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Glenlivet vs Macallan: Scotch Whisky Showdown (2024)

Glenlivet vs Macallan

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, Glenlivet vs Macallan?

Bottles of Macallan and 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 [1].

Macallan vs Glenlivet Whisky Cheat Sheet

AspectGlenlivetMacallan
LocationSpeyside region Speyside region 
Core RangeGlenlivet 12, 15, 18, 21, 25, 50, and Nàdurra Sherry Oak, Double Cask, Triple Cask, Fine Oak, and Rare Cask Lines
Price RangeAround $40-300 (except premium releases) Around $60-2000 (except premium releases)
Alcohol Content40% to 65% ABV40% to 57% ABV
Ideal OccasionCasual drinking or gathering Special celebrations and occasions
How To DrinkNeat, with water or ice, and cocktailsNeat, with water or ice, and cocktails
Similar ToGlenmorangie and GlenfiddichGlenDronach and Benriach
Star Rating★★★★☆★★★★☆

Glenlivet Whisky

The Glenlivet 12 YO

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.

Fun Facts:

  • 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

Bottle of Macallan 12 Years Old

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. 

Fun Facts:

  • 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. 

Key Differences

History

Glenlivet has a longer history than Macallan in Scotland. Many whisky enthusiasts considered it the beginning of Single Malt whisky production. [2]

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.

Also Read:

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

Hand Holding Bottle of Macallan

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 [3].

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).

Flavor Profile

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. 

Peatiness

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.

Brand Reputation

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.

Distillery Tours

Bottle of Glenlivet

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.

Special Releases

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 [4]

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. 

FAQs Related to Glenlivet vs Macallan

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.

Can I use Glenlivet and Macallan interchangeably in cocktails?

While both whiskies can be used in cocktails, their distinct flavor profiles may affect the taste of the final drink. Glenlivet’s lighter and fruitier notes may complement certain cocktails, while Macallan’s richer and more intense flavors may stand out in others. Experimentation is key to finding the perfect match for your cocktail preferences.

Where are Glenlivet and Macallan produced?

Glenlivet is produced at The Glenlivet Distillery in Ballindalloch, Speyside, Scotland, while Macallan is produced at The Macallan Distillery in Craigellachie, Speyside, Scotland. Both distilleries are situated in the heart of Scotland’s whisky-producing region, renowned for its pristine water sources and ideal climate for whisky maturation.

What are the signature characteristics of Glenlivet?

Glenlivet is known for its floral and fruity notes, such as apple, pear, and citrus, along with a touch of sweetness and a smooth, easy-drinking finish.

What are the signature characteristics of Macallan?

Macallan is characterized by its rich, full-bodied flavors, often with notes of dried fruits, spices, oak, and a prominent sherry influence. It tends to have a more complex and intense flavor profile compared to Glenlivet.

Bottom Line

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. 

References:

  1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/463864/us-leading-brands-of-scotch-whisky/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/joemicallef/2018/04/05/liquor-library-101-5-best-value-scotch-whiskies/
  3. https://robbreport.com/food-drink/spirits/scotch-whiskys-new-rules-could-change-the-future-of-barrel-aging-2870985/
  4. https://www.foodandwine.com/news/macallan-81-year-old-scotch-oldest-ever-reach
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