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Glenlivet 12 vs Macallan 12: The Speyside Showdown

August 11, 2023
2 mins read

Key Takeaways:

  • Glenlivet 12 and Macallan 12 are renowned single malts hailing from the Speyside region in Scotland, demonstrating contrasting styles within the same territory.
  • While Glenlivet 12 offers a refreshing, lively profile, Macallan 12 leans towards a darker, spicier palette.
  • Both distilleries embrace unique production processes that significantly influence the character of their whiskies.
  • A tasting comparison of Glenlivet 12 and Macallan 12 unveils the distinct notes and subtleties that differentiate these two Speyside titans.

The Heart of Scotch: Speyside’s Single Malt Giants

Speyside, a specific whisky-producing region tucked into the shoulder of the Scottish Highlands, accounts for more than 60% of the total single malt Scotch production globally. Known for its distinct yet diverse whisky profiles, Speyside is home to renowned distilleries such as The Macallan and The Glenlivet.

While often grouped by regional commonalities, no two Scotches from a single region are precisely alike. This variety within the realm of Speyside scotches is beautifully demonstrated when comparing Glenlivet 12 and Macallan 12. One is light and fruity, evoking memories of a sunny orchard, while the other is dark, spicy, and decadent, bringing to mind a luxurious winter evening by the fire.

The Tale of Two Flavors: Glenlivet 12 vs Macallan 12

The Macallan 12: A Rich Symphony of Flavors

The Macallan 12 deviates from the typical light and fruity Speyside profile, instead presenting a textured, rich, and complex palate. Notes of caramel, vanilla, and toasted nuts are prominently featured, especially in more matured bottles. The unique maturation in specialty Spanish oak casks seasoned with sherry contributes to the whisky’s characteristic hot spices, lending a certain depth and complexity to the flavor.

The Glenlivet 12: A Breath of Fresh Orchard Air

Glenlivet 12, on the other hand, perfectly embodies what one expects from a quintessential Speyside Scotch. It presents a lively profile filled with zesty orchard fruits and blossoms. Flavors of orange, apple, and a hint of pear come together with undertones of fresh-cut grass, adding to the light and refreshing experience.

A Journey Through History: Rivalries and Innovations

Historically, both The Macallan and The Glenlivet distilleries have had an element of rivalry. Founded in 1824, these distilleries were among the first legal Scotch producers in Scotland and have made significant contributions to the Scotch whisky industry.

The Macallan was a pioneer in marketing single malt Scotch during the 1970s, drawing attention to individual distillery expressions. This foresight has paid off, with rare Macallan bottles often selling for thousands of dollars. Today, Macallan stands as one of the highest producing Scotch distilleries globally, maintaining specific recipes and great care in producing a “small batch” feel despite its large-scale production.

In contrast, Glenlivet has a swashbuckling history. George Smith, the founder, often carried flintlock pistols to ward off threats from illicit distillers upset with his legal distillery. Within a decade, Glenlivet had gained considerable fame and popularity.


In terms of comparing Glenlivet 12 vs Macallan 12, the choice truly boils down to personal preference. Each of these Speyside whiskies offers its own distinct characteristics, influenced by their unique distillation processes and aging casks. For those who enjoy a darker, spicier whisky with rich notes of caramel and dried fruits, Macallan 12 may be the more appealing choice. However, if you prefer a lighter, fruitier whisky with a floral fragrance and fresh, grassy notes, then Glenlivet 12 could be your dram of choice.

While they share a common region, the unique differences in production methods, ageing process, and ingredients between the Macallan and Glenlivet distilleries create two starkly different whiskies. So, don’t think of it as a competition. Instead, consider these two fantastic whiskies as complements to each other, each providing a different perspective on the same Speyside terroir.

Whichever you choose, you can’t go wrong with either of these celebrated distilleries. Whether you’re new to whisky or a seasoned connoisseur, tasting these two side by side will give you a deeper appreciation of the subtleties of Scotch whisky production and the diversity of the Speyside region.

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