The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 Year Old: Travel Retail 48% abv versus Cask Strength 55.3% abv (Also, the E150 debate)


The Glenlivet is the second largest distillery in Scotland as far as the amount of bottles of Single Malt Whisky sold and, according to industry figures is slowly catching up with the largest producer, that being Glenfiddich.

The Glenlivet distillery is in green.
Because they are such large producers of Single Malt Whisky they consider it very important to maintain consistency from batch to batch so all their products are chilled filtered for that pure clean and clear liquid look and of course, coloured with E150a caramel colour so that every batch looks the same as well as giving the whisky that orangey/golden fudge look that everyone associates with "good" whisky.

When it comes to say, boiled sweets, I'm sure that most people know that the natural colour of the sweet is colourless and that they add colour in order to indicate the flavour they have given to the sweet. I once bought some sugarless Fruit flavoured sweets and it was clear that the manufacturer had added the wrong the colour so that, for instance, strawberry flavour sweet ended up looking like their coffee ones.

However, when it comes to whisky, I'm not sure that most people know that that fudge caramel gold colour is not the natural colour of whisky.

When I say "all" The Glenlivet whiskies are chilled filtered, that isn't quite true. Since 2011, they have been producing a rather special whisky for the more discerning whisky drinker (like you and me!), called "Nadurra", the Gaelic for "natural".
Matured until 2014 for 16 years, the new releases will unfortunately be No Age Statement whiskies, (see my earlier post on NAS whiskies), so these 16 Year Olds, still available in the shops, are the last of the "genuine" Nadurras.

Nadurra is matured in 100% first fill quality ex-bourbon casks, natural taste (that is, unchilled filtered) and bottled at higher strength to conserve all the taste. Regarding the 70cl bottles, they state on the label (the line directly below the line which reads "Aged 16 Years"), that they are bottled at "Natural Cask Strength" but the actual alcohol by volume strength has varied from batch to batch ranging from 53% up to 57.7% abv. This figure is stated below in the box by the batch number.

The Travel Retail 1 Litre version on the other hand is a standard 48% abv. Those observant amongst you will notice that on the Travel Retail version, after the line which reads "Aged 16 Years", the next line does not read "Natural Cask Strength" but instead reads "Naturally Delivering a Pronounced Character...". Sneaky! So although they are both Non Chilled Filtered and higher than average avg, the Travel Retail version has been watered down slightly and is, shall we say, slighty less "natural" than the 70cl version.
Natural Colour? Hmm….

I believe I am on my fourth bottle of The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 having bought my first bottle a good few years ago, and I cannot help notice that despite its claiming to be completely "Natural", that there are definite signs of the use of E150a colouring in these latest batches. I definitely remember the colour of the earlier bottles being a pale yellow and distinctly remember comparing the colour to the Tomintoul 14 (natural colour stated on the label) and seeing that they were more or less the same pale yellow colour which is what you would expect from whisky matured in 100% ex-bourbon casks.

Indeed, when I went into YouTube and watched early reviews of this whisky by the likes of Ralfy, the bottle colour is indeed a natural looking pale yellow! Doing a Google Image brings up similar results for early batches.
Looks like a pale yellow colour to me.

 Now compare this with the latest bottles:

Colour: Orangey glow/brown fudge wouldn't you say?

So I brought down a "The Glenlivet French Oak 15 Year Old" which I know contains E150a colour and some Tomintoul 14 and Glencadam 10 which I know has no colour added and put them side by side on our white Shabbos tablecloth for comparison.

Nadurra and French Oak, side by side.
In my opinion, all three bottles are very similar in colour.

Whisky Colour Chart

Next I placed the Nadurra against Tomintoul 14 and Glencadam 10...

Wow! Just look at the difference! All three are 100% Ex-Bourbon matured whisky. The Glenlivet however is suspiciously darker.

Close up. "Natural" Nadurra on left, Tomintoul 14 on right.

Placing Tomintoul 14 up against the latest batch of Nadurra you can clearly see the difference. It's shame I didn't take a photo of the comparison a couple of years ago but I think my case is pretty strong even without this.

A bit of a chutzpa!

Reading the label it states that it is only "non-chilled filtered" but no where, (unlike Tomintoul and Glencadam) does it claim to be natural colour. Even so, to add E150a colour to a whisky called "Natural" is in my opinion, a bit of a chutzpa! Googling old reviews from 2011 you get loads of results telling you that this whisky is natural colour. Now it seems, it is not.

I think that many people would assume that a whisky which calls itself "Natural" would be:

[ ] Natural Cask Strength
[ ] Natural Taste (i.e., Non Chilled Filtered)
[ ] Natural Colour (no added E150)

I seems that when it was first released, the 70cl used to check all three boxes, now sadly only two of them. The Travel Retail version only checks one of those boxes.

*** Update ***

I recently purchased an older bottle of Nadurra 16, Batch No. 0312S, Bottled 03/2012 at 54.9% abv.

It's difficult to see the difference in colour from the photo above because of the brown Artscroll Talmud Babli volumes in the background but when we put them on the Shabbos table things become a bit clearer.

I suspect that the batches from 2011 were even paler.

Can you taste E150 colouring?

Well, initially I thought that this was a no brainer! Of course you would be able to taste caramel in the whisky Surely it is like adding cooked sugar to a liquid. You must be able to taste it! Many so called whisky experts including Jim Murray claim to be able to tell in blind tasting tests, whether a whisky has caramel colouring added or not. However, in the UK online Whisky store, "Master Of Malt" blog, they describe carrying out a E150a blind experiment and concluded that you could not taste the E150 even in water at the quantities which whisky producers put into the spirit. On the other hand, Whisky Science Blog says differently:

"So, [from our experiments] caramel does affect the flavour and it is not inert in whisky, but are the quantities used in Scotch whisky industry enough to affect the overall flavour significantly? No reliable scientific fact exists, but my guess is that they probably are significant. Does caramel impair the flavour? It could, but then again in some cases caramel might even improve the taste."

Tasting Notes

Let's start with the Retail Travel version. On the nose initially quite a lot of alcohol heat but with a few drops of water it calms down and becomes wonderfully rich and mellow. Bottling at high strength (46% alcohol by volume or higher) means that all those flavours are preserved within the alcohol but in order to release them one must add water.

For 16 years in the barrel, this whisky certainly does have a lovely fresh and clean aroma. Freshly picked, highly fragrant crispy green apples, wet after a rain storm, rich clear honey, a tin of travel barley-sugar sweets in icing sugar and sweet pickling spices.

The Nadurra has this amazing ability to bring a smile to your face like recognising an old friend. I believe it has this affect because its tasting notes almost exactly match the list of smells one experiences except that they are amplified and more focused. It is a very reassuring and satisfying feeling. The green apples are there but also some Scrumpy (strong homemade English West Country cider), chewy honey and digestive biscuits, roasted barley, homemade apple jam, with a long and substantial soft fudge, polished wood and sweet pickling spice finish.

Highly complex yet wonderfully focused, this whisky is one of the few single-malts I know which I would recommend to beginners and experienced alike. It is highly approachable and enjoyable from the first sip, yet offers so much more when taken time over. It’s terrific stuff!

Naim Amplifiers

Back in the 1980s I was really into high end British HIFI and remember with great fondness a very long listening session I attended at a Hi-fi shop in Bishops Stortford one morning. There we were, my friend and I, sitting on a comfortable settee, drinking coffee in an elegantly decorated dedicated listening room listening to some great music on a Linn/Naim setup. First we started off listening through Naim’s budget amplifier and the sound was exquisite with so much detail. We were both very impressed. Then the salesman switched to the bottom of the range Naim pre-amp and power-amp. The difference blew us away. It was all there but now even more details and so much sweeter. Then, when we were convinced that it could not get any better, he switched to a higher end Naim pre-am/power amp combination with a dedicated power supply. The leap forward in musical involvement and clarity shocked us to the core.

This is what going from the Travel Retail Nadurra to the Cask Strength Nadurra is like. Everything is there still. The clarity, the balance, the freshness and all the tasting notes. It was just that everything was amplified and tastes were even more focused - the same experience but simply more involvement and interaction with all those flavours.

Bottom line

If you bought the 1 Litre Travel Retail version you will surely love it. However, if you’ve already been spoilt and tasted the cask strength version, you might be slightly disappointed. In Israel you can buy both versions in the shops. Obviously, the Cask strength version comes in a smaller bottle and costs around NIS 50 more. My advice, it’s worth the extra money.


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