How Glenlivet became the original single malt

by North & South / 19 November, 2018

A moment to unwind over a dram is what great whisky is all about – and The Glenlivet is the one that started it all.

When today’s single malt drinkers take a warming sip of The Glenlivet, they’re partaking in a scotch with a proud and fiery history. From the whisky’s illicit beginnings to its first official distillery in 1824, excellence was an obsession for The Glenlivet founder George Smith – he was even willing to go to court to protect the integrity of his whisky.

Smith carefully selected the spring water in the region of Speyside to make what he believed was “The Whisky”. But when other Speyside producers began using the name Glenlivet, Smith won a court ruling that settled the matter. The case established The Glenlivet as a benchmark of excellence from the Livet Valley and, while other whiskies could use Glenlivet in their name, none could claim to be “The” Glenlivet.

Today, whisky is loved around the world, but attitudes towards spirits are changing, says The Glenlivet New Zealand Ambassador David Wallace. “It’s about quality,” he says. “People are conscious about what they are consuming, and they’re more concerned with quality brands that have a real story behind them.”

The source of the original single malt is celebrated at The Glenlivet Distillery in Scotland, where The Glenlivet Guardians’ Library was designed with whisky drinking in mind. Guardians and their guests are subtly pointed in the direction of a secret door. Inside, dram in hand, visitors enjoy an exclusive experience, immersed in the world of “the one” that started it all.

“The room is a wonderful reminder of The Glenlivet’s history,” says Jenna Collins, Guardian of The Glenlivet. “It’s a great place for reflection, relaxation and enjoyment of a dram.”

Indeed, one of the greatest pleasures of whisky is deciding who to drink it with and the right location for full appreciation. “In New Zealand, we’re not short on excellent venues to enjoy a dram,” says Wallace. “And getting together with friends to share a quiet drop is still one of the best ways to appreciate a good whisky.”

At home or abroad, the tasting notes of The Glenlivet range offer both the whisky buff and the whisky beginner an exploration in flavour and heritage.

The Glenlivet 15-Year-Old gets its distinctive rich and exotic character from a process of selective maturation, in which a proportion of the spirit is matured in French oak casks. The Glenlivet was one of the first to use French oak for making whisky.

For those looking for a mature whisky to share with fellow whisky fans, The Glenlivet 18-Year-Old was crafted to impress and has won more awards than any other expression. Over the course of 18 years, Master Distiller Alan Winchester takes this expression through a combination of cask types, including both first and second-fill American oak for tropical fruitiness; and ex-sherry oak for spicy complexity. The result is a complex yet elegant and balanced single malt. 

Nàdurra, meaning “natural” in Gaelic, is The Glenlivet’s range of small-batch expressions made using traditional 19th-century techniques. The Nàdurra First-Fill is drawn from casks made of American white oak that haven’t been previously used to mature scotch whisky. These oak casks impart hints of creamy vanilla to the wonderfully rich single malt. It’s an expression that will appeal to the intrepid whisky lover.

The Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso is matured in first-fill Oloroso sherry oak casks from the Spanish region of Jerez. The sherry-soaked wood introduces the rich, sultry flavours of dried fruit and warm spice. Nàdurra Oloroso is bottled and released in small batches, and, unlike most modern whiskies, is non-chill filtered so has all the body you would expect from a whisky that has been drawn straight from the cask.

In a nod to the one that started it all, The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve is created using the time-honoured distillation introduced by George Smith himself. Made with water from the same mountain streams, The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve is as smooth and fruity as the whisky that first ran from the original copper pot stills.

5 top places in New Zealand to enjoy whisky

The Jefferson, Auckland
This underground speakeasy is Auckland’s biggest whisky bar, with over 600 to choose from. It’s a must for any whisky fan.

Coley & Punch, Auckland
Named in honour of famous London bartender Ada Coleman, Coley & Punch boasts great cocktails and a collection of more than 300 whiskies.

Bardeaux, Queenstown
A haven for those looking for a great night out with friends, at Bardeaux, you can warm up with a whisky by the fire in Queenstown’s most cosy bar.

Hawthorn Lounge, Wellington
The Hawthorn Lounge on Tory Street is an intimate venue with a selection of excellent whiskies. The friendly and knowledgeable staff will be sure to help you find a dram to your liking.

Whisky Galore, Christchurch
It’s not exactly a bar, but Whisky Galore has one of the best selections of whisky in New Zealand and an incredibly knowledgeable team who will offer you a taster as you shop.

For more information, visit

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