Slideshow: Behind the Scenes at The Glenlivet Distillery in Scotland

A Humble Beginning
A Humble Beginning
This stone pillar marks the site of The Glenlivet’s original distillery, circa 1824; it was nestled lower in the valley to more easily obtain hard well water.
All Grown Up
All Grown Up
Now, thanks to modern day technology’s aid in procuring water, the distillery has relocated and looks down on the rolling slopes. P.S.: Those tiny white specks are sheep!
The Grains
The Grains
On with the show then, shall we? We begin with an examination of the grains. The Glenlivet, like most distilleries in the area, purchases locally-sourced barley that’s already malted. We popped a few grains of malted barley, and fast became addicted to its satisfyingly crunchy, slightly sweet taste.
The Mash Tun
The Mash Tun
Hot spring water gets added to the grist to in four batches to coax the sugars out. The first two batches of water move along to fermentation, and the last two are reused in a nice distillery version of the circle of life.

Tumbler rakes stir the mash around frequently. The Glenlivet produces a clear wort, which results in a cleaner, fruitier spirit. A cloudier wort would yield nuttier flavor.

Modern Day Renovations
Modern Day Renovations
The Glenlivet’s new distillery was opened in 2010, and increased the distilling capacity by 75%. Here, we see the floor of the still room en route to spic and span.

Another modern-day convenience: Computers, overlooking the stills, help the distillery workers monitor the process. The result: a more consistent spirit.

Fermentation in the Washbacks
Fermentation in the Washbacks
Once the wort is cooled enough that it won’t kill the yeast (around 16-19 degrees Celsius), it’s time to add the yeast and begin the fermentation process, which takes about 48 hours. This room’s filled with 16 washbacks, each working on fermentation batches staggered three hours apart. The Glenlivet uses wooden washbacks for fermentation. While they’re much harder to scrub clean than modern stainless steel washbacks with bells and whistles like fans and vents, one of the reasons the wooden ones are preferred is because the lactic acid builds up and adds character to the final product.
Wash Stills, Spirit Stills, and the Spirit Safe
Wash Stills, Spirit Stills, and the Spirit Safe
After the spirit goes through the wash still, it’s still got a pretty low alcohol content, hence the name of the favorable product: low wines. The low wines then distill a second time in the spirit still, and with the help of the spirit safe, divide into strains. The strongest bit, which comes off first, is called the heads or the foreshots. The heart comes next, and is what makes our final malt whisky. Finally, at the end come the tails.
All Locked Up
All Locked Up
The spirit safe locks are left over from the strict lockdown policies all whisky distilleries had back in the day, when it was required by law for a government official to strictly monitor the process. The locks still remain, ensuring everything’s accounted for and everyone’s water bottles are only filled with water.
The Sma’ Still
The Sma’ Still
This little guy mimics how the smugglers used to make whisky. It's the 15th and final pot still licensed by The Glenlivet. As far as spike goes, this stuff is pretty potent. (Spike is the nickname for the unaged, straight-from-still spirit.)
Maturation
Maturation
The spirit must age for at least three years to be considered Scotch. The youngest whisky at The Glenlivet is the 12 year old, which is aged at least 12 years.

We tried a dram straight from a 1979 cask—the good stuff, yessiree.