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The Glenlivet 1959 Limited Edition

Jack Bettridge
Posted: February 1, 2003

You may dread your own 40th birthday, but a single-malt Scotch, treated right for better than four decades, turns out to be nothing to fear.

At least that's what The Glenlivet proves with its 1959 Limited Edition, the latest release in the vintage Cellar Collection series. Forty-three years of resting in American oak in Scotland's Speyside rendered four barrels of exquisite whisky of exceeding smoothness. The color is a medium gold and the nose floral, with notes of rum, hard candy and bread dough and the slightest whiff of peat. In the mouth, it is lacey and ethereal, continuing the candied quality and taking on a Cognac character. The finish is the real treat. It goes on for a quarter of an hour, bringing hints of licorice, but exhibiting none of the woodiness you might expect from its age.

To a youth culture that ironically worships age in a bottle, the idea that such an old whisky should be impeccable may not seem odd. But at 43 years it had to have sidestepped many hazards to remain drinkable, according to Jim Cryle, The Glenlivet's master distiller. Only the best quality casks can be used for that long, he explains. A prime danger is that the whisky will take on too much wood character. "I've tasted 60-year-olds that nobody could drink," he says. Another peril is that the cask could fall apart. Furthermore, as spirit ages it loses alcohol content to evaporation. If the alcohol percentage drops below 40, the spirit ceases to meet the legal definition of Scotch. This dram was bottled at 42.8 percent. The four 250-liter hogshead casks produced a mere 400 750-milliliter bottles.

Just 100 bottles of the 1959 vintage have been earmarked for sale in the United States. They will be sold only until the end of this year and only at charity auctions. The appraised value of the whisky is between $550 and $700. Compared with some other charming senior citizens that have recently become available -- notably Bowmore's Fino Sherry Cask 1964 ($1,500) and Glenfiddich's Rare Collection 1937 ($14,000, 800-793-2076) -- that might even seem like a best buy.

For auction details visit www.theglenlivet.com.

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