The Glenlivet: A Savage Land’s Legacy Article}

The Glenlivet: A Savage Land’s Legacy Article


Darren Seabrook

The rise of The Glenlivet from an illicit whisky to a single malt of international fame was as violent and savage as the creation of its birthplace, the Scottish Highlands. Volcanic eruptions and the retreating glaciers of the Ice Age created the perfect environment for the production of whisky. Ragged mountains of granite surrounded a wild and untamed land, secluded from the rest of the world, with only the icy waters of the River Livet for company. Glenlivet had been created, nature’s gift to the production of whisky.

The remoteness of this region was the foundation of The Glenlivet’s smooth and complex character, as this single malt developed over many centuries. During the days of whisky smuggling this area was too dangerous for taxmen to visit, therefore the illicit distillation of whisky carried on undisturbed for a long time. The process was unhurried, allowing the spirit to develop into a velvety drink full of character.

The high altitude and harsh climate of Glenlivet shaped a unique and legendary single malt. George Smith, the founder of the original distillery, understood that the pure and rarefied mountain air improved distillation when he saw that the brew came to a boil more quickly. For this very reason he chose the glen to be the site of his distillery.

The ferocious gales and blizzards that sweep across the glen feed the icy mountain streams whose crystalline water lies at the very heart of The Glenlivet. The water travels underground through layers of limestone and granite until it reaches the spring, known as Josie’s Well, where the distillery is sited. The minerals in the water improve whisky production because they aid in the extraction of sugars from the barley.

The Glenlivet was responsible for the legalization of whisky in 1822, when King George IV travelled to Scotland on a state visit. In Edinburgh, at the welcoming ceremony, the king requested and sampled a dram of the illegal Glenlivet whisky much to the surprise of his hosts. That day King George IV discovered that this was the only single malt fit for a king and with his royal approval given, he requested a refill. Within the year a new Excise Act brought about the end of illicit distilling. This heralded the beginning of a new era.

In 1824 George Smith founded the Glenlivet distillery to legitimize the production of his whisky. It was not an easy feat as there were several attempts made on his life by local smugglers who knew that the quality of the spirit would put them out of business. The Laird of Aberlour gave George Smith two pistols for protection and after numerous failed attempts to burn down the distillery the smugglers gave up.

In an effort to protect and preserve the Glenlivet name from numerous other distillers who were taking advantage of its fame to increase their sales, John Gordon Smith took his opponents to court. After a lengthy legal dispute lasting several years, George Smith’s successor and son won the case in 1884 and a legal settlement was drafted acknowledging that only the original single malt was worthy of the Glenlivet name.

The highly prized single malt of today carries on George Smith’s legacy and its distillation process remains unchanged. The makers of this single malt take great pride in preserving the traditional skills and craftsmanship that originally created a whisky fit for a king. The Glenlivet is a product of adversity and savagery, which echoes the spirit of the glen and has become a legend.

Darren Seabrook has been tasting

single malt whisky

for over 20 years. One of his prefered whiskies at the moment is

Tomatin Whisky

, a single cask single malt whisky.

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The Glenlivet: A Savage Land’s Legacy Article


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