Tucked away in an unassuming glen on the outskirts of the Cairngorms National Park lies one of Scotland’s largest distilleries and now also one of the nation’s most impressive whisky attractions. Home to an indoor barley field, distillery-exclusive bottles and whisky cocktail pods, The Glenlivet’s new visitor centre combines innovation and history in its new experience and is undoubtedly a welcome addition to the vibrant Speyside whisky scene.
A warm welcome
Stepping into the lobby is like being welcomed to the living room of a stylish and sophisticated friend. Visitors are greeted at an open reception table situated beneath a chandelier made with local dried flowers, amidst an open retail space with wooden details. The autumnal colours and warm lighting succeed in creating a luxurious and professional, yet relaxed atmosphere, and the staff are clearly very excited and proud to show guests what has changed.
The new centre opened earlier this year after more than 12 months of extensive refurbishment. The Glenlivet has partnered with various craftsmen across the UK to help bring the experience to life with details inspired by Scottish foliage and nature, as well as the rich history of the distillery and surrounding area. A new range of immersive experiences has also been introduced, all of which offer something to both those who are curious and new to whisky, and also more experienced enthusiasts.
Miriam Eceolaza, director of The Glenlivet, said: “It’s a true immersion into the iconic Speyside region: walking guests through our stunning indoor field of local barley, tasting from our old and rare archives, experimenting with our famous cocktail capsules and taking a unique piece of Speyside home with our straight-from-the-cask personalised bottling; from the decor and design, to ambience and atmosphere, guests will witness something truly original at every turn.”
For those hoping to taste the distillery’s range, there is now a bar and the retail area holds both the core-range expressions and also rare, limited offerings. In the midst of this, visitors will also find the opportunity to hand-fill their own bottle – in fact, as part of the reopening celebration the first 100 bottles of each hand-fill edition will be signed by master distiller Alan Winchester. These cask-strength, hand-fill offerings mirror the core range in age with the 12-, 15- and 18-year-old whiskies priced at £50, £70 and £125 respectively. The fill-your-own experience is hands on, but the lever-controlled system makes it foolproof to prevent one from ‘accidentally’ overfilling the 70cl bottles.
The new experience portfolio consists of The Original tour, which for £15 entails both a guided tour around the distillery as well as a tasting of the core 12, 15 and 18 Years Old expressions, whilst the remaining options include only a tutored tasting.
Touring the facility
The tour begins downstairs from the retail area in a space where a portrait of founder George Smith, along with his successors, hangs opposite a wall decorated with whisky bottles, displaying the the development of The Glenlivet’s bottle design. One of the many details nodding towards the distillery’s rich history and sense of identity is how the title font has remained the same throughout the ages, although the label itself has varied a fair bit. The distillery’s history is fascinating, featuring illicit distilling, King George IV, death threats and Prohibition – all twists and turns which have led the brand to where it is today.
Following this introduction, it is time to enter the pièce de la résistance of the tour: the indoor barley field. The next room is filled with barley stalks that have been harvested and preserved at one of the local Scottish farms which supplies The Glenlivet. The scent of barley that lingers in the air is a welcome addition that awakens the senses. After a little wander through this small-scale field, visitors will stop by various screens that introduce the surrounding area and the people that work behind the brand. Cinematic footage creates a powerful connection with the hardworking coopers and local farmers, as well as the distillery team as they describe their respective crafts.
Visitors next move on to a room that covers the whisky-making process, from malting to maturation. It is definitely a suitable place to learn more about fermentation since this ‘room’ is actually an old Douglas fir wash back. In the ceiling above, each of the production steps have accompanying footage that individually showcase the process more clearly. The screens are seamlessly controlled by an electronic pad held by the tour guide. It is worth mentioning that, as with many other distilleries around Scotland, The Glenlivet currently does not allow tour access to its production areas. This is due to the current situation in the world with coronavirus, to ensure the safety of its production team. Hopefully this will be able to change in the coming months and allow visitors to safely see the stunning still room which overlooks the valley.
Ultimately, the tasting awaits in an atmospheric dark room adorned with copper details which give off an impression of ‘modern steampunk’ at first glance. During the tasting, visitors get the opportunity to learn more about the first-fill casks that The Glenlivet uses for many of its expressions and to compare the different age statements’ flavours. If these three drams don’t quench the thirst, a wider variety is available at the cosy bar.
Bottles on display
Following the tour, there are still plenty of things for visitors to entertain themselves with, be it having a closer look at the renowned pistols in the lounge area (given to George Smith after he legalised his distillery in 1824), or going for a stroll to the nearby Packhorse Bridge for a photo opportunity – when the weather allows it, of course.
If visitors prefer to only do a tasting, the Single Casks experience gives guests the chance try four whiskies from the Distillery Reserve Collection. For those more interested in a tutored tasting of The Glenlivet’s oldest and rarest whiskies, including expressions such as The Glenlivet Cellar Collection 30 Years Old, there is The Archive experience. This tasting is also the one for those who didn’t have the opportunity to sample the now-renowned Capsule Collection, which went viral at the London Cocktail Week in 2019 and caused something of an online sensation. These capsules, which previously bore an unfortunate resemblance to laundry detergent pods due to their square shape, have now been refined further to enhance a different way of enjoying a whisky cocktail. The pods (now spherical) contain a lower ABV than the 2019 version as a result of the feedback from the London cocktail event. An innovative way to enjoy whisky, now restrictions are lifting it is perhaps time for whisky drinkers to gather their social pods and go try the whisky pods. If visitors prefer their whisky neat or in a cocktail, the bar also offers other, more traditional, options.
Tasting at the distillery
It is clear that this is a distillery that wants to position itself at the forefront of originality and to play a part in defining the future of single malt whisky. The Glenlivet certainly has managed to create an enjoyable experience that tastefully reflects the area, as well as to encapsulate the distillery’s innovative soul. The pronounced focus on the people behind the whisky is a welcome inclusion that brings the experience to life. This and the engaging history surrounding The Glenlivet help set this visitor centre apart from other experiences in the Speyside whisky ‘Mecca.’
Enjoying The Glenlivet"s whiskies in the comfort of the barPhoto credit: The Glenlivet