiskies, the Aberlour A'Bunadh being the perfect example and in my view, in relation to its price point; here’s another one in the Founder's Reserve.

  5. I'm rather encouraged by this article. And I am one of those who has a very soft spot for the Glenlivet 12. It's not world beating, but ideal when you've just got home from a long day at work. I'll admit I was worried by the Founders Reserve announcement, but if you reckon it's a decent dram then I'll happily give it a go.
    And yeah, I know I'll still be able to get the 12 in Australia - but it's the principle of the matter you realise!
    Keep on waffling,

  6. Every few years or so when I give The Glenlivet 12 ago, I see signs of decline. It's the Budweiser of single malt. Not a good thing.

  7. What industry boosters don't seem to understand (or, more likely, are intentionally ignoring at this point) is that the problem with NAS isn’t one of quality; it’s one of paradoxical manipulation of product information. Age is important where it’s stated, but its relevance mysteriously “disappears” where it can’t be used as a selling point – it makes no sense but, like the industry, you just ignore the point and try not to care; it doesn’t serve the people you serve, so it doesn’t serve you. Whether currently age statement or not, all the world’s best whiskies could be made NAS by simply tearing their labels off, but that wouldn’t justify doing it or show that the quality of those whiskies is “unrelated” to the maturation process which the industry undertook at great (and passed on!) expense and which the industry ITSELF continues to track on every cask produced. The importance of maturation is no longer determined by the master distiller; it's determined by the marketer and the labelmaker in the case of NAS expressly FOR marketing purposes and all the industry's friends just smile and nod.

    Age is just a number – and it’s one that the industry and its friends just don’t want to talk about where inconvenient.

  8. I actually really like the Founder's Reserve (my brother got it for me as a birthday gift) whereas I've never much cared for the 12. If anything, I'm excited for this new product. Thanks for the study you've presented here.