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The Glenlivet Alpha Makes A Grand Entrance Into South Africa

Tasting The Glenlivet Alpha

The Glenlivet Alpha made a bit splash on the whisky scene when it was released internationally back in May this year. A whisky being released with no tasting notes at all in a dark matte bottle, with a special twist. The focus being on allowing the public to purchase and “discover the elements” of the whisky for themselves before master distiller for The Glenlivet, Alan Winchester, would shed some light on this mysterious dram by his tasting notes and information about the casks used.

Attention South African fans! The Glenlivet SA are giving away 30 (yes 30!!) bottles of The Glenlivet Alpha in an online competition. IN addition to the Alpha, you can win bottles of The Glenlivet 12 year old, tasting tickets and glasses. To win, just enter here >> If you’re on a mobile device, click on, and if you’re on a desktop computer, click on Good luck everyone!

Standard expressions of The Glenlivet - 12, 15 & 18yo next to Alpha

Several whisky lovers in South Africa myself, waited with bated breath for our allocation to arrive in time to take part in this campaign. Sadly, we missed the boat. But as the saying goes “Good things come to those who wait”, and sure enough, our time has come!

Wall-to-Wall Glenlivet Alpha

I attended the launch on Thursday night, held at the swanky Saxon Hotel. A rather impressive venue, beautifully decorated, with The Glenlivet Alpha making a commanding presence in the room. It got even better when we were ushered into the the elegantly decorated dining room – resplendent in black and gold – and came face-to-face with a bar stocked entirely with The Glenlivet Alpha. An impressive sight indeed! Well done to the PR company for a well executed set-up.

Flavour elements of The Glenlivet Alpha

Seated at the table, the focal point was the centrepiece that held an array of ingredients – each purported to be an element in the flavour profile of the whisky we were about to taste. It was a nice touch, with guests being able to relate the aromas and scents of the ingredients – cloves, pineapple, pear, orange, chocolate, vanilla, raisins and more – to the whisky on the table in front of them. A nice sensory experience which tied in very well with the campaign which centres around the phrase “Master Your Senses”.

Sitting at the same table as Steve, Dave and Eve from Wild About Whisky meant that it wasn’t long before we were nosing our way through the four glasses in front of us (the Alpha, 12, 15 and 18 year old expressions of The Glenlivet), merrily comparing notes. A timely intervention by Mandla reigned us in just before we started tasting the drams, well ahead of the scheduled tasting! That’s what happens though when you put a bunch of whisky aficionados together! πŸ™‚

An introductory speech, followed by a series of videos about The Glenlivet Alpha and its impact on one’s senses led on into an appetizing starter before we reached the part of the evening that I had been waiting for. The reveal and tasting of the Alpha!

The world's only The Glenlivet Alpha bar

And here’s what you’re getting: a 50% ABV, non-chill filtered, no age statement whisky that was aged in first-fill Scotch casks. “First-fill Scotch casks?”, you ask. What’s that?” Well it turns out they took virgin oak casks, filled them with The Glenlivet to condition them, and then in went the new make spirit which eventually became Alpha. So no ex-bourbon or ex-sherry casks here. Interesting isn’t it?

Glenlivet Alpha Tasting Notes

After a lot of nosing and comparing to the 12, 15 and 18 year old expressions on the table, here are my impressions…


Creamy vanilla and toffee, with some subtle fruits led by a citrusy, orange note.


Without water you definitely get hit by the 50% ABV. Plenty of spices (including cloves) arrive with a bang on the sides of your tongue, before the vanilla/toffee/butterscotch detected on the nose takes centre stage. Citrus fruit and pear join in the act. With a bit of water, everything changes! A fruit melody erupts with pears, oranges, pineapple and even a hint of apple dancing around on your tongue. The spices recede and I detect some milk chocolate along with some wood notes.


The fruits fade away gracefully and you’re left with a slightly dry finish.


For all the media hype, this is actually a good whisky! Do yourself a favour and let it sit in the glass for a long time before tasting it, and add a drop or 2 of water and you will find yourself being richly rewarded. If the Alpha was joining the ranks of The Glenlivet standard expressions would I pick it over the Glenlivet 18 year old? Hmm, I’m not sure. But seeing as it’s a (very) limited release, I think I’ll take two.

An excellent dessert that paired well with Glenlivet Alpha

After tasting the Alpha we moved on to a fantastic main course and dessert and had fun choosing a whisky to pair with our meals. The Glenlivet 18 went really well with our Lamb Shank, and the Alpha paired beautifully with the molasses cake and coconut and verbena custard.

The revelation of the Scotch-conditioned casks created a few more questions in my head, so I got in touch with Ian Logan, global brand ambassador for The Glenlivet, and asked him the following:

  • 1. Which type of oak was used? Quercus Alba (American Oak) or Quercus Robur (European Oak)?
  • 2. How long were the casks conditioned for? Was it as long as 12 years?
  • 3. What happened to the whisky used to condition the casks? Will it be released as The Glenlivet Beta? πŸ˜‰
  • 4. I know it’s a NAS whisky, but can you give me an idea of how old Alpha is? 3 years and a day? 8? 10? Older?

Ian responded promptly as follows (I’m paraphrasing here):

The casks were Quercus Alba, which contributed to the vanilla, creamy note you can detect in the whisky. The casks held The Glenlivet, but not for as long as 12 years. After conditioning, that whisky went into one of our blends. There are no plans whatsoever for a Beta at present, there is more than enough to keep us busy for the foreseeable future. As for the age… it is very simple, I cannot tell you! As laid out in the Scotch Whisky Regulations (2009), if there’s no age on the label then we can’t declare an age further down the line. Sorry!

With this whisky priced at around R1200 a bottle, the question has to be: will it sell in South Africa? The answer is… most definitely! Its a very nice whisky and very limited in number. Especially when you consider that it is sold out around the rest of the world already. The UK were only allocated 600 bottles, so it must be a first that we’re getting a tad over 800 here. Apparently the folks in the US wanted to take the SA allocation of Alpha off of The Glenlivet SA‘s hands and they were firmly (and politely I assume) told to get lost.

You should be able to get your hands on a bottle fairly soon, but you had better move quickly as they’re bound to sell quite fast. It’s nice to see that for all the hype (and mystery) drummed up by the media campaigns around this whisky, the actual product is pretty darn good too.


The Glenlivet Alpha's Matte Black Bottle

1 Comment

  1. Thembisa Thembisa
    September 1, 2013    

    LOVE IT????!!!

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