GLENLIVET Single Malt Scotch Whisky
It all started in 1824
George Smith was the first licensed distiller in the parish of The Glenlivet. Tenacious in the face of adversity, he bravely set the tone for future whisky makers.
Today The Glenlivet distillery name is known worldwide for setting the standard in taste and quality. But it began with one man: George Smith.
George Smith is born in 1792 a small hillside farm in the parish of Glenlivet. He came from a long line of illicit distillers. As a young man his perseverance and determination were clear to see. However, as he stepped up to support his family. He was working as a joiner, building barns, mending fences and doing odd jobs on neighbouring farms.
He was a true pioneer came with considerable risk. In fact, he faced frequent attacks from competing distillers and smugglers envious of his success. To defend himself, he famously carried a pair of hair-trigger pistols, given to him by the Laird of Aberlour.
Barley, water and yeast: that’s all it takes to make a single malt – but it’s the expert crafting that brings out the exquisite flavours and qualities unique to The Glenlivet. We’ve been perfecting our techniques since 1824, and almost 200 years on, our six-stage process still reflects the original thinking of our founder, George Smith.
Professional maltsters soak rich Scottish barley in water for several days, allowing it to germinate. Once the shoots have appeared, the barley is heated and dried, at which point it becomes known as ‘malt’.
Unlike at other distilleries, we don’t use peat during the drying process, so the barley’s natural flavours and aromas are retained.
Once the dried malt is delivered to us at the distillery, we run it in batches through our traditional malt mill, which grinds it into a coarse flour called ‘grist’. The hard barley husks are split open to release the starch granules inside.
We mash the grist with hot spring water in a ‘mash tun’, a machine with rotating arms that stirs the mixture. The modern ones we use here on Speyside have been designed to obtain the maximum possible sugar and starch from the grist.
The water we use comes from Josie’s Well, a natural spring that bubbles out of The Glenlivet’s dark earth. In the mash tun, the enzymes developed during the malting process convert the starch in the malt into sugar. The clear, sugary liquid produced by mashing is known as ‘wort’.
The wort is transferred to large vessels called ‘washbacks’. In many distilleries you’ll find washbacks made from stainless steel, but we use Oregon pine ones instead, infusing the spirit with many of the aromas and tastes that make The Glenlivet whiskies so special.
In these washbacks we cool the wort and add yeast to the solution, which converts the sugars into alcohol and flavour-imparting impurities called ‘congeners’. After two days, the wort becomes ‘wash’, a frothy beer that usually has an alcohol strength of between 8-9%.
There are two stages to distillation. First, we heat the wash in our copper pot stills until the alcohol, which has a lower boiling point than water, evaporates. George Smith design our stills on the lantern shape. They are unique to The Glenlivet. The width of their necks encourages maximum contact with the purifying copper. Their height ensures only the lightest vapours reach the top, where they cool, condense and become ‘low wines’, with an alcohol content of approximately 20-22%.
In stage two, we distil the low wines in the spirit still. Once cooled, the stillman ‘cuts’ the liquid, separating the heads (the high alcohol liquid that comes out first), the heart (the desirable liquid of appropriate strength and quality) and the tail (the unusable liquid that comes out last). We recycle the heads and tails, the heart goes into the spirit receiver.
We carefully select combinations of casks made from European oak and American oak to give each expression its unique characteristics.
The whisky matures for a set period: 12 years, 25 years or even more. This is when the whisky develops most of its flavour.
During maturation, the whisky constantly evaporates, albeit incredibly slowly. This “angels’ share” means thousands of gallons are lost annually, but it’s worth it to appease the whisky gods and continue the legacy of The Glenlivet.