Owner.. Chivas Brothers.
Capacity.. 10 500 000 litres.
Tel.. 01430 821720
Glenlivet is a special place in Speyside. Translated from Gaelic, the name means ‘valley of the smooth-flowing one’. Those who christened it were most likely referring to the River Livet, which surfaces high in the Ladder Hills and meanders down to join the Avon. But something altogether more sought-after has been flowing here for centuries: whisky.
At the beginning of the 19th century, when heavy taxation meant illegal distillation ran rife, the craggy peaks and sheer gorges provided perfect cover for smugglers who wanted to hide from the authorities.
If you had asked them, they would have told you that it was well worth the risk; the whisky distilled here was unsurpassed. Whisky from Glenlivet was even requested by name by King George IV on a state visit to Scotland in 1822. Most people were shocked that a monarch would request an illicit dram. A local man by the name of George Smith was not. He saw an opportunity.
Raised on a farm and trained as a joiner, George Smith was a businessman and entrepreneur who didn’t follow the lead of the illegal still owners. In 1824, he obtained a distiller’s licence so he could produce and trade without attracting the attention of government excise men. The smugglers were furious that George could go about his business freely while they still had to conceal their activities.
Anger turned to violence, and threats on George’s distillery – and his life – became more and more common. But the people making them didn’t count on his determination. George was a force of nature, and he fought back. He famously carried a pair of hair-trigger pistols, given to him by the Laird of Aberlour, which he fired in self-defence on more than one occasion.
George Smith passed away in 1871, but his legacy lived on in his son and heir to the distillery John Gordon Smith just as much as it did in the spirit in the casks.
John’s first task was to protect his inheritance from those who were taking advantage of the desirability of the single malt from Speyside. Sailors on delivery boats were siphoning off the casks during transit, and competing distillers were labelling bottles of their whiskies as Glenlivet.
In 1876, John filed a request to trademark the name Glenlivet to put an end to the activities of the impostors. After years of legal wrangling, the case was settled. John won the exclusive right to call his whisky ‘THE Glenlivet’, definitively marking it as the single malt that started it all.
When John’s second great nephew Captain Bill Smith Grant inherited the distillery in 1921, he had already seen his fair share of conflict. After being wounded whilst serving with the 1st Gordon Highlanders in 1916, he re-joined his regiment the following year and fought at Arras, where he was injured a second time. His ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in the command of a raiding party’ meant he was awarded a Military Cross.
Luckily for The Glenlivet, the Captain’s devotion to duty wasn’t limited to the battlefield. In 1932, action by the Distillers Company Ltd. led to season-long closures throughout Scotland. Thanks to Smith Grant’s perseverance, The Glenlivet distillery was one of just a few malt distilleries that remained open.
Prohibition was lifted in the United States in 1933, and trade channels re-opened the following year. Because The Glenlivet distillery had remained open for business, it was in an ideal position to capitalise on this lucrative transatlantic opportunity.
The Pullman train company started serving The Glenlivet in miniature bottles. Commuters across the Midwest couldn’t get enough of this superb single malt, and word spread quicker than the trains could travel. By 1950, The Glenlivet accounted for half of all the Scottish malt whisky sold in the US.
The Stateside passion quickly spread to all four corners of the globe. Jet-setting actor Robert Taylor even wrote to the distillery to ask how to procure a case of The Glenlivet for the set of Quo Vadis, Mervyn LeRoy’s historical Hollywood epic set in Ancient Rome.
The legacy of the single malt that started it all has continued ever since, so in every bottle of The Glenlivet, whatever the age, you can taste over 200 years of history