Last Updated on October 16, 2023 by Lydia Martin
For those new to Scotch whisky, I always recommend starting with Speyside Single Malt Scotch. Among the various distilleries present in that region, Glenlivet and Macallan are two Scotch giants credited for popularizing Single Malt production worldwide.
They have distinct flavors and processing methods, and while Glenlivet has more affordable expressions, is it really better than Macallan?
Here is the comprehensive Glenlivet vs Macallan comparison you shouldn’t miss out on.
Which Is Better, Macallan or Glenlivet?
Glenlivet is a better choice for a bright, citrusy, and clean Scotch, while Macallan would be an excellent choice for a richer and more complex flavor profile.
The special releases from Macallan and Glenlivet are among the most expensive whiskies ever sold, but Glenlivet has more affordable offerings than Macallan.
“Whoever said laughter is the best medicine had clearly never tasted Scotch.” – Anne Taintor, Artist
The youngest offering for Glenlivet and Macallan is around ten years old, but Macallan offers an older Scotch at 81 years old.
As for sales, Glenlivet recorded approximately 527 million 9-liter cases in the United States, significantly more than Macallan’s 230 million 9-liter cases .
Macallan vs Glenlivet Whisky Cheat Sheet
|Location||Speyside region||Speyside region|
|Core Range||Glenlivet 12, 15, 18, 21, 25, 50, and Nàdurra||Sherry Oak, Double Cask, Triple Cask, Fine Oak, and Rare Cask Lines|
|Price Range||Around $40-300 (except premium releases)||Around $60-2000 (except premium releases)|
|Alcohol Content||40% to 65% ABV||40% to 57% ABV|
|Ideal Occasion||Casual drinking or gathering||Special celebrations and occasions|
|How To Drink||Neat, with water or ice, and cocktails||Neat, with water or ice, and cocktails|
|Similar To||Glenmorangie and Glenfiddich||GlenDronach and Benriach|
Nose: Toasted cereal, pear, caramel, honey and other delicate floral notes
Palate: Glenlivet 12 has a sweet vanilla, caramel, citrus, pear, almond, and silky smooth texture
Finish: Clean and crisp finish with lingering sweetness and vanilla and honey notes
Our First Sip: Glenlivet 12 has a smooth entry to the palate, with dominating flavors of dried fruit, toasted cereal, and vanilla. It was a pleasant first sip without the overwhelming heat, spice, and smoke.
Final Taste: For the second sip, Glenlivet 12 stood out for me for being an approachable whisky without being a peat monster. It has a caramel coloring and is an excellent alcohol choice for cocktails.
- It is the “single malt that started it all,” credited with popularizing Scotch whisky in the 19th century.
- It is the best-selling Single Malt Scotch in the US.
- It started in 1822, even before the legal distilling licenses were allowed.
- Royal like King George IV and famous writer Charles Dickens were fans of this Scotch.
Macallan Scotch Whisky
Nose: Macallan 12 has a pleasantly sweet honey aroma with sherry, oak, vanilla, and dried fruit scents
Palate: It delivers a rich vanilla flavor with honey, spice, orange zest, and apricot
Finish: Medium, with dried malty aftertaste
Our First Sip: My first sip of this Macallan 12 leads to coating warmth around the palate with dried fruits, honey, and vanilla hints. There is smoke, but it is not overwhelming.
Final Taste: For the second sip, I would say that Macallan 12 has rich flavors but is not too sweet. I recommend this drink for cocktails or as a casual sipper. But it does not stand out so much among other brands.
- Roderick Kemp, a former owner of Macallan, is rumored still to walk the grounds of Macallan Distillery Easter Elchies.
- Kemp took over ownership in 1892 and was the one to introduce the Spanish oak casks (sherry-seasoned oak casks).
- Macallan is renowned for its commitment to aging whisky in sherry-seasoned oak casks, contributing to its distinctive flavor.
- Macallan is the flag bearer for producing some of the most expensive Single Malts in the world.
Although both distilleries obtained their licenses in 1824, Glenlivet was already appreciated by Scottish and British locals and royal families for its spirits even before.
George Smith founded Glenlivet, while Alexander Reid founded Macallan.
Distillation & Production
The two spirits are also set apart by their distillation and production process. Macallan uses the smallest stills in Speyside, allowing more interaction between the distillate and the copper walls.
Meanwhile, Glenlivet uses lantern-shaped stills and chill filtration, ensuring the purity of the alcohol before maturation.
Since both spirits have unique processes resulting in different flavors, we consider giving points for both.
Mashbills & Fermentation
Both products used 100% malted barley during production. Macallan is famous for using Golden Promise barley, contributing 25% of its mash bill, resulting in its products’ oily, creamy, and bold character.
On the other hand, Glenlivet avoids peat during the malting to achieve a natural aroma and taste of the alcohol.
Macallan uses stainless steel washbacks during fermentation, typical of the Scottish distilleries, while Glenlivet uses Oregon wood pine washbacks.
Age Statements & Maturation
Aside from using water and malted barley, there are also other requirements to be called a “Scotch.” The alcohol has to be aged and distilled in Scotland for at least three years in oak casks based on Scotch whisky regulations .
Macallan uses American and Spanish oak (Sherry-seasoned casks) with age statements ranging from 10 years (Fine Oak Casks) to 81 years (Macallan Reach).
Meanwhile, Glenlivet has expressions aged using white American oak casks, virgin American oak, and ex-sherry casks. It also has a 10-year-old expression (Speyside Scotch whiskies) and an 80-year-old (Old Generations Gordon & MacPhail).
With all the Scotch production processes mentioned above, it should be clear now that Glenlivet and Macallan have distinct flavor profiles.
Glenlivet leans towards lighter hints with flavors like vanilla, fresh flowers, and fruity notes. It is suitable to pair with salmon and scallops or an apple tart/apple pie dessert.
However, Macallan has more concentrated and complex flavors. Some noticeable flavors are butterscotch, sherry cream, extra spice, and nutty character. It pairs well with pork, roasted vegetables, creme brulee, and spice cakes.
Unlike other brands, both distilleries produce Scotch whiskies that do not have heavy peatiness. However, Macallan would be your ultimate choice if you want a Scotch with peated characteristics.
Macallan uses peat-smoked barley, contributing to its smoky flavors. But it is not a peat monster, so it’s still an approachable introductory Scotch.
For Glenlivet it offers Nàdurra Peated Whisky, where the alcohol is finished in oak casks that are used for heavily peated Scotch. The distillery avoids using peat for the rest of its products, resulting in a more natural barley flavor, making it more approachable for beginners.
Glenlivet and Macallan are two spirits from the Speyside region in Scotland that started in 1824. But although both distilleries started in the same year, we can say that Glenlivet won this category because it had already established its name before its legalization.
Glenlivet is also recognized by Single Malt Scotch enthusiasts as the best-selling brand in the United States, often compared to Glenfiddich — another Speyside distillery.
Glenlivet and Macallan offer distillery tours in Scotland, allowing visitors to explore their rich histories and whisky-making processes. The choice might come down to your preferred destination in Speyside.
Glenlivet has an incredible tour featuring its rich history and production process. My favorite part is the cozy tasting room, letting you have three generous drams.
However, I especially like the lunch at Macallan Distillery, which I consider one of my most incredible experiences with distillery tours. The Macallan Reflections Event is highly recommended for Scotch enthusiasts.
Now, if we talk about special releases, many whisky fans would agree that Macallan’s special releases are among the most expensive Speyside whisky ever.
Macallan’s recent special bottle is the 81-year-old Highland Single Malt, priced at around $125,000 .
Glenlivet also offers some of the most expensive whiskies, like the Gordon & MacPhail 80-year-old, priced approximately $145,000 to $200,000.
Ownership, Price Point & Value
Glenlivet is part of the Pernod Ricard group, often offering a more affordable entry point into Scotch whisky. Meanwhile, the Edrington Group owns Macallan whiskies, offering a premium price for its prestigious expressions.
“Glenlivet gets a nod for pioneering, but Macallan’s commitment to tradition is remarkable.” – Liquor Laboratory
Older expressions from both brands tend to have the same price range, but Macallan prices are higher for younger expressions.
Is Glenlivet top shelf?
Yes, Glenlivet is a top-shelf brand. However, it offers expressions with an affordable price range compared to other premium brands.
Which is smoother, Macallan or Glenlivet?
Glenlivet is considered to be smoother than Macallan by many Single Malt enthusiasts. But some people also believe that Macallan offers smoother expressions than Glenlivet.
For their top-selling expressions, Glenlivet 12 is smoother with a cleaner taste than Macallan 12.
For history and sales records, Glenlivet is a better brand than Macallan and has the reputation of starting the Single Malt whisky industry.
Glenlivet is an excellent choice for those who appreciate a lighter, fruit-forward whisky that’s budget-friendly. On the other hand, Macallan caters to those seeking a richer, sherry-influenced flavor profile and are willing to invest a bit more.
If you are looking for an affordable casual sipper, go for Glenlivet since Macallan is known for its higher prices, even for the same-age statements.
Glenlivet 12 and Macallan 12 are excellent single-malt Scotch whisky choices from Scotland and are among the top sellers for both brands.