George Smith began distilling above the River Livet in the 1820s, in a picturesque spot that looks north towards Ben Rinnes and Cardhu. However, he didn’t choose the location for its views. Hidden far from civilisation, the Livet valley was the ideal place to build an illicit distillery and it was there that the young George Smith honed his craft. So begins the journey of The Glenlivet, a story of fruity single malt, bold decisions and flintlock pistols.
Being in such a remote location, meant that Smith could distil slowly, with little chance of interruption by the excise man. As a result, he was able to create a soft, fruity style of whisky that quickly earned widespread renown. So much so that in 1822, on a state visit to Scotland, King George IV asked to try a dram of the infamous Glenlivet whisky.
In 1824, a change in legislation led George to ride to Elgin and procure a license to become the first legal distiller in the parish of Glenlivet – a decision that proved wildly unpopular with the illicit distillers of the area. Threats of burning down the distillery with George inside flooded in, but he steadfastly stood his ground and carried a pair of pistols to back up his resolve.
After the death of George Smith in November 1871, the distillery passed to his youngest son, John Gordon Smith. Away from home and training to be a lawyer, John returned home after learning of his father’s death to pick up the reins of the family business. At this time, it was common for John’s competitors to add ‘Glenlivet’ to their distillery names in an effort to capitalise on the reputation of the original. In 1884, John put a stop to this practice when he secured the legal right to use three crucial letters. After years of fighting, he was able to call his fathers legacy The Glenlivet.
The distillery remained in the same family until the death of Bill Smith Grant in 1975. Drinks giant Seagram took a controlling steak in the distillery which lasted until 2001, when the company was divided up and its Scotch whisky division taken over by Pernod Ricard.
Today, The Glenlivet continues to create innovative and inspiring single malts that continue George Smith’s pioneering vision. Equally at home in a tasting glass or a cocktail shaker, The Glenlivet retains all the charm and elegance that put it on the map two centuries ago.