It all starts with Scottish barley. Our skilled maltsters soak the rich grain in water for several days. Once the shoots emerge or germinate, we heat and dry the barley; which has now become ‘malt’. Our unique malting process means we refrain from using peat during the drying process. This ensures all the natural flavours and aromas of the barley are retained.
Once the dried malt arrives at our distillery, we run it through our traditional mill in small batches, grinding it into a course flour called ‘grist’. The barley husks then spilt open to release the starch granules inside.
Using natural spring water from Josie’s Well, located on the hill outside the distillery, we mash the grist and water together in a ‘mash tun’. This impressive machine will slowly stir the mixture with powerful, rotating arms to produce the maximum amount of sugar and starch possible. Inside, the enzymes developed during the malting process convert the starch into sugar, producing a clear, syrupy liquid known as ‘wort’.
We transfer the wort into large vessels called ‘washbacks’. Most distilleries use stainless steel, but we prefer Oregon pine which infuses the mixture with natural aromas. Next, we cool the wort and add yeast which converts the sugars into alcohol and flavour-imparting impurities including ‘esters’ which help to give our whiskies their natural fruitiness. After two days to settle within the washbacks, the wort becomes ‘wash’, a frothy beer-like solution with a strength of 8-9%.
Our copper pot stills are unlike any other. Their unique lantern shape remains unchanged for generations, and you’ll only find them at our Speyside distillery. Our stills are incredibly tall to ensure only the lightest vapours reach the top, resulting in our delicate but complex spirit. The slender width of their necks encourages maximum contact with the purifying copper for the perfect balance of flavour. Our stills come in pairs; one wash still and one spirit still. Within the wash still, we heat the wash until the alcohol evaporates. As the vapours reach their summit, they cool, condense and become ‘low wines’ with a strength of 20-22%. Then, we distil the low wines in the spirit still. Our skilled stillmen ‘cut’ the liquid, separating it into three parts: the head, the heart and the tail. The head is the high alcohol liquid that flows from the stills first. The heart is the most desirable portion of the liquid, followed by the tails which contain too much water for maturation. We recycle the heads and tails, leaving the heart of the whisky to continue onto its final stage.
Following on from our founder, The Glenlivet is made unhurried as time and care create the highest quality single malts. That’s why our whiskies mature for up to 25 years and in some cases, even longer, developing that unmistakable sweet fruity flavour. By using carefully selected casks made from European oak and American oak, each malt takes on its own unique characteristics. As our whisky gently matures, it ever-so-slowly evaporates. These invisible vapour trails are known as the “angels’ share”. Sadly, it means that thousands of gallons are lost annually – but so long as the whisky gods get a taste of The Glenlivet, it’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make.