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The Glenlivet is often noted as the oldest distillery in Scotland. While this isn’t exactly true, it’s not far off either. The Glenlivet is, at the very least, the oldest registered in Glenlivet parish, and perhaps the first legally registered Scotch producer in Scotland. The distillery was officially established in 1824, just one year after The Excise Act of 1823 which marked the dawn of the modern Scotch era, but its founder George Smith is believed like many farmers to have been trafficking in illicit whisky for years beforehand.
Therefore, it was a natural leap to legal production when the Excise Act and one of its greatest proponents, Duke Alexander Gordon, gave Smith a bit of a push towards the straight and narrow path.
Smith began production in Upper Drumin, on the land he leased from his landlord the Duke of Gordon, and exactly 25 years later a second distillery was opened to meet rising demand. The Cairngorm-Delnabo Distillery, as it was called, proved unable to quell demand even with production output doubled, and construction began on a final larger distillery which would centralize the work and consolidate the operation.
When the original Drumin distillery burned down in 1858, most of its salvageable parts (along with the now-shuttered Cairngorn-Delnabo’s) were folded into this replacement distillery. It opened in 1859 and has remained in operation since (with one period of notable exception, touched on later.)
In 1871, George Smith died and left the company in the hands of his son John Gordon Smith. Smith the younger’s first major move was to take legal action against other regional distillers who had begun using “Glenlivet” as a descriptor on their own bottles, co-opting the Smith distillery’s fame in order to capitalize on the reputation. The verdict was a partial success, as it was determined that these competitors may use a hyphenated form of the word “Glenlivet” but the Smith distillery held full control of the term “The Glenlivet.”
Some distillers took advantage of this allowance, but the practice died off in due time.
Throughout the Great Depression, The Glenlivet stayed open. In fact, the only period during which the distillery shut down was during World War II, by government decree, after which it played a key role in pulling Britain out of its postwar debt by exporting whisky to the United States. The American market had exploded during the new century, and the high demand even led to the British government maintaining bread rations for some time so that distillers could utilize the limited grain resources for whisky production.
Their methods are firmly traditional at The Glenlivet, which in 2010 opened an extension adding an additional mash tun, eight washbacks, and six stills. The stills are traditional Speyside with lamp glass, with each holding 9,500 liters. Water comes from nearby Josie’s Well, and the wort is aged 54 hours in a steel mash tun before distillation.
Over one million cases of The Glenlivet are now sold per year, a shocking uptick from the mere 700 cases produced as recently as 1950. From the humble hobby of a bootlegging farmer, the brand has come far.
The Glenlivet 21-Year, which I’m reviewing here, was relaunched mid-last year alongside the Glenlivet 25-Year as part of the distillery’s The Sample Room Collection. It is matured in traditional casks, followed by being triple cask finished in first-fill Oloroso Sherry, Tronçais Cognac and Colheita Vintage Port casks.
Tasting Notes: The Glenlivet 21-Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Vital Stats: Aged 21 years; triple cask finished in first-fill Oloroso Sherry, Troncais oak Cognac, and Vintage Colheita Port casks; 86-proof (43% ABV.) $300-400/750ml bottle.
Appearance: The color of freshly set bronze with low viscosity.
Nose: The bouquet is very floral-forward, followed by pear, strong peach, and a hint of spicy nutmeg.
Palate: There is great mouthfeel here, with a creaminess that precedes a long, smooth, cinnamon-clean finish. Pear and raisin are the most obvious flavors here, but lemongrass floats beneath and grants great complexity as well.
Read the full article at Whisky Review: The Glenlivet 21-Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky