The first whisky I ever tasted was a 12 year old from The Glenlivet and I remember taking a big sip and almost spitting it out as I was totally unprepared for the burn that would follow! Years later, my team at work bought me a Glenlivet 15 for my birthday, which if I’m honest sat in the cupboard for a few years whilst waiting for a special occasion. I eventually cracked it open and it became an important part of my journey to an avid whisky drinker. It only felt right then, to make sure this distillery was top of the list for my recent trip to the Speyside area
The History of the Glenlivet
The Glenlivet holds a special place in history as it’s founder, George Smith, had a major part to play in the early development of the whisky industry in Scotland. Although the distillation of whisky in Scotland can be traced back to the 15th century it really gained momentum in the 1700s with many illegal operations running throughout the highlands. Things only changed after King George IV travelled to Scotland and was offered a glass of (then illegal) of whisky distilled from The Glenlivet! He certainly must have enjoyed that first experience as it led to the Excise Act which was passed in 1823 allowing distilleries to apply for a license and run their operations within the law. The first application to produce legal spirit was received, and granted, to George Smith! The Glenlivet distillery was born a year later in 1824 in the Upper Drumin valley and began as a partnership between George and his son John.
The distillery survived where others failed for many years including tragically dark periods in history such as the great depression. Things changed during the second world war as the Government ordered the shutdown of distilleries by decree, it was far more important to use cereal crops in the food supply than in the manufacture of whisky. Production steadily ramped up after the war as the national debt was at it’s worst ever and Scotch whisky was in demand around the world. Increased tax and legal barriers caused mayhem for the whisky makers and it wasn’t until the 1950’s that things completely levelled out and whisky production was back to its full capacity.
Whisky of The Glenlivet
The distillery is capable of producing close on 6 million litres per year. Most of their spirit is used in Glenlivet single malt but some ends up in blended whisky offered by Chivas Regal and Royal Salute – this is due to the French company Pernod Ricard currently owning these brands. The water used in production is drawn from ‘Josie’s Well’ which offers around 16,000 litres per hour! George Smith picked the site all those years ago based on the proximity to this natural spring well which is fed in turn by the River Livet. Water from the river is absorbed into the mineral-rich ground and flows through layers of limestone and granite to the well, emerging perfectly clean and fresh. At a temperature of 5-8 degrees, the water is absolutely perfect for making the finest whisky.
This distillery building is of a modern design with the stills viewable from large panoramic windows as you drive into the car park, this also offers a spectacular view from the inside looking out across the Livet valley. The Glenlivet is configured with 7 wash stills and 7 spirit stills in all to produce their world famous new make spirit.
The Glenlivet’s bottling occurs offsite, this again is due to the holding company, as various bottling plants are used and shared across all the brands within the group.
The Glenlivet Distillery Tours
A few years ago the distillery ran free tours which offered excellent value with the inclusion of a free dram! These have since been discontinued and arguably resulted in a better overall experience with a few different tour options on the menu – I have selected a few below to give you an idea but there are further options available. For a full list visit the distillery tour page here.
The classic tour, priced at £15, runs a few times per day with a group of 16 people. and take around 60 to 75 minutes on average. You will get to taste 3 whiskies from the core range. The Elements tour runs a bit longer at around 90 minutes and costs a little bit more at £30. I would highly recommend paying the extra as you will get to taste some new make spirit and 3 single cask exclusives! If you want the full experience then you can go for the Academy tour at £100 which runs for a full 3 hours. This includes a classroom session with premium whisky tasting and full tours of both the distillery and warehouse facilities. It should go without saying, but please make sure you book in advance as these tours get busy and you don’t want to be disappointed!
The distillery is open for tours between Spring and the end of October and is wheelchair friendly throughout the visitor centre and exhibition with viewing gallery access within the distillery itself. If you are driving, you are able to take home a sample set (at a cost of £4) for tasting later on at your convenience.
The Smugglers Trails
Hundreds of years ago the Speyside area was littered with illegal distilleries and excisemen and to move around they needed secret trails that were harder to detect. Some of these early trails can still be explored if you feel up for a walk. You can pick up a map from the Distillery shop, however, you will find all 3 different routes well signposted. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to explore the walks on my visit due to the weather but I definitely plan to go back and enjoy the walk the next time I visit the area.
The Glenlivet Distillery Shop
The distillery shop is open from March to November and has a full selection of The Glenlivet whisky to choose, there are also other branded products available from clothing to books.
The Glenlivet is well known for maturing it’s whisky in oak barrels and seem to engage less in experimental expressions than some of the other distilleries I have visited. The Glenlivet offers a sherry cask finish exclusively for the Taiwan market; in 2018/19 it was a 13-year-old and I picked one up whilst at the distillery shop. I think they changed it in 2019/20 to a 14-year-old. As with many distilleries in the region, you are able to fill your own bottle straight from the cask for £70.
The Glenlivet Coffee Shop
For most of you reading this blog, a visit to the Speyside area will involve visiting a few distilleries. The reality is that you can only do so much in a day and if you have some tours booked then you might find yourself whizzing around to try and fit everything in. It is refreshing to find a nice coffee shop in a distillery that can offer you a quick sandwich or bowl of soup for lunch. You could also grab a coffee and give the whisky cake ice cream a try!
The Glenlivet is a must to include on your list if you are in the area. Even without a tour booking, The Glenlivet offers an experience allowing you to escape and immerse yourself in the rich history and traditions Scotch whisky.
Have you visited recently? If you have then let us have your thoughts in the comments below!
Where is the Glenlivet distillery?
The Glenlivet distillery can be located at the following address