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The Out About Scotland complete guide to the Speyside Whisky Trail
Speyside is famous within whisky-drinking circles for having the largest number of operational distilleries out of all six whisky-producing regions, with two of the most-consumed brands in the world originating from the area.
Although it’s generally perceived as a whisky region in its own right, Speyside is actually a subdivision of the Highlands whisky-producing area.
Known as ‘Malt Whisky Country’, Speyside can be found in the north-east of Scotland around the River Spey in Moray, Badenoch and Strathspey.
Although there are a total of 84 working distilleries in Speyside, only 14 (as of 2017) allow tourists to view the distillation process, although these include the world-famous Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Macallan, which are on most whisky enthusiasts must-visit list.
Incredibly for such a relatively small area of Scotland, Speyside produces 60% of the country’s entire whisky output which is easily explained by the characteristics of the whisky produced there. Unlike the peaty malts of Islay and the smoky malts of the Highlands, Speyside’s location and low mineral content in the water means that the whiskies are normally very low in peat, if not totally unpeated.
This makes Speyside whisky much lighter and sweeter in flavour and therefore much easier to drink for beginners who may find other stronger flavours an acquired taste.
The favours of Speyside whisky can be broken down into two categories; the rich sherry-flavoured malts and the lighter floral-flavoured malts. However, even within these styles the distilleries manage to infuse further nuances, with American bourbon and Spanish sherry casks adding delicate notes to the already complex flavours.
But the Speyside region has much more to offer than whisky. The beautiful coastline of the Moray Firth can be easily explored to the north while heading inland towards the south will take you into the breathtaking highlands with some of the most awe-inspiring mountain views available anywhere in Britain.
Dotted around the area are dozens of castles and historic buildings while the cities of Aberdeen and Elgin provide plenty of shopping opportunities.
Crossing the county of Moray is Scotland’s longest river – the Spey – which runs for over 100 miles northwards to enter the Moray Firth at Spey Bay. Furthermore, downstream at Granton you’ll find the world-famous River Spey salmon fishing region where thousands of fly fishermen from all over the world attempt to outwit Scottish salmon each year.
The southern half of Moray is home to Ballindoch Castle, rightly referred to as ‘The Pearl of the North’. The castle is situated in an area surrounded by rolling hills and the crystal clear waters of the river Spey flow right through the castle grounds, which makes a visit there the perfect accompaniment to any Speyside tour.
However, moving back to the regions most famous export, no trip to Speyside can be considered complete until a tour of its famous distilleries has been completed, and the following list highlights not only the whisky but the stunning countryside that can be found in this part of the country.
So if you want to immerse yourself in history and nature, as well as enjoying a few drams, this itinerary will give you everything you’re looking for. Follow me on a journey into whisky heaven.
- Speyside Cooperage
About the Glenlivet distillery
Set within a wild and remote glen near Ballindalloch in Moray, the world-famous Glenlivet distillery was founded in 1824 and has operated almost without change since that time.
Although production was originally on a small-scale, the popularity of the brand means that it has now become the biggest selling malt whisky in the U.S., with around 6 million bottles being sold worldwide each year.
To the south of the distillery lie the imposing Cairngorm mountain range which includes many of Scotland’s highest peaks, while to the north the massive Ben Rinnes mountain dominates the landscape. All of which go towards making a visit to Glenlivet a truly memorable experience.
Telephone: 01340 821720
About the Cardhu distillery
The Cardhu distillery can be found in open countryside around 17 miles from Grantown-on-Spey and around 7 miles from Craigellachie. The wide-open fields that surround this area would have made it easy for early illegal distillers to spot an on-coming government tax-man, which is the likely reason why the very first production of this famous whisky began here.
Cardhu was founded in 1824 by the whisky smuggler John Cumming who knew the value of the peat-softened water that flows through the river Spey. The whisky from the original stills was sold to passers-by as they made their way past the Cumming farmhouse, but it wasn’t long before the quality of the product made demand far outstrip supply.
In 1855 the distilling equipment was upgraded and a new distilling plant was built that could produce triple the quantity of whisky that the old distillery could, much more than many other whisky producers in the area.
Around this time the blended Johnnie Walker brand was becoming increasingly popular and to keep up with demand a large proportion of the Cardhu output was purchased to put into their blend, a process which continues to this day.
Telephone: 01479 874635
About the Speyside Cooperage
The Speyside Cooperage is the only working barrel manufacturer in Britain that still practices the ancient art of coopering, otherwise known as barrel or cask making. The cooperage has been running successfully since 1947 and to this day they still make their barrels using the same hand-crafted techniques that have been passed down through the generations.
The company has an excellent visitor centre where not only can you watch the craftsmen as they create new barrels, but you can even have a go yourself (results may differ!). There’s also a coffee shop and gift shop to visit after you’ve tried your hand at barrel making.
Telephone: (01340) 871108
If you liked this itinerary check out The Out About Scotland Guide to Scotch Whisky.
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