I love whisky. You love whisky. We all love whisky… well most of us at least (it’s never too late to change your mind if you don’t though). That being said, have you ever been out whisky-shopping and noticed how quite a number of bottles have the word ‘Glen‘ in their brand names?
We have Scotland to thank for that. ‘Glen‘ is a Scottish term used to describe “a deep valley in the Highlands”. This is why you’ll see many brands of whisky, especially single malt scotch, with the word ‘Glen‘ in front of their names (eg: Glenfiddich, GlenDronach).
Basically, these scotch makers from centuries ago wanted people to know where the whisky they drank originated from. Evidently, their branding efforts paid off tremendously as many of these whiskies are now household names.
One such whisky that I’m sure plenty of you are familiar with is – Glenlivet.
The Smooth Flowing One
Founded in 1824 by George Smith, the story of how Glenlivet came to be is one involving persistence and the defiance of authority. Back in 1822, George Smith was an illegal distiller looking for a remote place to begin producing spirit inconspicuously.
He needed to work stealthily as a means of avoiding British Customs Officers who’d extort distillers for outrageous taxes at the time. Thankfully, George found the isolated Livet valley that was hidden amidst hills and an abundance of springs.
Before we carry on any further, let’s break down the name ‘Glenlivet’. We know that the word ‘glen’ means valley in Scottish, but what does ‘livet’ mean? That word originates from the Gaelic phrase ‘liobh ait’ which means: ‘smooth flowing one‘.
A Dram Fit For A King
As time passed, George perfected his craft of distilling whisky to a point where he felt the whole world needed to taste it. Coincidentally, a chance visit to Scotland by King George IV in August 1822 saw George, a humble distiller, entertaining his majesty.
It was during this meeting where he offered the king a taste of his recent (but still illegal) work which left the king in awe, pretty much granting Glenlivet an unofficial royal seal of approval.
Finally in 1824, George managed to get a distiller’s license after some changes in legislation. This caused much envy amongst other illicit distillers around the parish of Glenlivet who threatened to harm George and burn his distillery down.
Shortly after, George started brandishing two flintlock pistols everywhere he went and continued the production of Glenlivet whiskies from his distillery – which is still operating to this day.
While Glenlivet has released a wealth of expressions over the years, today we will be focusing on four of them in particular:
1. The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve
To honour George Smith’s vision, The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve was distilled using traditional methods introduced by George himself. This included using lantern-shaped copper stills as well as traditional oak casks to age the whisky.
When George Smith first began distilling, The Glenlivet had no age statements so he chose whisky from casks of different ages. To replicate this freedom, The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve was also crafted by selecting whisky from various traditional aged oak casks.
Adding a modern twist to this expression’s flavour, Master Distiller Alan Winchester marries the selected aged oak casks with American first-fill oak casks (casks which have never been used to mature whisky).
The chosen casks provide a smooth, creamy sweetness that intertwines beautifully with the complex flavours and fruity tones already present in the whisky.
If you ever wanted to taste Glenlivet the way it was originally made, try The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve.
- Nose: Citrus fruit, sweet orange.
- Palate: Zesty orange, pear, toffee apples.
- Finish: Long, creamy, smooth.
2. The Glenlivet 12 Year Old
Arguably one of the most popular single malts in the world, The Glenlivet 12 Year Old has been described by The Original Malt Whisky Almanac as “A first-class malt“.
This celebrated expression is first matured in traditional oak before being transported to American oak casks. Maturing in American oak casks is the primary reason for the 12 Year Old’s smoothness and notes of vanilla.
Moreover, Glenlivet exclusively uses mineral-rich water from Josie’s Well during mashing and fermentation – further developing the whisky’s flavours.
- Nose: Fruity, summery.
- Palate: Well-balanced, fruity, strong pineapple notes.
- Finish: Long, creamy, smooth.
3. The Glenlivet 15 Years Old
Out of all the expressions on this list, The Glenlivet 15 Years Old is arguably the most exotic of the bunch. Where most whiskies are aged in traditional or American oak casks, a proportion of the 15 Year Old’s spirit matures in Limousin oak barrels from France.
These barrels are typically used to age both cognac and armagnac which makes this expression a particularly rich whisky paired with a slight tinge of spiciness. Additionally, Glenlivet were one of the first distilleries to use French oak in making whisky.
- Nose: Creamy, rich, buttery.
- Palate: Fruit and nut.
- Finish: Lingering, sweet almond and spice.
4. The Glenlivet 18 Year Old
Once again, Glenlivet’s Master Distiller Alan Winchester proves why he is worthy of his job title after crafting this masterpiece of a whisky over the course of 18 years.
The Glenlivet 18 Years Old, like many other Glenlivet expressions, is made from a combination of cask types. Both first and second-fill American oak are incorporated for tropical fruitiness whereas ex-sherry oak is used to produce a spicy complexity.
Complex, elegant and balanced can be used to sum up the 18 Year Old. This is made all the more evident through the awards this expression has won – which is more than any other of Glenlivet’s expressions. If you’re looking for quality in a bottle, you’ve found it.
- Nose: Rich fruit, toffee.
- Palate: Balanced, bursts of sweet orange.
- Finish: Long, with raisins and spice.
FUN FACT: Glenlivet is currently listed as the second most purchased Scotch with a production of over eight million litres per year.
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