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George Smith was born at Upper Drumin Farm on the Duke of Gordon’s Glenlivet Estate in 1792. Upon reaching adulthood he spent his time working as a joiner, building barns, mending fences and doing odd jobs on neighbouring farms. On the side, however, he dabbled in the art of distillation, one of many to do so in the hills around the Glen. As his experience grew, so did his reputation, soon becoming one of the most renowned distillers in the area.
Maybe Smith was blessed with a foresight his competitors lacked, or maybe he just had a nose for business but whatever the case, he was the first in the area to purchase a license following the Excise act of 1823. His Glenlivet distillery opened at Upper Drumin the following year but by 1850 he was forced to open a second premises at Delnabo. Within the decade however, the success of his product had outgrown both sites and he was forced to build an entirely new facility at Minmore in 1859. The Glenlivet malt has been produced on that site ever since.
The distillery remained in the family well into the new century and by the outbreak of war in 1914, John Smith Grant was all set to take over the business. Great-Grandson of founder George, John was tragically killed in France in 1917 when a bomb struck the operating theatre in which he was undergoing surgery for a wound picked up whilst serving with the Royal Flying Corps. Next in line to inherit the distillery was his younger brother William.
William too had signed up to play his part in the conflict. As a member of the 1st Gordon Highlanders he took part in the early skirmishes of the Battle of Arras, one of the bloodiest episodes of the whole war. Despite only just returning to active duty after recovering from an earlier wound, acting Captain Smith Grant led a raid against German lines in which he was wounded again. In spite of his injury, he continued to direct operations, bombed a hostile enemy machine gun and killed two of the enemy. According to the National Guardian he “set a splendid example throughout, and was largely responsible for the success of the raid.” Smith’s service ended in 1921. He returned to the Highlands a recipient of the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of a raiding party”.
Post-war, William (Bill) Smith Grant was tasked with guiding The Glenlivet through one of the toughest spells in its history as US Prohibition and the Great Depression squeezed the whisky industry to breaking point. Sales of blended Scotch plummeted and the blenders slashed orders that Highland distillers had come to rely on. Feeling huge responsibility for the 50 men he employed at Glenlivet, Bill took the bold decision to bottle his spirit as a single malt and when prohibition lifted he began to export it to the US. A partnership with the Pullman Company proved a huge success after they agreed to stock miniatures in their restaurant cars, helping the brand to develop something of a following among the businessmen who travelled aboard their trains.
The outbreak of the Second World War, however, meant a halt in production at the distillery and when peace returned, Bill simply didn’t have the stocks of aged spirit to supply the markets in America. The time for Single Malts would come later, of course, but massive credit must be given to Bill Smith Grant for ensuring the survival of the distillery throughout such tumultuous times.
The Glenlivet 18 year old is matured in a combination of first and second fill American Oak and ex-Sherry casks. Bottled at 43%, it retails for approximately £90.
Smell: Pear, peach and nectarine. Apple. Butterscotch. Caramel. Raisins. Floral – parma violets. Oak. Vanilla and Biscuit.
Taste: Honey. Caramel. Apple. Raisins. Cherry. Vanilla. Oatcakes. Gently warming wintery spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, clove… Dry oaky finish.
Thoughts: The ultimate question is, would I be willing to pay the best part of £100 to own a bottle of this 18 year old malt? The answer, sadly, is a rather emphatic no.
It shows promising viscosity on the sides of the glass but still comes across a little too lightweight on the palate for my tastes. Those who enjoy the delicate side of Scotch whisky may find something to love here. Having said that, I still enjoyed my little miniature. It was well balanced and the age showed through in little, subtle ways but it ultimately failed to deliver the kind of experience that would justify such an asking price. It all feels a little… gentle. And inoffensive. £90 is a lot of money to pay for gentle and inoffensive. A nice, light dram with a weighty price tag.
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