As alcohol distillation was illegal at the time, The Glenlivet founder George Smith learned his craft tucked away in the remote and isolated Livet Valley. Hidden from soldiers and customs officers, George used the abundant springs to slowly make the soon to be famous Glenlivet Whisky. In August 1822, King George IV arrived in Scotland for a state visit and asked to try a drop of the infamous Glenlivet whisky despite being illegal and he loved it.
Two years later, after a change in legislation George secured his licence to become the first legal distiller in the parish of Glenlivet. This sparked outrage in the other illicit distillers who assured him that he and his distillery would burn. In order to protect himself, George carried a pair of flintlock pistols with him at all times assuring the smugglers he wasn’t afraid to use them. This is the spirit embodied in The Glenlivet today.
By the late ‘30’s, The Glenlivet distillery was producing more than 200 gallons of whisky a week and the rapid expansion saw the addition of Edinburgh’s Andrew Ushers & Sons as sales agents, helping spread the word. In 1852, Charles Dickens wrote a friend in London urging him to try the THE whisky - a “rare old Glenlivet”, a single malt that went beyond his expectations.
A New Generation
When founder George Smith passed on November 27th, 1871, his son John Gordon Smith who was training in law at the time took over the reins of the whisky business. With other competitors looking to use the name ‘Glenlivet’ themselves, John secured the use of the term ‘THE’ Glenlivet in 1884, ensuring they were the one and only.
In 1921, there were many challenges facing the distillery. Having just taken over the distillery from his great uncle, Captain Bill Smith Grant, a decorated World War One veteran needed to face down the Great Depression and prohibition in the USA (one of their prime markets). Thanks to his perseverance throughout these periods, when prohibition was repealed in 1933, The Glenlivet had enough stock to meet the increased demand while also supplying companies such as the Pullman Train Company who began serving miniature bottles of Whisky on their routes. By 1950 The Glenlivet accounted for half of the Scottish malt whisky served in the US. The Glenlivet is still one of the most popular whiskies worldwide and as Captain Bill Smith Grant said, “If Glenlivet can’t make good whisky, then we shouldn’t make any whisky”. We’ll raise a glass to that.
The Making of The Glenlivet
Expert crafting, barley, water and yeast all combine to create THE Whisky of Speyside. The Glenlivet.
The maltsters soaking the grain in water for several days. Once the shoots emerge, they dry and heat the barley to create malt. Unlike many other distilleries, The Glenlivet don’t use peat during this process to ensure all the natural flavours and aromas of the barley is retained.
Milling of the malt into a coarse flour called ‘grist’.
The grist mashed with natural spring water in a mash tun which slowly stirs the mixture to produce the maximum amount of sugar and starch possible. The enzymes developed in malting convert the starch to sugar producing a clear syrup known as ‘wort’.
Fermentation. The wort is transferred into large vessels called ‘washbacks’. While most distilleries use stainless steel, The Glenlivet use Oregon pine as it infuses the mixture with natural aromas. The wort is then cooled, yeast is added to convert the sugar into alcohol and creates the flavour imparting ‘esters’ which give the Glenlivet whiskies their natural fruitiness. After two days, the wort becomes ‘wash’, a frothy beer-like solution.
The distillation stage where the wash is ‘cut’ into three parts: the head, the heart and the tail. The head is the high alcohol liquid, the heart is the most desirable portion followed by the tail which contains too much water for maturation. While the heads and tails are recycled, the heart is continued onto the final phase.
Maturation. The Glenlivet mature their whiskies for up to 25 years and in some cases, even longer. They utilise carefully selected American and European oak casks. As the whisky matures it slowly evaporates. These invisible vapours are known as ‘the angels share’ and thousands of gallons are lost annually. The Glenlivet maintains that “as long as the whisky gods get a taste of the Glenlivet, it’s a sacrifice their willing to make”.