The Glenlivet has been one of the most visible and dominant distilleries in the Scottish whisky industry, whether during its formative years as a byword for quality, or today with a massive single malt presence, representing one of the largest selling brands. The distillery has grown and expanded to meet demand, as whisky has become appreciated worldwide, yet still stands upon the site selected by George Smith in 1858.
This iconic whisky trailblazer began his conquest when he inherited the Upper Drummin farm distillery in 1817. His father was a known distiller, and during this period, farm distilleries were commonplace in the region. Given the wilderness that surrounds the area, the threat of prying visits from the excise men were still a consideration but less so, with Andrew Smith’s activities of distilling dating back to 1774. George’s inheritance was around the period when a more friendly approach to distillation was introduced in 1823 with the passing of the Excise Act into law.
Achieving some success, George Smith leases a new farm near Tomintoul and acquires the rights to the Cairngorm distillery in 1840. This distillery was also known as Glenavon and situated also near Tomintoul, but was only in existence for 28 years, closing in 1858, when George switched his attention to the Glenlivet that was established in the same year. This new distillery was situated on the former site of Minimore farm, which George had leased in 1845, prior to purchasing the land in 1858 along with the agreement to build a distillery. He focuses his attention and resources on the Glenlivet, closing his other distilleries and using their equipment to commence production. The site was a key part of his vision to create a benchmark whisky, taking advantage of the remote location, pure mountain water and its own microclimate. Using his existing distilling experience and resources, the Glenlivet becomes widely known with George cooperating with brokers to ensure that his whisky is exported across the world.
Fiercely proud of his distillery and produce, George Smith was extremely competitive as other distilleries across Speyside leapt into life. He also had to contend with smugglers; a particular issue given the wilderness that the Glenlivet called home. Most famously, he carried a pair of hair-trigger pistols to defend himself that were a gift from the Laird of Aberlour. These were only called into action once according to legend and proved a suitable deterrent. Needless to say this iconic owner lives on in today despite passing away in 1871. The reigns pass to his son, John Gordon Smith, who continues his father’s ambition by establishing the rights to the name Glenlivet and overseeing continued expansion.
The distillery remains in family hands until a merger in 1953 with the owners of the Glen Grant distillery, prompting a series of mergers and acquisitions that results in the today’s current owners being Chivas Brothers or its parent company, Pernod Ricard as of 2001. This heralds the start of a massive expansion at the distillery resulting on today’s total of 14 stills and an annual output of around 10 million litres, which makes the Glenlivet one of Scotland’s largest. Impressive, but with work already underway on site to establish 2 more sets of stills comprising of 7 pairs within each. It’s feasible that the Glenlivet output will be trebled in the near future.
In recent years, the Glenlivet has been engaged in a battle with Glenfiddich for the title of the biggest selling single malt. The leader has changed consistently although the Glenlivet remains number one in North America. To ensure continued growth the core range has undergone an extensive expansion and new whiskies are consistently coming onto the market. The entry-level malt remains the no age statement Founder’s Reserve, which leads onto the core age statements of the 12, 15, 18 and 21 years old. These are attractively priced, which forms a fundamental element of the Glenlivet proposition alongside a relatively approachable palate and nosing experience.
Lately there has also been experimentation from the brand, with the release of the Glenlivet Alpha followed by the Cipher, and the arrival of a peated expression as the Nadurra. The adaptability of the spirit has also been displayed with various cask finishes including an Oloroso to appeal to a wider range of tastes. An extensive inventory also assures that aged expressions such as a 50-year-old in 2016 can also be released to appeal to a unique market.