Glenlivet 12 Year Old vs Founder’s Reserve

Like for many, the Glenlivet 12 yo was the first single malt Scotch that I would routinely order in a bar, neat. It was a considerable step up from the basic whisky blends I had tried (both domestic and international), and had a relatively gentle and inoffensive flavour profile.

I don’t mean that to sound belittling. When first exploring the world of whiskies, it is easy to get overwhelmed by strong flavours. Indeed, my first experience of malt whisky put me off it for years – a heavily peated malt, I recall remarking that it tasted like peat moss in vodka (as that was all I could discern at the time). The Glenlivet 12 yo was a revelation in comparison, and gave me an opportunity to appreciate the subtler flavours in malt whisky.

Of course, most of us eventually move on from this relatively inexpensive and ubiquitous single malt, searching for wider flavour experience.  But it remains a staple for its class, and one worth considering here – especially in comparison to the new Founder’s Reserve, a slightly cheaper new no-age-statement (NAS) from Glenlivet.

Founder’s Reserve immediately replaced the 12 yo as the sole entry-level Glenlivet expression in some smaller and emerging markets.  In more established markets (including North America), the two expressions are available side-by-side. That seems to be changing however, and the expectation is that the Founder’s Reserve will replace the 12 yo in most markets eventually.

As an aside, that name has received a fair amount of ridicule online – it is hard to imagine how the most entry-level whisky in a producer’s inventory could be described as a “Founder’s Reserve”. 😉

Fortunately, both the Founder’s Reserve and the original 12 yo are still available in Canada (for the time being). So I was able to try them both in short succession one recent evening.

Glenlivet.12Let’s see how they compare on in the Meta-Critic database, relative to other popular entry-level malt whiskies (age and non-age expressions).

Auchentoshan American Oak: 7.49 ± 0.94 on 6 reviews ($$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.31 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu Amber Rock: 8.28 ± 0.28 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu 12yo: 8.12 ± 0.50 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Deanston 12yo: 8.05 ± 0.48 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Deanston Virgin Oak: 8.21 ± 0.49 on 9 reviews ($$)
Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve: 8.30 ± 0.43 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.08 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.03 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve: 7.95 ± 0.50 on 10 reviews ($$)
Tomatin Legacy: 8.25 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews ($$)
Tomatin 12yo: 7.82 ± 0.66 on 14 reviews ($$)

As you can see from the Meta-Critic average, they get roughly equivalent scores overall (and about middle of the pack for this entry-level group). But what you can’t tell from above is the repeated measure of individual reviewers who have tried both. There are only six reviewers that I track that have scored both whiskies, and the difference is interesting: three rank the Founder’s Reserve considerably higher than the 12 yo, two find it equivalent, and one finds it worse. Not quite what I expected for a lower price NAS.

Here is what I find in the glass for each:

Glenlivet 12 yo

Nose: Slightly sweet, with a touch of honey, and light fruits like apple and pineapple (a distinctive Glenlivet trait). Definite vanilla. Slightly floral, but I can’t identify anything specific. Slight solvent note, but not offensive.

Palate: Sweet up front, with the vanilla turning more to caramel now. The apple remains prominent, but also getting some citrus – with a touch of bitterness. Remains light and relatively sweet overall, and not very complex. Somewhat watery mouthfeel.

Finish:  Moderate finish – a bit longer than I would have expected from its light taste, but still relatively short overall.  That sweet apple remains the key note, although a bit of bitterness also lingers. As I remember it – a light and inoffensive whisky.

Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve

Glenlivet.Founders.ReserveNose: My core notes read the same – slightly sweet, light fruits like apple, slightly floral. But there is more going on here, with a malty characteristic now. There is an almost maritime air, with hints of salty chocolate (i.e., seems like it could be just a tiny touch sherried). Definitely a more complex nose than the 12 yo. Unfortunately, the solvent characteristic is also more noticeable (a touch of glue in particular).

Palate: Still sweet and fruity, and I find some maltiness is coming up now as well. Classic apple and honey are still there, but with faint chocolate notes, and something slightly spicy (pepper?). Still light and watery overall. Improves on multiple sips.

Finish:  As before, medium length for its class (short overall for a Scotch). The various new notes (like chocolate) linger, as does a bit of caramel sweetness. Less fruity than the old 12 yo.

The Verdict: The Founder’s Reserve is both more and less than the 12 yo. It lacks the simple charm and elegance of light fruit-driven 12 yo, and brings in more complexity (likely from wider barrel blending). With that wider mix comes some additional off notes though, so it really is a mixed bag.

For its extra complexity, I would give Founder’s Reserve a marginally higher score. But I can really understand why individual reviewers vary so much in their relative opinions of these two. It thus makes sense how the overall average scores came out pretty much the same, but with a larger standard deviation for the Founder’s Reserve.

For direct comparison reviews of both the 12yo and Founder’s Reserve, I recommend the boys at QuebecWhisky (12 yo, FR), Oliver of Dramming (12 yo, FR), and Richard of WhiskeyReviewer (12 yo, FR).


  • I enjoyed Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve

  • I definitely agree with you my brother….the Founder ‘s Reserve is the altimate best .

  • It has no age it tastes cheaper and is crap. Why not say how old it is unless it’s scaming you!

    • I agree

    • I agree, too.
      Taste’s kind of interesting, but after all leaves me with a very cheapish (too young) experience.
      Not worth buying.
      BTW: The huge ramp up in output and the availability of aged Whisky may lead to a variing quality of this Whiskey. That would also explain the very different reviews.

    • Judge it by quality, not by age.

  • I found the Founders Reserve to be too flowery for my taste. In-Substantial, nasal without deep throat satisfaction, forward on the tongue. I will finish the bottle but will not buy again.

  • I did not buy it and will not because they do not identify, on the bottle, the proof or the age. What decent Scotch does that.

    • The elitism coming out from all these comments is killing me. NAS gives distillers more of a creative influence. To discount something just because is has no age statement, instead of tasting it and giving it a chance, is stupid. In my opinion if that is your issue, and not the taste, you drink whiskey as a status symbol not for enjoyment.

      • Exactly,
        They just see age and price.

      • This is ss incorrect as to claim that ‘single malt’ statement is insignificant and a chance should be given to a blend without disclosing. Why else would a true scotch be aged for a minimum of 3 years? Haven’t you ever tasted the difference between a truly aged one and a young one? The complexity of chemicals contributing to the pallet, to the nose. And if so, ehat about the cask statement?
        And yet after all, a taste is a subjective issue and regardless to this statement or the othet, trying and experiencing is what it’s all about.

    • It is just three years young!

  • Hi I hav a 70cel bottle of 12 year glenlivet singal malt it’s one of the golf course bottles how do I no what cold course tin god with it it has a number on the label AB379DD it’s so I can get the write tin for it

  • Roberto Rodrigues

    I have been to the Speyside for 1 week together a friend. Every day we have visited 2 distilleries for the process and tasting. When we went back by plane I asked him wich whiskey his favorite is. He said: McCallan 25 years and second Glenlivet 12 years.
    For me it was the same!!!
    This evening I have tasted the Founders Reserve for the first time. It is allmost similar to the 12 years! A very good whiskey for the price I paid!!

  • Aaron Williams

    I purchased two bottles of Founders Reserve which I consider a mistake I will not repeat. While a bit more complex than the 12, I found the off notes stronger than I would prefer, especially the “glue” taste you describe. I also find the 12 more flavorful. At my local retail outlet, the 12 is less expensive than the FR as well. A dash of water helps considerable IMO, both for the 12 and the FR.

    I would be embarrassed to call this “Founder’s Reserve.” For a “Founder’s Reserve” I expect something special and this does not fit the bill.

    While I do not consider myself an expert by any means, I have tried a fair number of Scotches and have 11 different ones in my current collection from a variety of regions, though other than the Glenlivet, none are in that price range of <$30. A recent one that really surprised me was the Trader Joe's Finlaggan which seems to significantly exceed its price point, at least the bottle I sampled. I would choose the Finlaggan over the FR.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if Founder’s Reserve quality has dropped from the early batches. It is generally expected that will happen for entry-level NAS.

  • Hector Garcia Hernandez

    Gracias por sus comentarios. en realidad a mí también me llama la atención no poner los años.

  • What is the reason or purpose of omitting the age of this scotch?

    • To allow younger stocks to be used.

      Under Scotch Whisky Association rules, age statements (if used) must refer to the youngest age of any whisky in the bottle. So if you had a bottle that was 99% 12yo and 1% 6yo, you would have to label it as 6yo. The rise of no age statement whiskies was to allow makers the flexibility of incorporating younger whisky stocks while maintaining an overall flavour profile. This has been necessitated by the rising popularity of scotch, and relative lack of aged stocks.

  • Ronald Larry Craft

    I was suspicious of the absence of an age, on the the bottle of Founder’s Reserve. I purchased it, because, there was no twelve year old on the shelf in the 750 ml size. I thought; give it a try. It was the same price as the twelve year old, it was a “Reserve”, Glenlivet has a great reputation, I’ve always enjoyed the twelve year old. I thought, maybe I was getting something special.

    I did not; I was sorely disappointed. I’ll never purchase it again; I won’t be cheated again. In contrast to the twelve year old, it is cheap crap. Apparently, the MBA’s have taken over Glenlivet. Another company gone to hell. I equate this to Nissan producing the Versa and Boeing producing the Max.

  • I tasted the Founder’s Reserve in Paris last week. I immediately sent it back thinking the bar had made a mistake. First and subsequent sips yielded a slightly solvent aroma and taste. It seemed more like a nice grappa than a SM Scotch. I didn’t finish my one and only glass. Perhaps I am so accustomed to the 12-year old that a new profile cannot compete. I will never buy this again and now, will have to check with the bar to see what they are pouring. In the long term, I don’t think this product will survive; substandard at best.

  • De acuerdo. Sin embargo, por lo dulce, floral y su poca sabor y olor a turba, es muy apropiado para acompañar postres…

  • I love this scotch. I was a Johnny Walker fan, then discovered Aberfeldy. I dropped it for the Glenlivet Double Oak, but then found I liked the Founders Reserve better. And better than the entry Glenfiddich. The dissonant notes are ingratiating to my simple taste, though I am certain your opinions are more relevant to others. But I’m the one tasting out of my glass and this is my staple scotch. Smooth, scotchy, sweet and complex like a Theloneus Monk piece. That being said, I buy The Lasanta as a special treat. You may do well to go there! Peace!!

  • So odd that a Glenlivet Founders Reserve whiskey has no age. Possibly it has been discovered that the age of a whiskey is not as consequential as was previously thought. It might be of value to put the age on it and allow the world to what is happening.

  • I bought this bottle on a whim with expectations of a smooth and pleasant glass. First taste left me puzzled with a somewhat harsh awakening, all the flavors and notes were there, but something was just slightly off. As I continued, each draw from the glass improved and towards the end I found myself content with no reservation to pour another. It has 95% of all the characteristics of it’s brother, identical twins they’re not, however the remaining 5% can’t be considered as an imperfection…especially when it all comes together to complete the story.

  • The Founder’s reserve is no revelation.
    Taste’s kind of interesting, but after all leaves me with a very cheapish (too young) experience.
    Not worth buying.
    I understand though (just like the author), why others come to different conclusions: The Founder’s Reserve is surprisingly complex ans tasty.
    BTW: The huge ramp up in output and the availability of aged Whisky may lead to a variing quality of this Whiskey. There may be larger quantities of aged Whiskey in very early batches and the average in the bottle may become older again with the coming years. That would also explain the very different reviews.

    I’m sure BTW that Glenlivet will come back to the 12YO as soon as they have enough Whiskey of that age.
    I may not get back to them, though with so many honest and great Whiskeys available

  • Had a 12yo and got a FE to replace it. Same thing. I’m still looking to like whisky, but it’s hard.

  • lionel vasco bonini M.D.

    Used to love the 12 yr Glenlivet.My go to. Nothing fancy but pleasant.Now all character has gone and tastes generic.It is cheap but I’ll be heading back to Balvenie and Macallan.

  • Founder’s Reserve is more open whereas interns of smoothness 12 is a winner.

  • I don’t care for it. It leaves an aftertaste like a diet soda.. I would not Purchase it again, pretty hideous.

  • Glenlivet 12 used to be my go to and I tried the Founder’s Reserve for several months and it was just not pleasant so I have left Glenlivet altogether. I moved to Aberlour as my base in my bar but have been mixing in some more aged bottles as well to round out my mix. The Founder’s Reserve is so bad I stopped drinking the entire line of Glenlivet.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if the quality of Founder’s reserve has dropped over time (that’s something NAS facilitates). And Aberlour is good brand to try out – very decent quality for the price.

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