Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Glenlivet - The Single Malt that started it all

Lawless times and the character of Glenlivet

During the early 1800s, large areas of Scotland were brought to the brink of anarchy by the activities of whisky smugglers. Excisemen, armed with pistols and cutlasses, fought bloody battles with the smugglers. Thousands of illicit distillers were prosecuted each year and close to 400 people were convicted and fined in just one sitting by an Inverness Justice of the Peace for breaking the Excise laws.

By 1820 there continued to be some 200 illicit stills in Glenlivet; the glen of the Livet reaches deep into the mountains which separate Speyside from Royal Deeside in the far North-East of Scotland. Today it is relatively remote; in the 18th and 19th centuries it was virtually inaccessible and it bred a bold and self-reliant people who clung to the old tradition of whisky-making.

The whisky made in Glenlivet had the highest reputation of any in Scotland, for several reasons. First, you can’t make good whisky in a hurry and the Glen’s remoteness made it almost impossible to police. Excise officers could be spotted miles away, leaving plenty of time to hide equipment, and, more importantly, plenty of time to carry out the distilling.

Second, nature’s essentials for making the finest malt whisky – barley, peat and a copious supply of good, clean water – were all abundant. The fertile valley-bottom of Glenlivet provided barley. The hills around are clad in peat. The water that rushes down the hills surrounding Glenlivet is perfect: cold, soft, melted snow. Whisky smugglers would travel from Glenlivet to the Lowlands on drove roads and across bridges that can still be found today.

The legacy of George Smith

It took a remarkable man to break the tradition of illicit distilling: in 1824 George Smith took the unswerving step from farmer-distiller to first
licenceholder in the glen, the first step on Scotch whisky’s march to global success.

In those lawless times, he had to go to extraordinary lengths to protect his life and his property. He armed his brothers with “two or three stout fellows” whom he employed, and they mounted a guard on the distillery, night and day, for several years. In his later years he claimed that he often “had rough times of it among the glen people,” when he went to church or visited the market at Tomintoul.

When he went legal he also had to go armed. His former colleagues in the illicit trade swore they would “burn down his distillery and him at the heart of it.” But the winds of change were with him. The fame of his whisky spread even beyond Scotland, nurtured by his Edinburgh agents who began to market it as Old Vatted Glenlivet - the very first ‘brand’ of Scotch.

On the back of this success, in 1858 Smith built a new distillery on a larger site further down the glen, supplied with water by Josie’s Well, a now legendary spring rich in minerals. He also invested in a pair of unusually shaped stills, uncommonly high and wide, of a novel ‘lantern’ design – both factors which make for increased purity and elegance.

The Reputation of The Glenlivet

The Glenlivet has long been synonymous with the finest single malt Scotch whisky. In 1822, King George IV made a triumphant visit to Edinburgh. Sir Walter Scott, who arranged the event, made sure to procure the best whisky Scotland had to offer for the King’s delectation: the whisky of Glenlivet. Throughout his week-long jaunt, the King would drink nothing else, and by the end it was reported that “he is an admirable judge of glen livat”. He was not alone in his enjoyment. The same year, John Stein, one of the leading distillers in Scotland, wrote enviously: “There are some people in the higher stations of life who prefer Glenlivet whisky and who would pay almost any price for it”.

The fame of Glenlivet’s now well-respected fruity, floral style encouraged other distillers to attach the name to their own, even though some of them were miles from the Glen itself. Understandably, George Smith’s son was not happy about this. In 1884 he obtained a settlement which required that only his malt can describe itself as ‘The Glenlivet’. And to this day, there is still only one single malt whisky that has the unchallengeable right to call itself The Glenlivet.

Dozens of Speyside distilleries have, at some stage, used the name Glenlivet.

The Glenlivet in the 20th century

Maintaining the pioneering instinct, The Glenlivet was the very first malt to be promoted in the United States: as soon as Prohibition was lifted in America, George Smith’s great-grandson went there to promote his whisky, the first single malt ever seen in the U.S. Over the next few decades it caused such a stir that he featured on the front page of Time magazine with the line: ‘The heart of Great Britain’s export trade is the Scotch whisky industry. The heart of the Scotch industry is The Glenlivet’. The Pullman Company of Chicago begged The Glenlivet Distillery for supplies of miniatures for their luxury trains.

The Glenlivet developed a strong following among Hollywood stars in the 1950s. Stars like Yul Brynner and Robert Taylor, who had (to quote the latter) “come to consider all other brands of Scotch whisky second rate”, insisted that stocks be available in their hotels – even if they were filming in Europe.

The Glenlivet’s reputation was not confined to the UK and the US. In 1956 the manager of the renowned George V Hotel in Paris wrote to the distillery: “Our President requires, for his own personal use, a case of 12 bottles of your Glenlivet 12 year old Whisky, as he was agreeably impressed by this whisky during his recent visit to America.”

For nearly 200 years the legendary whisky of Glenlivet has been prized, celebrated and fought over. But there is only one whisky with the unchallengeable right to be called: The Glenlivet: the single malt that started it all.

Product Information

The Glenlivet range in our portfolio includes the 12; 15; 16; 18; 21 and 25 year old.

The Glenlivet 12YO is the standard offering and is the benchmark by which all other single malts are measured.

The Glenlivet 15 year old French Oak Reserve is beautifully structured with an interplay of fruits and spices.

The Glenlivet 16YO NĂ durra (NĂ durra means “Natural” in Gaelic) is non-chilled filtered, bottled at Cask Strength (plus 54% alcohol by volume), matured in 100% first-fill ex-Bourbon casks (Bourbon barrels release vanilla and toffee notes and because the casks are first fill after being used once before for bourbon aging only, the wood contributions and notes are more pronounced).

The Glenlivet 18 YO has a golden track record with an award winning reference – 3 IWSC gold medals & 3 ISC medals within 4 years. Packaged in Nubuck (Suede Leather touch)

The Glenlivet 21 YO Archive is matured in several different types of Oak Casks and is bottled in batches, therefore, slightly different characteristics per batch. To assist collectors, individual batch numbers are displayed on the box and bottle.

The Glenlivet 25 YO is “Finished” in first-fill sherry butts for last 2 years of maturation & is subject to limited annual volume. The packaging is a handsome award-winning wooded box (the reinforced limestone and sealed by removable brushed ingot will surprise you).

The Glenlivet Cellar collection is detailed in the individual The Glenlivet range pages.

General Notes of Interest.

Jim Cryle is the Master Distiller at The Glenlivet explains:

Mineral Rich Waters: Josie's Well provides water uniquely rich in minerals. It extracts sugars more easily from the malt. The high proportion of sugars creates a unique composition of flavour compounds during fermentation when the yeast is added.

Taller, Wider Stills: George Smith created a true innovation in the form of “The Glenlivet’s” lantern-shaped stills. During distillation this shape fosters great interaction between the aromatic esters. Hence, the distinctive, sweet, fruity aromas of the new distillate that eventually becomes The Glenlivet – the quintessential single malt.

In the perfect location: at over 900 feet above sea level, ensures fresh temperatures all year round - offering perfect conditions for maturing 12 year old, and older, single malts.
The Single Malt that Started it all: The Glenlivet inspired a whole region, today called Speyside, which provides the world's favorite style of malt whisky - nay, even the worlds favourite blended whiskies.


Recommendations from the Experts

The Glenlivet Range

Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion: “A whisky of structure and complexity”

Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion: “What Grande Champagne is to Cognac, the glen of the river Livet is to Speyside. The only whisky allowed to call itself "The Glenlivet" is historically the most famous Speyside malt."

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old

Dave Broom – Wine International, May 2005: “Never underestimate this distillery.”
The Glenlivet 12 Year Old

Paul Pacult – Kindred Spirits: “This is one of Speyside’s definitive malts. Deceptively complex, The Glenlivet 12 is one of the classiest, most sophisticated malts.”

Wallace Milroy – The Original Malt Whisky Almanac: “A first-class malt. One of the most popular malts in the world – deservedly so.”

The Glenlivet 18 Year Old

Dave Broom – Handbook of Whisky: “A superb, complex dram.” (5 stars)

Phillip Hills – The Scotch Whisky Directory: “A very fine, fruity malt.”
The Glenlivet 16 Year Old Cask Strength Edition

Dave Broom – Wine International, December 2004: "My whisky of the year. It’s only available from the distillery, comes in a 50cl bottle at £30 a pop and is a sublime example of what is great about Glenlivet. Delicate, yet complex and bursting with notes of wild flowers, cooked apples, coconut and spice. It’s the bottle I keep going back to. So much so that I'm on my third bottle of the year already."

The Glenlivet Archive 21 year old

John Hansell – Malt Advocate Magazine: “…the ‘Sean Connery’ of whiskies - mature, sexy, rich, and debonair. Savour it after a long and successful day. Just don't rush the experience.”

Visit the official The Glenlivet webiste by clicking on the link below.

A scene around The Glenlivet distillery during winter.

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