Last week I was fortunate enough to taste a limited edition 50 year old vintage Glenlivet release - the first in a series of 50 year olds (!) that are to be called The Winchester Collection.
Matured in a single American oak hogshead (as far as I understand from my chat with Brand Ambassador Phil Huckle) this whisky was laid down back in 1964 by none other than Captain Bill Smith-Grant, the final distilling descendant of the distillery's founder, George Smith. The Winchester Collection therefore represents a special piece of history for The Glenlivet, a final liquid link with the family that started it all back in 1824.
50 year old releases are always a special piece of history anyway, of course. As the press material surrounding this and many other releases of this age quite rightly say, the world was a very different place back then. So, how best to get our heads around 'back then', which in this case means April 1964? Well, "Harold Wilson was Prime Minister back in 1964", I was told last week. (As it turns out, Alec Douglas-Home was still PM back in April, although pointing that out now would be insufferable pedantry...)
Not bad, but I set out to find a more immediate touchstone from popular culture, and a quick search revealed that in April 1964 The Beatles held all five top spots in America's Billboard Top 40 with Can't Buy Me Love, Twist and Shout, She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand, and Please Please Me (I Want to Hold Your Hand having been their first US number one in February).
Back to the whisky though, which since being laid down has been watched over by no fewer than six further Master Distillers, including Alan Winchester, after whom the collection is now named. The number of bottlings to come is as yet undisclosed/unknown, but we can tell you that the next vintage will be a 1966 that will be released in a couple of years' time (obviously). The 1964 vintage, meanwhile, will be a release of just 100 - bottled June 17th 2014 at a cask strength of 42.3% abv - to be shared across various markets including the UK, the US, Taiwan and China.
Each bottle is presented in a hand-blown decanter incorporating rose gold and Cairngorm stone (a type of dark quartz or somesuch - sometimes known as 'the whisky stone') with the handcrafted cabinet to finish a product that's both precious and exhibits top British craftsmanship inside and out, if you will. So, what will all of that set you back? The RRP will be $25,000
Tasting note for The Glenlivet - The Winchester Collection, Vintage 1964:
Nose: Subtle spices come through first, a dusting of nutmeg, then you're straight into fresh fruits with grapefruit, guava, papaya, and Orangina. Glorious, vibrant, lively, fruity - very Glenlivet - a pleasant surprise. Encouraged to add a little water, I discovered more orange notes, syrupy but still vibrant peach and a hint of smoke.
Palate: Touches of pineapple, ripe pear and into fresh oak-y, birch-y notes, still light, subtle and integrated. What develops to create the body here can only be described as what would happen if Heston got it in his head that he wanted to make a Michelin star Toffee Crisp bar. That. Or something like that. Water reveals fresh tangerine peel.
Finish: Long with some more caramel, a touch more tropical fruit and fresh orchard fruits torn open. It's all effortless.
Overall: 50 years young this one, bursting with life and vitality, as well as the added complexity and character that five decades have brought.