Many distilleries in Scotland boast lineages dating back centuries. There’s evidence of well organised spirit production stretching back into the 15th century and, although the official title of the first distillery is sometimes disputed, many of the brands we know today (Highland Park, Glenturret, Bowmore, to name a few) were established in the late 18th century.
However, private distilling was outlawed during this era and these now well-loved names were founded on the back of illegal practices.
As glad as we are so many brands made their start during the days of illicit disitlling, there’s an argument that can be made that the Scotch whisky industry as we recognise it today didn’t truly come into existence until 1824.
The story goes that King George IV was so impressed with the spirits he enjoyed on a trip to Scotland, particularly a certain George Smith’s ‘Glen Livet’, that he lowered taxes on distillation and introduced the Excise Act of 1823 to promote whisky production.
George Smith was the first beneficiary of this new law and became Scotland’s first licensed distiller in 1824. Over 160 distilleries were registered over the year, and thus an industry was born.
This means that here in 2024 the Scotch whisky industry and a number of distilleries will be celebrating their bicentennial anniversary. Of the 160+ distilleries that were licensed in 1824, only a handful remain. Below we’ll highlight these brands and their plans for the coming year.
As the first distillery to have earned a licence to distill, it’s fitting the Glenlivet were the first brand to release a special edition malt to commemorate their bicentenary. To honour the occasion, they have launched a limited edition 12 year old expression that has been matured exclusively in first fill American oak.
Glenlivet held a competition to design packaging for the release, with fans of the pioneering Speyside malt voting on the final artwork. The winning design pays tribute to the distillery’s enterprising founder George Smith and the 200 years of innovation that followed the distillery’s birth.
Promising notes of ripe pear, creamy vanilla and toasted almonds, the 200th anniversary edition is available to purchase now.
In addition to this release, the Pernod Ricard-owned brand promise “a line up of exciting events, experiences and innovations” throughout 2024.
Perhaps few distilleries have made as much of an impact over the past two hundred years as Macallan have. As one of the world’s foremost premium brands - whisky or otherwise -, it won’t be surprising to find out if Macallan have something big planned for the coming year.
So far their celebrations have been somewhat philosophical. Early in the year they launched their ‘200 Years Young’ campaign, which is a “celebration of time travel” and focuses on the “infinite space” between the past and the future. It might sound a bit like an existential crisis, but fear not - it’s a fitting and inventive tribute that honours the legacy of one of Speyside’s most iconic distilleries.
The campaign centres around the recently revealed range of logos feature the number 200 designed to resemble the symbol for infinity. Each variation ties into one of the following themes: Incomparable; Creativity; Craftsmanship; Legacy; and Sustainability. These themes tie in with Macallan’s 200 year history and will no doubt shape their future and continued success.
So far no whisky has been announced, but it would be safe to speculate that Macallan have something less spiritual and more spirit that’s drinkable up their sleeves for their anniversary.
Diageo’s Cardhu might not enjoy the same level of reverence as some of its Speyside neighbours, despite being among the best selling single malts in the world. Nevertheless, the distillery has played a significant part in Scotch whisky history. Notably it was the first distillery being acquired by Johnnie Walker and the distillery’s spirit remains an integral part of the blend’s recipe.
To celebrate its 200th year, Cardhu will run a number of exclusive experiences during the Spirit of Speyside Festival in May. These events will include guided tours of the distillery led by Distillery Manager Roselyn Burnett and will include a tasting of two Cardhu whiskies and a Johnnie Walker cocktail.
In terms of special releases, Cardhu have released a limited edition variation of their 12 Year Old malt that has been entirely matured in wine casks. This is currently available in central Europe, though there has been no confirmation if this whisky will be available elsewhere in the future.
AND THE REST?
There are a few other names that will also turn 200 in 2024, however at the time of writing there’s no news of any celebratory events or releases from these distilleries.
Fettercairn is the only distillery featured to not call Speyside its home. In recent years the Highland distillery has made headlines with their innovative sustainability efforts. For example,13,000 oak saplings were planted as part of their Scottish Oak Programme in 2020. These saplings will slowly grow into the Fettercairn Forest.
There’s something heartwarming and poetic in the fact that, as the distillery approaches its 200th anniversary, they are making changes that will last 200 years into the future. Nevertheless, there’s been no official announcement celebrating this or their anniversary. That being said, there’s a clear story to tell here. When you couple this with owner Whyte & Mackay’s recent renewed interest in the brand, don’t be surprised if this changes in the near future.
Like Glenlivet, Miltonduff is owned by Pernod Ricard, but unlike its illustrious stablemate there have been no announced plans to celebrate Miltonduff’s 200th year. Spirit from the distillery is a key contributor to a number of blends, particularly Ballantine’s. Consequently almost all of the Miltonduff you’ll find on your local whisky shop’s shelves will be independently bottled releases. Although we’re not ruling anything out, it’s hard to imagine a special bottle of Miltonduff being announced anytime soon.
Balmenach suffers in a similar way to Miltonduff, in that the distillery’s output is almost entirely destined for blending. Although independent releases are available, it’s been over two decades since an official single malt was released by the distillery. Additionally, despite its 200 year history as a single malt distillery, Balmenach is perhaps better known as the home of Caorunn gin. The longest odds for a bicentennial bottle are on Balmenach.
200 years is a spectacular landmark for any business and as each of these distilleries enter their bicentennial year, they serve as a reminder of Scotch whisky’s rich history. Of course, that’s not to say these distilleries have had an easy time of it; each has their own story to tell, with their own ups and downs along the way, making this accomplishment all the more impressive.
After 200 years, these distilleries (and those that are older) are symbols of continuity during uncertain times. And whether they’ll be celebrating their birthday or not, I’m sure we we’ll all agree it’s worth raising a glass to their past achievements and continued success. Here’s to another 200!