Bottle #59: The Glenlivet

Bottle #59 is The Glenlivet, and it’s the first bottle of Single Malt Scotch that I’ve discovered in Grandma’s collection so far. Which makes sense, because especially in the time period when she was collecting, blended Scotch whisky was much more popular than single malts. This is still broadly true today – blended whisky still dominates sales – but single malts fans make a lot of noise and get noticed more!

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If you’re not sure what all these terms mean – blended, single, malt – go check out this bit of Tasting Video #3, where my guest Neill Murphy explains all of them in his absolutely charming Scottish accent. But, in a nutshell, malt whisky is the flavorful stuff made from all malted barley, grain whisky includes other grains and is less flavorful, and blended whisky combines the two. A single malt is malt whisky from a single distillery, and in my case, it’s a 12-year-old single malt from The Glenlivet.

Yes, that’s “The” Glenlivet. Today many single malts style themselves as “The” but Glenlivet was the first. To understand all the gritty details of how that came to be, I highly recommend that you go read Gallie MacOmish’s amazing article about it on Dramface. The short version is that Glenlivet was first used in the early 1800s to describe highly sought after (and illegal) whiskey from a certain region in the Scottish Highlands. When Scotland eventually provided a path to legalization for the many illicit distillers in the area, a distiller named George Smith was the first to get officially licensed, and claimed the Glenlivet name for his product.

His whisky became quite renowned, and as the neighboring distillers also got licensed, they wanted to capture some of that fame for themselves. So they began appending the word Glenlivet to their whiskies as well. Eventually, in the 1870s, Smith’s descendants took the issue to court, and it was ruled that only they could call their whisky “The” Glenlivet. The practice of appending the word Glenlivet to other whiskies lived on into the 1980s, but eventually died out.

Speaking of the 1980s, that’s when this bottle comes from, and it was a really important – and unfortunate – time in the history of Scotch whisky. As I talked about in Bottle #4, Black Bottle Scotch, the post-World War II decades of the 1950s to 1970s were a boom time for Scotch exports. It’s during this period that the first single malts start to really get promoted as their own thing, rather than just sold to others for blending, and this included The Glenlivet. Which, incidentally, was purchased by the ubiquitous Seagram’s in 1977 when they beat out a bid from the company behind Bottle #55: Suntory Royal.

With that period of rapid expansion came a corresponding expansion of production, which in the 1980s quickly became overproduction, leading to what is called the Whisky Loch. (That’s “lake” for those of us who don’t speak Scottish.) The 1980s brought economic recession and a focus on white spirits like vodka and tequila, and different types of fruity schnapps that were mixed into drinks like the Sex on a Beach. There was no room for stuffy old Scotch whisky in that landscape, and between 1983 and 1985 twenty Scotch distilleries closed.

And that’s most likely the time period my bottle comes from, based on its label. One could hope that means it will be especially tasty, since The Glenlivet presumably had plenty of supply to draw from. It’s a  full glass bottle, so I’m looking forward to trying it. As for The Glenlivet, not only did they make it through the Whisky Loch and out the other side into what some call the “3rd Golden Era” of Scotch, they are currently one of the bestselling brands of Scotch in the world. Which should hopefully continue to serve them well, if predictions of another whisky loch on the horizon come true!

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Bottle #59: The Glenlivet

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Bottle #59 is The Glenlivet, and it’s the first bottle of Single Malt Scotch that I’ve discovered in Grandma’s collection so far. Which makes sense, because especially in the time period when she was collecting, blended Scotch whisky was much more popular than single malts. This is still broadly true today – blended whisky still dominates sales – but single malts fans make a lot of noise and get noticed more!

If you’re not sure what all these terms mean – blended, single, malt – go check out this bit of Tasting Video #3, where my guest Neill Murphy explains all of them in his absolutely charming Scottish accent. But, in a nutshell, malt whisky is the flavorful stuff made from all malted barley, grain whisky includes other grains and is less flavorful, and blended whisky combines the two. A single malt is malt whisky from a single distillery, and in my case, it’s a 12-year-old single malt from The Glenlivet.

Yes, that’s “The” Glenlivet. Today many single malts style themselves as “The” but Glenlivet was the first. To understand all the gritty details of how that came to be, I highly recommend that you go read Gallie MacOmish’s amazing article about it on Dramface. The short version is that Glenlivet was first used in the early 1800s to describe highly sought after (and illegal) whiskey from a certain region in the Scottish Highlands. When Scotland eventually provided a path to legalization for the many illicit distillers in the area, a distiller named George Smith was the first to get officially licensed, and claimed the Glenlivet name for his product.

His whisky became quite renowned, and as the neighboring distillers also got licensed, they wanted to capture some of that fame for themselves. So they began appending the word Glenlivet to their whiskies as well. Eventually, in the 1870s, Smith’s descendants took the issue to court, and it was ruled that only they could call their whisky “The” Glenlivet. The practice of appending the word Glenlivet to other whiskies lived on into the 1980s, but eventually died out.

Speaking of the 1980s, that’s when this bottle comes from, and it was a really important – and unfortunate – time in the history of Scotch whisky. As I talked about in Bottle #4, Black Bottle Scotch, the post-World War II decades of the 1950s to 1970s were a boom time for Scotch exports. It’s during this period that the first single malts start to really get promoted as their own thing, rather than just sold to others for blending, and this included The Glenlivet. Which, incidentally, was purchased by the ubiquitous Seagram’s in 1977 when they beat out a bid from the company behind Bottle #55: Suntory Royal.

With that period of rapid expansion came a corresponding expansion of production, which in the 1980s quickly became overproduction, leading to what is called the Whisky Loch. (That’s “lake” for those of us who don’t speak Scottish.) The 1980s brought economic recession and a focus on white spirits like vodka and tequila, and different types of fruity schnapps that were mixed into drinks like the Sex on a Beach. There was no room for stuffy old Scotch whisky in that landscape, and between 1983 and 1985 twenty Scotch distilleries closed.

And that’s most likely the time period my bottle comes from, based on its label. One could hope that means it will be especially tasty, since The Glenlivet presumably had plenty of supply to draw from. It’s a  full glass bottle, so I’m looking forward to trying it. As for The Glenlivet, not only did they make it through the Whisky Loch and out the other side into what some call the “3rd Golden Era” of Scotch, they are currently one of the bestselling brands of Scotch in the world. Which should hopefully continue to serve them well, if predictions of another whisky loch on the horizon come true!

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