The Glenlivet

The Glenlivet is a single malt Scotch whisky distillery near Ballindalloch in Moray, Scotland which is considered part of the Speyside region. Founded in 1824, The Glenlivet brand is self-described as "the single malt that started it all." The Glenlivet is the best-selling malt whisky in the U.S. and the second best-selling single malt brand globally. 

Retreating ice age glaciers carved the granite slopes of Glenlivet, with the icy waters of the River Livet ("Smooth Flowing One") softening the otherwise bleak contours. The area is mountainous and frequently subjected to freezing cold gusts of wind.

The Glenlivet Distillery | Image Credit: Wikipedia

I was drawn into the world of The Glenlivet via the Guardians program. Over the past several months, I have been invited to two events in my area, both of which were phenomenal. They educate you on the world of Scotch whisky and pretty much let you drink all of The Glenlivet you want for free. In this post, I'll explore the history and products of what is currently my favorite Scotch whisky.

In the 19th century, illicit distilleries abounded throughout the Speyside region, with some 200 present. Because of the area's remoteness, the illicit stills were seldom troubled by excisemen.

In 1822, King George IV made a visit to Scotland. During his visit, the king supposedly requested a glass of the illegal Glenlivet whisky. In demanding a refill, the whisky was blessed with royal approval.

In 1823, the Excise Act provided legislation that allowed the legal formation of distilleries, subject to a license. George Smith operated an illicit distillery during this time, and reportedly became the first person in Glenlivet to apply for and receive a license to legally produce whisky. Operators of nearby illicit distilleries became angry that George Smith had legally applied, hoping that the Excise Act would be repealed. As a result, threats of violence were made against George Smith, who became armed with pistols to protect himself and his distillery.

In 1824, The Glenlivet distillery was established by George and his youngest son, John Gordon Smith.

In 1859, the legal entity of George & J.G. Smith, Ltd. was formed.

In 1871, George Smith died leaving his son, John Gordon Smith, in charge of the distillery. Around this time, other nearby distilleries began renaming their products "Glenlivet" to capitalize on the quality associated with the product made by George and John Gordon Smith. In an effort to protect their brand, John Gordon Smith took legal action to claim ownership of "The Glenlivet."

In 1884, courts ruled that only the product distilled by John Gordon Smith's operation could be called "The Glenlivet." However, this legal action was only partially successful, as other distilleries were allowed to hyphenate their distillery name with "Glenlivet."

Today, the distillery is owned by the French alcoholic beverages company, Pernod Ricard. Current production is nearly six million bottles annually.


The Glenlivet distillery draws its water from Josie's Well nearby, with barley obtained from Crisp Maltings, Portgordon. Its copper pot stills are lantern shaped with long, narrow necks. Whisky from the distillery is matured in oak casks. Below is their classic product range.

  • The Glenlivet 12 Year Old
  • The Glenlivet 15 Year Old (French Oak Reserve)
  • The Glenlivet 18 Year Old
  • The Glenlivet 21 Year Old (Archive)
  • The Glenlivet 25 Year Old (XXV)

The Glenlivet Classic Range | Image Credit: Whisky Intelligence

Nàdurra is the Gaelic word for natural. The Glenlivet 16 Year Old (Nàdurra) is not chill filtered, giving the mouth feel more body with a richer texture. After 16 years of maturation in first-fill American oak casks, Nàdurra is bottled at natural cask strength making the ABV much higher (54.3%) compared to the 12 Year Old (40%). 

Color is pale gold given it does not contain the caramel coloring added to many other whiskies. Aroma is described as intense and tickling, fresh and clean, and fruity. The nose will detect lemon pulp, green apple and creamy praline with herbal and spicy notes on the back. Taste is crisp and appetizing, with an oily feel followed by a fizzy sensation. It attacks the taste buds but without burning. Peaches in a vanilla syrup, white chocolate, lollipop and candied ginger can be tasted across the palate. It finishes dry, clean and crisp, long but refreshing. The Glenlivet describes its 16 Year Old as "Crisp and fresh, fruity and herbal. Superbly balanced. Full-bodied and enticing." 

The Glenlivet 16 Year Old (Nàdurra) | Image Credit: The Whisky Exchange

The Glenlivet Distillery by Wikipedia
The Glenlivet Legacy by The Glenlivet
Nàdurra by The Glenlivet

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