In what has been one of the more intriguing releases of the year so far, The Glenlivet has gone all dark and mysterious on us.
The Glenlivet Alpha is presented in a striking black bottle with the minimal amount of information, none of the usual flowery tasting notes designed to hook you in; just an ABV bottle size and that it is a product of Scotland.
As I say all very intriguing, and it has certainly had the online community baffled, amused, bemused and eager to learn the truth of this whisky.
Much kudos to owners Chivas Bros. for this innovative creation. It says that Alpha aimed to offer a 'blank canvas' to the consumer, allowing them to make a judgement on their own interpretation of the whisky's flavour and aroma profile. To help the drinker on their journey, The Glenlivet has unveiled a series of sensory videos as guidelines to help people discover their own interpretation of the whisky.
It is an idea I really like remove everything possible so you can just focus on the whisky, and it is effectively what we do with our own magazine tastings here at Whisky Towers.
I was talking with a good friend recently about how we do the tastings for the magazine, and the point was raised that we have never actually stated the process we undertake to make the new releases fair, honest and above all, independent.
To this end when samples are called for and sent in, the tasting list is drawn up and the whiskies decanted into sample bottles and then marked with a number, ABV and age where appropriate. This means our tasters have no idea what they are tasting and are not influenced by preconceived ideas of distillery character, expressions they may already like or dislike.
All they can do is focus on the whisky in front of them. This is when the alchemy happens and, certainly for me, it is better to have moments of quiet thinking space. Those attempts at putting what you can smell and taste into some form of words that other people can understand, turning the personal into the public.
For me that's what writing tasting notes is about. The experiences I have had, places I have been and the foods I have cooked and eaten all come into play. But that's all very well, these need to be translated into words that everyone can relate to, shared experiences which is why I think food is a great place to start.
So once a taster has finished the tastings and scored the whisky they send their notes and scores to Whisky Towers and they can then ask for the flight list so they can make informed comments. What they cannot do, however, is change their scores or tasting notes. Blind tasting in this way lets our tasters be open and incredibly honest about what is in the glass.
Of course you can say that tasting is subjective, and it is. You may find that you identify more with Martine's notes or Dave's tasting descriptions, but in the end all anyone tasting for the magazine is trying to do is give you an idea of how the whisky impacts on them. The rest, if you like the sound of it, is up to you.
All rather serious stuff, and to be honest when you are sitting in isolation with 22 samples, I find I have to remind myself that actually whisky is about fun and enjoyment. But there is something to be said from time to time focussing down on a task, to concentrate. Like anything else we do in our lives, from hobbies to leisure activities, once you start out with something you want to explore further, discover more, get into those nerdy details of things.
I am pretty certain that my fellow tasters in the magazine, and in fact other whisky writers, are not constantly analysing all the whisky they drink, but sometimes it is alright to be serious and nerdy, sitting with a blind sample, meditating and ruminating on its contents, its origins, its essence.
That's why I like the Glenlivet Alpha idea, it doesn't matter whether your tasting notes match mine, Dave's, Martine's, whoever; they are your notes, how the whisky affects you. It does not even matter if your notes are just simple descriptors, it's that personal connection with the liquid in front of you that counts at the end of the day.