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    The Glenlivet Distillery - In Profile

    The Glenlivet distillery holds an important place in whisky history, as the very first distillery to be officially licensed in Scotland. The story of its journey is also fascinating; a humble one man distillery which has blossomed into one of the biggest selling brands in the world.

    Along the way there are outlaw beginnings, pistols and death threats, royal approval, legal wrangles and a whole lot more. It’s such a great story that we’re surprised nobody has turned it into a movie yet. We can imagine it now…

    The Glenlivet Distillery

    Guns, Outlaws & Kings

    In the late 18th and early 19th century, illegal whisky distillation was rife in the Speyside region of Scotland. Throughout the remote glens, outlaws made their own illicit drams and smuggled them back to Glasgow and Edinburgh to be sold. One of the most notable distillers of the time was George Smith, who was said to be producing around 200 litres of his own scotch whisky every week.

    In 1823 the government attempted to curb this cottage industry by introducing the Excise Act. This act placed strict regulations on the production of whisky and allowed illegal distillers to apply for a reasonably priced official license. The illegal distillers and smugglers were used to having run-ins with the Excise officers who often ventured into the glens to try and catch them red-handed.

    As such there was a strong anti-government sentiment in the region, and applying for this license was considered an aberration by most. Despite facing persecution from his peers, George Smith applied for a license and registered Glenlivet distillery in Banffshire – around a mile from the location of the current site. The location was chosen for its altitude and access to fresh water from the nearby Josie’s Well.

    After his perceived betrayal, Smith received multiple threats on his life and a number of the illegal distillers threatened to destroy the distillery, forcing Smith to employ a guard to protect the building 24 hours a day. Smith later said ‘'I was warned by my civil neighbours that they meant to burn the new distillery to the ground and me in the heart of it’. Smith claimed he may have only survived thanks to a set of pistols he carried with him at all times. These pistols were said to have been a gift from the Laird of Aberlour, an early fan of the whisky, and they are now on display at the distillery visitor centre.

    Testament to Smith’s foresight is the fact that within a decade of Smith gaining his license, all of the illegal competitors in the Glen Livet valley had been forced out of business. He also proved to be very skilled at distilling, as his Glenlivet whisky soon gained a reputation across the country. It is said that during a visit to Edinburgh, King George IV even requested a sample of the Glenlivet whisky he had heard so much about. Considering the primitive communication tools available at the time, that is quite something!

    Legal wrangles

    Such widespread popularity meant that many of the other distillers in the valley began labelling their bottles with their own name and the Glenlivet name, in a bid to try and capitalise on the good name which Smith had generated. This was stealing business and tarnishing the reputation of Smith’s quality spirit.

    In 1876 George Smith’s son John Gordon, who had taken charge of the distillery following his father’s death, applied for a trademark to protect use of the Glenlivet name. Following multiple court battles over a number of years it was finally decided in 1884 that the distillery would have sole rights to the use of the name ‘THE Glenlivet’. Despite the ruling, you could still find bottles from many other Speyside distilleries which had suffixed their own name with Glenlivet being released as recently as the 1980s. However, it seems that the process has been stopped now.

    Global success

    Before long the legend of the smooth Glenlivet whisky had spread overseas, and was particularly popular in United States. It was one of the first whiskies to be imported into the country following the lifting of Prohibition restrictions in 1933, and this eagerness to spread their product beyond the UK proved to be a catalyst for the distilleries future success; it is now the top selling single malt in the United States.

    The distillery remained in the Smith family until 1953 when they merged with Glen Grant distillery to form a new company under the name Glenlivet & Glen Grant Distillers Ltd. The company subsequently sold the distillery to Seagram in 1978. In 2001, Pernod Ricard and Diageo undertook a joint acquisition of Seagram. The Chivas Brothers, the whisky arm of Pernod Ricard, took charge of Glenlivet.

    Soon after, the owners announced their intention to make The Glenlivet the number one selling single malt whisky in the world. In 2007 they sold a total of 500,000 cases worldwide. In 2014 they finally achieved their long held ambition of selling 1 million cases within a year, but they are still only the second biggest brand.

    The company has been pursuing ambitious expansion in recent years in an attempt to finally usurp Glendfiddich as the number one. In 2009 the distillery installed four additional pot stills and increased their production capacity from 5.8million litres to 8.5 million litres. Then in 2010, a further two stills were added to increase capacity to 10.5 million litres.

    In late 2014 The Glenlivet launched a new Founders Reserve core expression, designed to honour the tradition of the distillery and the innovation shown by founder George Smith in those dramatic early years.

    You can read more about The Glenlivet Founders Reserve here, or buy a bottle online today!