William M. Dowd photoIn the wooded hills above the Glenlivet factory complex in the Scottish Highlands, the view is of history and modernity blending as smoothly as the whisky produced by Scotland’s oldest licensed distillery.
On two marked trails, one used by distiller George Smith and one by smugglers of illicit whisky, I got a sense of the laborious work and persistence that has always gone into the making and distributing of the storied spirits of Scotland.
From enduring onerous taxes levied by the British crown to battles over operating illegal stills to internicine battles between rival smugglers and distillers has come today’s major industry that is second only to North Sea oil drilling as far as revenue is concerned.
The Glenlivet region, a valley in the Speyside area of Scotland, has for centuries been a leading producer of non-peated whiskies -- single malts and blends without that signature smoky taste of so many others.
At one time, most distillers in the region appended the name “Glenlivet” to their products. But, after King George IV became smitten with George Smith’s particular spirit and asked for some of “THE” Glenlivet whisky during a visit to the region in 1822, eventually the competition was forced to drop the appellation and Smith co-opted “The Glenlivet” as his own brand name.
To this day, even though the distillery moved to a larger facility just 500 yards or so away at one time, the same water source -- known as Josie’s Well -- and Scottish barley are used in the double-distilled process.
Today, the Glenlivet portfolio has grown under the ownership of the international corporation Pernod Ricard to include six whiskies -- the basic 12-year-old expression, a 15-year-old French oak reserve, the Nadurra (Celtic for “natural”) 16-year-old, as well as 18- and 21-year-old expressions and, for just the past eight months, the XXV, a 25-year-old. The Glenlivet Cellar Collection also has seven releases, with the 1972 expression the latest on the market.
I had the opportunity to take part in a tasting dinner, led by Glenlivet’s U.S. brand ambassador Ricky Crawford, at the Saratoga National Golf Course in Saratoga Springs, NY, at which we sampled the six whiskies.
Each sample, accompanied by various small plates created by Jason Saunders, executive chef of Prime, the restaurant at the club, was treated in the same manner, with a few drops of water added to break the surface tension, the chemical shell, of the whisky and allow it to release its full aroma and flavor profile.
Each of the whiskies starts out as the same basic creation. It is in the maturation process that the wonders of the whiskies are revealed. Older is not necessarily better; that is a matter of individual taste. But, older usually is more expensive simply because when a distiller ties up a product for a long time, money is not being made and the return on investment must be recouped at some point.
[Go here for my tasting notes on The Glenlivet portfolio.]
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