While a scotch whisky snob may prefer Lagavulin or Glenmorangie on a cheaper night, the fact remains that Glenlivet is the #1 most popular scotch whisky in the United States. Almost universally available and consumed in prodigious quantities, but how good actually is it?
Illegal distilleries were rampant in the Speyside area of Scotland for generations, but with the passage of a new law in 1823 all legal distilleries would need to be established and properly licensed to operate. Glenlivet was established one year later in 1824 by George Smith, much to the annoyance of the other illegal distilleries in the area who hoped that mass disobedience would lead to the law being repealed. The same year the original Glenlivet distillery in Upper Drumin was established.
The original distillery was destroyed in 1858 while a new distillery was under construction in Mimmore to try and meet the rising demand for their product. Some of the original equipment from the destroyed distillery was transferred to the new location and is still in use to this day.
The distillery remained open through the Great Depression, one of the only distilleries to remain profitable in that period, but was shuttered during World War Two by government decree. In the years following the war the facility reopened, and the British government actually enforced grain rationing to ensure that the facility could operate (and produce spirits for export that would reduce Britain’s war debts).
Glenlivet went through a number of smaller changes in ownership until they were purchased in 1977 by Seagram, the Canadian company most famous for their eponymous liquor and Fireball Whisky. Later in 2000 the ownership was transferred to the French company Pernod Ricard.
Glenlivet sells approximately 6 million bottles of single malt scotch whisky annually.
Glenlivet single malt scotch whisky starts as a fermented mash of 100% locally produced malted barley. The mash is then distilled in lantern shaped stills that feature a rather long neck, known by distillers to produce a sweeter spirit than other designs.
Following the distillation process the spirit is aged in former sherry and bourbon casks for a number of years, specifically twelve years in the case of this product. After aging the product is bottled at the Chivas Brothers facility and shipped around the world.
What we are drinking today is the direct product, but the distilled spirit is also used to produce Chivas Regal and Royal Salute.
Glenlivet is bottled and distributed in rather plain green glass bottles with a rather unassuming yellowed label. The bottle design isn’t anything to write home about, but then again there’s nothing “wrong” here so that’s a plus.
Where most entry level spirits would have a screw top (especially on their smaller tasting sized bottles like this one) Glenlivet actually uses a cork stopper on their bottles. That’s a nice touch that makes it feel a little more expensive than it is. I appreciate it.
Taking a sniff of the liquid I get some hints of vanilla, a little bit honey, and a significant level of peat — one of the traditional flavors that you’d see in a scotch versus an American or Irish whiskey.
The spirit is bottled at 40% ABV which is below that of a typical American bourbon and gives the liquid a lighter weight in the mouth. More of a liquid than a syrup and easier to sip.
For me the only thing I really get in terms of flavor is the peat, maybe a bit of vanilla with a touch of sweetness and honey as well. Others talk about grassy notes and red licorice, which I can understand, but those aren’t flavors that immediately spring to mind.
Overall the experience is a pleasant one here. The finish is smooth without any bitterness or acidity. There’s a bit of tannin giving that cheek sucking feeling but not so much that it’s overpowering. To me it’s very pleasant.
Surprisingly the ice brings out the peat flavor in the whiskey without sacrificing anything. If anything it might make the whiskey more intense rather than the usual mellowing effect that it can have on a spirit.
Drinking the whiskey neat I couldn’t really taste any of the earthiness or grass flavors, but with the added ice those flavors are clear and bold. For those more used to a bold flavored spirit like a bourbon this might be the best way to experience this whiskey.
Honestly in my mind this is pretty much the ideal entry level Scotch whiskey. It has all of the hallmarks of a traditional Scotch with the peat flavor and lighter flavor profile without the price tag that usually comes with it. If you’re thinking about trying out scotch whiskies this is a great place to start.
The Glenlivet 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Owner: Pernod Ricard
Production: Moray, Scotland
Classification: Speyside Scotch Whisky
Grain bill: 100% malted barley
Aging: 12 years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $32.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
A great scotch that’s good to drink and a great “gateway scotch” for whiskey and bourbon drinkers who might be thinking about going a little old school.