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.
Amazingly 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.
There’s more to Speyside than just whisky…
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, Scotland’s longest river, the Spey, 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 Speyside whisky trail itinerary 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.
Glen Moray Distillery
About the Glen Moray distillery
Situated on the banks of the river Lossie in Elgin, the Glen Moray distillery has been producing fine single malt whisky since its founding in 1897. Originally a brewery, the owner Robert Thorne converted his business into whisky production after realising that quality spirits that could be created from the clear waters of the nearby river.
The business has changed ownership several times during its history but it’s now owned and managed by the La Martiniquaise company which uses the output from Glen Moray in their own blends, as well as producing some good quality single malts.
The distillery has expanded production to three stills and currently produces over five and a half million litres of spirit per year, and taking part in one of their tours allows you to see their distilling process first-hand as well as giving you the chance to sample some of their fine single malts.
Another draw to this distillery is the fact that it’s sited in the Speyside capital city of Elgin so after a tour of the plant you can spend the remainder of the day wandering around the historic city. While you’re there make sure you check out Elgin Cathedral which features fantastic views from the top of its towers, and you can find out more about it in my Complete Guide to Elgin Cathedral.
Telephone: 01343 550 900
About the Benromach distillery
Benromach is one of those distilleries that insists on creating the perfect whisky by age-old methods, and it can be seen everywhere you go on a tour of the complex.
Not only is every cask hand filled, but Benromach refuses to use computers or pressure gauges to control the distilling process. Instead, everything is monitored and managed by human touch, smell, and sight, backed up by years of experience. It really is like stepping back in time at this distillery, and all the better for it in my opinion.
The distillery was founded way back in 1898 by Duncan McCallum and F.W. Brickman, two experienced businessmen in the field of Scottish whisky who sought to utilise their combined knowledge to produce fine Speyside whisky themselves.
However, there was a great depression in the industry at the time and they had to close their doors shortly after due to a lack of money. Over the next hundred years the business was sold and re-purchased by many owners until 1993, when the Gordon and MacPhail company took over.
A complete restoration of the distillery was instigated in 1997 when the owners took the decision to revert the stills and machinery back to similar types that were used in the 19th century.
This meant that the old-style production methods could be used once again and to date it appears the whisky-loving public appreciates this style of production, as in 2014 Benromach won gold at the World Whisky Awards.
Telephone: 01309 675 968
Dallas Dhu Distillery
About the Dallas Dhu distillery
The last distillery in our Speyside whisky itinerary is slightly different to the others as it’s not actually privately owned but is in fact owned and managed by the Historic Environment Scotland trust. It’s earliest days were rather different though.
In 1899 businessman Alexander Edward decided that the Scottish whisky boom meant that a profitable distillery would be warmly welcomed by the Forres community, and so Dallasmore was born (later changed to Dallas Dhu).
Indeed, the distillery continued to make fine single malts up until 1983. Unfortunately though, economic pressure and an unreliable water supply forced Dallas Dhu to close in that year.
Luckily for whisky-lovers the world over this small piece of Scottish history has been kept alive thanks to Historic Environment Scotland’s tireless work to restore the buildings so that today they’re just as they would have looked way back at the end of the 19th century.
The trust also serves to educate the public about the history of Scotland and it’s whisky heritage, and audio guides and various presentations are provided to educate visitors and keep the story of Dallas Dhu alive.
You can find out more about this attraction with my guide to the Dallas Dhu distillery.
Telephone: 01309 676548
If you liked this itinerary check out The Out About Scotland Guide to Scotch Whisky.
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