Solving the Puzzle of Glenlivet’s Enigma Single Malt Scotch
Three of our whiskey experts try to figure out how Glenlivet created its new mystery bottling the Enigma.
But there we were on a recent afternoon swirling, sniffing and sipping glasses of the Glenlivet’s new Enigma Single Malt Scotch and scratching our heads. The Scotch’s name isn’t just catchy branding but apt given that it comes in a black bottle, which provides almost no information about the whisky inside of it or how it was made. (It’s the latest release in the distillery’s line of highly coveted mystery bottles.)
While drinking a rare Scotch with some close friends is one of my favorite things to do in life, trying to crack this Enigma bottling certainly raises the stakes. Even for professionals tasting liquor blind is difficult and it’s only a tougher task when Glenlivet master distiller Alan Winchester has purposefully chosen something to delight and frustrate know-it-all Scotch fans.
Which brings us back to trying to figure out what exactly is in our glasses today. After a pause, the theories about the whisky start to fly with abandon. Lew immediately catches an aroma of corn oiliness when we open the bottle. It’s similar to Canadian whiskey, so did the Glenlivet age some of its Scotch in an old Canadian whisky barrel? Hmm…The corn quickly dissipates and its replaced by a more traditional Speyside nose. “But it’s Speyside that has been touched with something,” says Dave. “It’s a classic Glenlivet malt underneath. There’s heather and very little peat.” There’s also a strong wine note. Perhaps it was aged in an old sherry cask? Or, maybe, a barrel that held port? “Could be Madeira, if I was going to pick one of the wines,” says Dave. That makes a lot of sense to me. We also rule out a former red wine barrel, since the whisky’s color is a light caramel color and not a deep reddish brown.
Before we move on to tasting the spirit, Lew has one more last comment. “It sounds ridiculous but I’m getting candied violet,” he admits. “I’m getting like sweet floral.” We all nod in agreement, our noses still stuck in our glasses looking for a last clue to the nature of this whisky.
On the palate, we agree there’s a lot of peanut butter. “There’s really a PBJ note,” says Dave. But the whisky is not particularly sweet with a good amount of wood and spice, which could support our theory that it was finished in a madeira barrel.
But aging Scotch in a used madeira barrel has certainly been done before and solving the riddle of this bottle is surely not that easy. Plus, there’s another flavor in the whisky. “There’s a definite raw wood note,” says Dave. “I think there’s some new oak. That’s their trick for this. You know they’re not just going to put into a madeira barrel.”
Nobody, thinks it’s been aged exclusively in an old bourbon cask, which is pretty standard in the Scotch industry. I suggest that perhaps Glenlivet used a former Cognac barrel. That could make sense, since Cognac producers usually age their spirits in European oak casks. (And that’s not to mention that the Glenlivet and Martell Cognac are both owned by Pernod Ricard.)
After adding some water and tasting the whisky again, we have reached somewhat of a consensus. Lew figures the whisky is probably at least 10 years old and not older than 15 years. Most likely it was aged in a combination of barrels, perhaps starting off in a new American oak barrel and then finished in a madeira cask and also in a European oak Cognac barrel. Lew still thinks that a Canadian barrel is somehow in the mix.
We won’t know if we’re right or even close until the Glenlivet announces the backstory of the Enigma at the end of the year. I can’t wait to find out what it is.