The Glenlivet distillery

Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky

After a recent expansion and refurb it is one of the most modern distilleries in Speyside with a vast Brigg’s mash tun which sends clear wort to wooden washbacks. Distillation, which is slow, takes place in two stillhouses, in seven sets of stills.

George Smith’s greatest achievement wasn’t simply the taking out of a licence, but his decision to make a new style of whisky. By the 1860s, The Glenlivet was noted for producing a spirit with a ‘pineapple’ note, evidence that the floral, estery character seen today has a long history – and one which broke with the heavy, dense, rich styles prevalent at that time.

  • Region
  • Production type
    Single malt
  • Distillery Status

The Glenlivet History

Although The Glenlivet is widely believed to be the oldest operational distillery in Scotland, it isn’t. That honour goes to Strathisla, while Glen Garioch could be even older. The Glenlivet was however one of the first to take out one of the new licences issued after the passing of the 1823 Excise Act which is accepted as being the starting point of the modern Scotch whisky industry.

George Smith was the man who did it. A farmer (which in those days in this region pretty much meant an illicit distiller), he had the ‘tack’ [rent] of the Upper Drumin farm in the southern part of Glen Livet. As it was his landlord, the Duke of Gordon, who had helped to push the Act through, there was little chance that Smith wouldn’t get a knock on the door from the Duke’s factors ‘persuading’ him to mend his ways.

Not that this was without danger. Whisky smuggling had been underway for almost 40 years by that time and the gangs were both well-established and relatively wealthy. Plenty of the new distilleries were razed to the ground. George Smith famously travelled with a pair of pistols in case he was attacked by his former colleagues.

His venture was a success and his Glenlivet whisky – conceivably made in a lighter style even at this stage – became popular. As the money came in, he took the tacks of Minmore and Nevie and with demand rising, built a second distillery at nearby Delnabo in 1850. His Edinburgh agent, Andrew Usher, then released ‘OVG’ [Old Vatted Glenlivet] initially as a vatted malt and then the first recognised blend. Smith’s Glenlivet was at the core of both.

Although the Drumin distillery burned down in 1858, and Delnabo (always suffering from water issues) closed the year after, Smith had started work on a new, larger plant at Minmore which opened in 1859 and still operates today.

‘Glenlivet’ had been used as a shorthand for what we now know as Speyside whiskies since the smuggling era. By the 1860s, the title was being appended to distilleries’ names as far north as Elgin, much to the irritation of the Smith family who had by then trademarked Glenlivet.

In 1881, George’s grandson, George Smith Grant, by then running the family firm, sued the companies who had added Glenlivet to their name. It took a further three years for a compromise resolution to be signed. This allowed the Smith’s distillery to call itself The Glenlivet, while the others could hyphenate their name with ‘-Glenlivet’. Over the years, 26 distilleries have styled themselves in this way although the practice now appears to have died out.

The Glenlivet was always available as single malt, but it wasn’t until after the Second World War that it began its rise. By then the firm was being run by Bill Smith Grant who saw the American market as offering new opportunities for the whisky, making it arguably the first single malt brand of the modern era. That said, even in the 1970s, 95% of its production was for fillings.

In 1952 it merged with Glen Grant, then that firm joined forces with blender Hill, Thompson & Co (owner of Queen Anne and Something Special) and the Longmorn/Benriach distilleries. In 1978, three years after Bill Smith Grant’s death, Seagram (owner of Chivas) paid £46 million for a controlling stake. Soon after, The Glenlivet became the largest selling single malt in America, a position it still holds today.

The mighty Seagram empire was divided up in 2001, with Pernod Ricard and Diageo dividing the spoils between them, with the former taking the Scotch division, renaming it Chivas Brothers. It was its new owner who, a decade later, unveiled a £10m investment which increased the distillery’s capacity by 75%. The aim is now to make The Glenlivet the world’s top selling single malt. Sales now top a million cases a year. When Bill Smith Grant started in the 1950s, it was less than 700 cases.

The distillery runs its own community, The Glenlivet Guardians. Membership includes access to a club room in the distillery and chances to assist in special bottlings. 


  • 1774 Andrew Smith begins distilling at Upper Drummin distillery
  • 1817 George Smith inherits the business from his father
  • 1840 George buys Delnabo farm
  • 1845 George leases the Minmore and Nevie farms
  • 1850 George builds a second distillery at nearby Delnabo
  • 1858 The Drummin distillery burns down; George Smith buys Minmore farm
  • 1859 Delnabo distillery closes; a new, larger distillery at Minmore opens called Glenlivet
  • 1871 George Smith dies and his son and grandson, John Gordon Smith and George Smith Grant, assume control
  • 1881 George Smith Grant sues other firms using the name 'Glenlivet'
  • 1884 George Smith Grant is given sole rights to use the name 'The Glenlivet'
  • 1890 A fire forces some of the buildings to be replaced
  • 1896 Two more stills are added
  • 1953 The Glenlivet merges with Glen Grant
  • 1966 The Glenlivet's floor maltings closes
  • 1970 The company merges with Longmorn-Glenlivet Distilleries and Hill Thomson &Co to form The Glenlivet Distilleries
  • 1978 The company is acquired by Seagram for £46m
  • 2001 Pernod Ricard acquires Seagram's Scotch division, Chivas Brothers
  • 2005 The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 Year Old is released in duty free
  • 2007 The Glenlivet XXV is released
  • 2009 Chivas Brothers invests £10m in increasing The Glenlivet's capacity by 75% to 10.5m litres per year
  • 2013 The Glenlivet Alpha is launched
  • 2014 The Nadurra range is extended with the launch of Nadurra First Fill Selection and Nadurra Oloroso
  • 2015 No-age-statement whisky The Glenlivet Founders' Reserve is released

The Glenlivet Facts

  • Capacity (mlpa) i
  • Condenser Type i
    Shell and tube
  • Fermentation Time i
  • Grist Weight (t) i
  • Heat Source i
    3 by steam heat exchanger, others by steam elements
  • Malt Specification i
    Less than 1ppm phenols
  • Malt Supplier i
  • Mash Tun Material i
  • Mash Tun Size i
    9.5m diameter
  • Mash Tun Type i
  • New-make Strength i
  • Spirit Still Charge (l) i
  • Spirit Still Shape i
    Traditional Speyside with lamp glass
  • Spirit Still Size (l) i
  • Stills i
    14 (7 wash, 7 spirit)
  • Wash Still Charge (l) i
  • Wash Still Shape i
    Traditional Speyside with lamp glass
  • Wash Still Size (l) i
  • Washback Size (l) i
  • Washback Type i
  • Washbacks i
  • Water Source i
    Josie's Well
  • Wort Clarity i
    8-20 EBC
  • Yeast Type i
    Mauri liquide


Parent company

Current owner

Previous owners


The Glenlivet Distillery
AB37 9DB
United Kingdom
+44 1340 821720
Visitor Opening Hours
9.30am to 5pm (Mar-Oct)
9.30am to 5pm (Mar-Oct)
9.30am to 4pm (Mar-Nov)
9.30am to 4pm (Mar-Nov)
9.30am to 4pm (Mar-Nov)
9.30am to 4pm (Mar-Nov)
Noon to 4pm (Mar-Nov)


See also

  • Aberlour Aberlour Aberlour Distillery & brand


    Part of Chivas Brothers' portfolio, Aberlour is best known for its cult expression, A'Bunadh.

  • Allt-a-Bhainne Allt-a-Bhainne Allt-a-Bhainne Distillery & brand


    Allt-a-Bhainne was built in 1975.

  • Braeval Braeval Braeval Distillery & brand


    The joint highest Scottish distillery.

  • Glen Keith Glen Keith Glen Keith Distillery & brand

    Glen Keith

    Experimental site with a fruity whisky.

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