Which is the best glen?

 Close? Campbell? Livet? Fiddich? 

It’s an intense debate that dominates every breakroom, common area, or coffee shop in the land. So, today, we will start by examining the two whisky glens. Campbell and Close will be left for another day…

Glenfiddich vs Glenlivet

The river Spey where the region gets its name

The Speyside region

The two bestselling Scotch single malts in the world, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich are just a short 30-minute drive from one another, in the heart of the Speyside whisky region.

Situated in the northeast of Scotland, Speyside has the highest concentration of distilleries in the country, home to many of the world’s most popular whiskies. This is no small part thanks to their often highly approachable, malty, honeyed style. 

Now, you take the long heritage of distilling in the area, dating all the way back to the early days of illicit distillation, and through to the legalisation in the 19th century, and you’ve got a region with the perfect setup and knowledge for whisky-making.

It’s hard to generalise about a Speyside style today as this region produces all kinds of single malts including peated. But you can broadly break it down into two: light and fruity, or rich and sherried. 

mix Islay whisky

The swanky bar at The Glenlivet Distillery

The Glenlivet Distillery

Glenlivet was founded all the back way back in 1824 by George Smith. Located in the valley of the River Livet, it was the first legal distillery in Glenlivet parish, following the Excise Act of the year before. This was a crucial time in Scotland, when a huge number of legal distilleries were first established, many of which are still operational to this day. However, at the time, Smith’s decision to acquire a licence was quite controversial among the illicit distillers in the region. He persevered and ultimately set the standard for legal whisky production in the Highlands, and Glenlivet’s whisky went on to shape what would later become known as the classic Speyside style. 

The distillery itself uses traditional production methods. These include characteristic lantern-shaped copper pot stills, which produce a smoother, lighter spirit, as does the water from the nearby mineral-rich Josie’s Well. Glenlivet typically favours a maturation in American oak casks, and this gives plenty of vanilla, gentle fruit, and subtle spice.

The Glenlivet style

These whiskies are known for their elegant character, and their floral, lightly fruity profiles. The 12 Year Old is arguably the flagship, and it embodies the gentler style. However, older expressions such as the 18 and 21 offer a distinct richness, with more complexity and the influence of sherry wood (think dried fruits, hints of chocolate).

Top Glenlivet whiskies

The Glenlivet 15 Year Old French Oak Reserve Whisky

The Glenlivet 15 Year Old French Oak Reserve

Now a popular choice, Glenlivet was actually one of the first Scotch distilleries to use French oak to mature its whisky. The oak in this case is Limousin oak cut in the Dordogne, where it’s typically used to age Cognac. It’s a rather porous wood with a low density allowing it to quickly impart flavour into the spirit as it expands and contracts during maturation. 

This expression is a rich, almost exotic single malt with a beautifully deep gold colour. It’s been awarded multiple Golds by the IWSC and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, as well as a Master (the highest possible accolade) at the Scotch Whisky Masters. 

It’s got a sweet, fruit-laden nose with pronounced oak influence and Glenlivet’s trademark sweet, floral notes. The palate is full of tropical fruits like dried mango, hints of winter spice (particularly cinnamon), and a blend of manuka honey and mixed nuts, which lead into a long, warming finish with the oak at the fore.

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old

The 12 is a true classic, and it’s perhaps the best example of the Glenlivet house style. It’s matured in a mix of both European and American oak, and the finished spirit is fruity, creamy, and balanced. It picked up a Double Gold in 2022 at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, as well as handfuls of other awards, including a Gold at the ISC (International Spirits Challenge) in 2020. 

It’s the archetypal Speyside malt, with a fruity, toasty, honeyed nose. There’s citrus, hints of apricot, something almost tropical… The palate is biscuity and creamy, with a pronounced vanilla note, and toffee apples. These develop into a spicy, malty, oaky finish. Classic stuff here.

The Glenlivet 18 Year Old

A complex and refined single malt, the 18 is aged in both first- and second-fill American oak, as well as sherry casks. This combination gives the classic Glenlivet tropical fruit and floral character, with plenty of spice from the sherry. Just like its siblings, this has picked up plenty of awards, including a notable Gold Oustanding at the 2019 International Wine & Spirit Competition. 

It maintains the house style but is a far richer, more robust offering. The nose is intense, with dried fruits (raisins, sultanas, apple), a little blossom, hints of toffee apple, a light dusting of cinnamon, and malted barley. The palate is full-bodied, with a good deal of oak. There’s a sublime honey and apple combination, with mixed nuts and a touch of marmalade. This all leads to a long, spicy, slightly herbal finish. It’s a great example of the style.

The Glenfiddich distillery

Glenfiddich was founded in 1886, more than half a century after Glenlivet, by William Grant. Located in Dufftown, it was built by Grant and his nine children, and was the family’s first distillery, later joined by the neighbouring Balvenie. 

William Grant & Sons was revolutionary in the 1960s by seriously marketing Glenfiddich and then Balvenie as single malts at a time when most malt whisky whent into blends. The company hasn’t stood still since then producing spirits like Monkey Shoulder and Hendrick’s Gin.

The Glenfiddich solera vat

The Glenfiddich solera vat

The Glenfiddich house style

You can expect fruity whiskies from Glenfiddich, with a robust balance of sweetness and oak. Much like the Glenlivet, the 12 is the classic representation of the house style. In this case, it’s an orchard of pear and apple notes, with hints of toffee and spice. The distillery is also does things a bit differently: the Solera Reserve, for example, uses a fractional blending system like in Jerez. There are also all kinds of experimental cask releases which are well worth a look.

Top Glenfiddich Whiskies


Glenfiddich 12 Year Old

Much like the Glenlivet, Glenfiddich’s 12 Year Old is the flagship, showcasing the essence of the distillery. It also lays claim to being the world’s most-awarded single malt Scotch whisky. Show-offs!

It’s matured in both oloroso sherry and bourbon casks before being blended and rested in oak marrying tuns. The whisky has an exceedingly fruity nose, with spiced pear, honey, and gentle citrus. The palate is supple and medium-bodied, with a warming concoction of honey and apples, hints of those pears from the nose, and gentle spice. That spice lingers on the slightly oily, oaky finish. Easy-going, and eminently quaffable, as they say.

Glenfiddich 14 Year Old – Bourbon Barrel Reserve 

This is initially matured for 14 years in ex-bourbon American oak casks. At this point, the Glenfiddich malt master, Brian Kinsman, carefully finishes the spirit in charred new American oak barrels sourced from the Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky. The charred new oak finish gives it a real kick of toasted spice and some extra complexity. 

The nose is all about the bourbon and the American oak – big, inviting aromas of caramel, candied citrus peels, char, a little honey, and of course, vanilla. The palate is sweet, creamy, mouth-coating and full, with cinnamon, toasted winter spice, and a charming toffee apple note. This gives way to a warming, oaky, buttery, sweet finish with a dusting of extra spice.

Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Gran Reserva

From Glenfiddich’s Grand Series comes the 21 Year Old. The serious ageing period is topped off with a finish in Caribbean reserva rum casks. This imparts some unique rum-like notes and resulted in a slew of awards from the IWSC and the ISC. 

It’s a great example of balancing both the additional flavours and nuances brought by an exotic cask finish, whilst retaining the core house style. We get notes of rich, inviting malt on the nose, with Seville marmalade, spice, dark chocolate, and candied fruits. There’s some wonderful leather there too. The palate is rich and fruity. Figs, ginger, raisins, candied orange and a light whisper of cocoa. These notes develop with time in the glass to reveal more oak and cedar and a tad more marmalade. This lingers on the finish, which is long with a hint of coffee. Lovely.

And the winner is…

Well, you probably guessed by now, we aren’t going to pick an actual winner. You see, it’s all about taste and personal preference. Some will prefer the lighter, floral style of Glenlivet and others, the fruitier, richer character of a Glenfiddich. Both, however, are giants in the industry, producing the world’s bestselling single malts… You can’t go wrong.