Whisky Review: The Glenlivet Spectra

Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by The Glenlivet Distillery. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

To me, “Spectra” sounds more like a shadowy cabal of supervillains or a new Kia model than a Scotch whisky. But The Glenlivet’s Spectra isn’t your standard whisky. Instead of reeling off the details about the cask regime, age, warehouse location, and flavor notes on the label, Spectra tells you…nothing at all. The packaging contains no details about the three whiskies inside, only a QR code that directs you to a multimedia experience where you’re guided through a tasting, complete with quizzes about what flavors you taste, and how intense you find them.

The Glenlivet has been releasing mystery whiskies for a few years, most recently the aptly named Enigma. Spectra came out in May of 2020. Instead of a single whisky, this time it’s three different 200ml bottles of whisky packaged in a nifty magnetized box that very much underscores the bad guy vibes, as if the Zelda Triforce were designed by a dark genius. MSRP for the box is around $130.

The Spectra experience feels tailor-made for a pandemic. Even if you are totally alone, it makes for a convincing replica of drinking with a strange, somewhat demanding friend. The male voice actor chosen to narrate the “multimedia experience” has the mildest touch of brogue and otherworldly kind of serenity, kind of like a Scottish Brian Eno. I liked him immediately, complying happily with his directions to use headphones for the best experience, and hoping that my decision to split a set of airpods with my husband wouldn’t ruin whatever Brian had in store. We poured our whiskies, huddled around the iPhone like moths to a cold, cold flame, and tapped the button for Spectra No. 1.

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“Step into our secret orchard,” Brian intoned through my left earbud over soft ambient sounds and the occasional drone of a honeybee. I sniffed the whisky, as classically fruity as I expect  Glenlivet to be, layered with a kind of nutty richness. After some soothing talk about fruit trees, Brian asked me which flavors I found most prominent, offering a selection of options. I chose pineapple, toffee, and pear, although the buzzing bee’s power of suggestion would have led me to pick honey had that been on the list. Next, I rated the flavors by intensity, after which Brian broke the news that I had only earned 63% accuracy—merely “connoisseur” level, a blow to the pride of a woman who recently wrote an entire book about Scotch whisky.

No matter. I couldn’t abandon Brian now, not after he’d so politely asked me to move on to Spectra no. 2, which was already throwing a tantalizingly smoky aroma from the glass. I played along through the next two whiskies, eventually redeeming myself with a score that placed me firmly in the “master” realm. Intrigued, I then tried a bunch of other different response combinations that earned similar scores, reinforcing the fundamental truth there’s always more than one way to taste a whisky.

Note: The Glenlivet has released the official tasting notes for all three Spectra whiskies on its website, including information about casks. I won’t spoil the surprise, but if you’d like to know, click here.

The Glenlivet Spectra

The Glenlivet Spectra. Image via Margarett Waterbury (The Whiskey Wash)

Tasting Notes: The Glenlivet Spectra no. 1

Vital Stats: Single malt. 40% alcohol. Age and cask regime unknown.

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Appearance: Honeyed amber.

Nose: Sweet and lushly fruity, with lifted notes of peaches, fresh pineapple, vanilla bean, and cake batter embedded in robust oak. Almond extract adds a creamy richness.

Palate: Also very ripely fruited, with ripe pears and peaches and more pineapple building to a creamy, pleasantly buttery mid-palate. The finish is dry, oaky, and nutty, with a touch of bitter almond giving structure to a gentle afterglow of warm vanilla. To me, this is very much in Glenlivet’s wheelhouse, and it’s a style they’ve really perfected.

Score: 4/5

Tasting notes: The Glenlivet Spectra no. 2

Vital Stats: Single malt. 40% ABV. Age and cask regime unknown.

Appearance: Pale amber

Nose: A pronounced yet not overpowering smoky aroma rises from the glass, hinting at asphalt and petrichor. Up close, there’s a toasty, salty smoke character underpinned by vanilla bean and grilled pineapple.

Palate: A sweet vanilla entry builds to mild to moderate smoke, more smoldering than billowing, with caramelized pears and plantains beneath the haze. The peppery finish brings cinnamon, clove, menthol, jalapeño, and coffee bean, but the final note is that signature clean, fruity Glenlivet sweetness. Fun to taste a smoky Glenlivet!

Score: 4/5

Tasting Notes: The Glenlivet Spectra no. 3

Vital Stats: Single malt. 40% ABV. Age and cask regime unknown.

Appearance: Pale amber

Nose: A sweet, mellow stroll down the candy aisle, with peach gummies, dried pineapple, cotton candy, and bubblegum. Cream soda underscores the sugar rush.

Palate: Very sweet, almost candied, with a softly oily texture and sensation of richness without much weight. There’s some light cinnamon candy, orange peel, and underripe pineapple fading to a warming, sugary, gently acidic finish. It’s a fun textural experience, but I’m left wishing for a little more flavor.

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Score: 3.5/5

Final Thoughts: Spectra is a very entertaining experience. The whiskies were all enjoyable, yet distinct from one another, giving Brian a good spectrum of flavor to discuss (aha, that’s where that name comes in). For me, The Glenlivet’s primary charm is its bright and fruity character, and the whisky I liked the most – no. 1 – was also the most “typical” Glenlivet, although I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the delicately smoky element of no. 2.

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Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...