The remote Glen of the River Livet was once a nest of illicit stills - in 1820 it was estimated that there were 200 of them. But George Smith's distillery at Upper Drummin was the first to take out a license, a fact which didn't please his former smuggler friends, who swore they would burn down his distillery "and him at the heart of it". For several years he had to carry a pair of pistols wherever he went!
|By the 1880s the whisky from his distillery was so highly thought of that the name ‘Glenlivet' was being adopted by many others. George's son had to obtain a court order in 1884 stating that only his whisky could be called ‘The' Glenlivet, although others might add the appellation to their own name - Glenfarclas-Glenlivet, Tamdhu-Glenlivet, etc. By 1950 around 27 distilleries were doing this, some of them many miles from the Glenlivet itself - giving rise to it being called ‘the longest glen in Scotland'.|
When J.G. Smith's great-nephew, Bill Smith Grant - who inherited the distillery in the 1930s - was asked by a reporter from Time magazine why The Glenlivet was so special, he replied: "I think it's 99% the water and a certain fiddle-faddle in the production"!
The distillery's current Master Distiller, Alan Winchester, acknowledges that the science of distilling has come a long way since then, but he points out that there are still gaps in our knowledge:
"It's still not possible to replicate a malt at another site, the chemistry is so complex. And in spite of all the innovations that have taken place since I joined The Glenlivet thirty-four years ago, making good whisky is still a craft."
I asked Alan how he saw his role as Master Distiller.
"I have ultimate responsibility for the quality and consistency of The Glenlivet. Although the position of ‘Master Distiller' was only created in 1997, I am the heir to a long line of managers and owners stretching back to George Smith, who founded the distillery in 1824. As you know, I have a deep interest in the history of whisky, so it comes naturally to me to have an eye on the past - but my other eye is on the future".
The Glenlivet 18 Years Old has long been a benchmark malt - one against which others are measured. The Batch Reserve is a limited release, exclusively available in Duty Free.
For The Master Distiller's Reserve - also only available through travel retail - Alan has selected a fair proportion of European oak, ex-sherry butts to add a further dimension to this expression.
Bright amber in the glass, with copper lights, and an aroma which combines fresh and dried fruits. Orange juice, ripe pears and plums in the foreground, with fruit-cake mix behind; traces of Virginia...
2 for £70 (Mix & Match)