Scotland’s Scotch Trail – Speyside
The region of Speyside has the highest concentration of distilleries of any of the other Whisky regions and is located in the fertile valley of northeast Scotland surrounding the River Spey.
Speyside is recognized for its wide range of whiskies displaying different characteristics, from the sweet single malts with either very little peat, the absence of peat flavour, to rich flavour profiles.
More than 60% of Scotland’s entire single malt production is from the active distilleries of Speyside.
- Notable names in Speyside Whisky include:
- Glenfiddich (the World’s Best-Selling single malt whisky)
- Glen Grant
- Number of distilleries: Around 50
- Typical Speyside flavours: Apple, Nutmeg, Pear, Honey, Vanilla, Oak, Malt, Spice and Dried Fruit
The following are our top seven distilleries in the Speyside region:
William Grant, from Dufftown, Scotland, in the glen of the River Fiddich founded The Glenfiddich Distillery in 1886. The Glenfiddich single malt whisky first ran from the stills on Christmas Day, 1887. Grant named his new distillery ‘Glenfiddich’, which is Scots Gaelic for Valley of the Deer. Today it is recognized as the world’s most-awarded single malt. Remarkably the Distillery is currently run by the fifth generation of the William Grant family.
In the 1960s and 1970s many of the small, independent distillers fell on tough times and went out of business or were acquired by the larger brands.
To survive, W. Grant & Sons choose to expand their production, and introduced innovative advertising campaigns, along with a visitors’ centre. From 1957, Glenfiddich packaged their whisky in the ever-distinctive triangular bottles, and in 1963 it became the first distillery to sell single malt scotch whisky outside of Scotland.
Macallan was founded in 1824, and at that time it operated out of the original buildings of Macallan farm.
Now approaching 200 years later,The Macallan yearly sales boast a million cases, courtesy of its approximately $186 million USD new distillery featuring 36 copper pot stills which took 3 ½ years for construction to complete. The new distillery also features a tasting library that holds 952 bottles of The Macallan dating back to 1936.
The structure itself is so dramatic and awe-inspiring it’s different to describe other than it’s a marvel. The distillery’s architecture is cut right into the slope of the countryside, reflecting the Scottish hills. The double curvature timber grid shell timber roof structure is said to be the most complicated timber roof structure ever built in the world, consisting of 380,000 individual components, 1,800 beams and 2,500 roof elements.
For us, the journey to The Macallan was a type of pilgrimage to one of Scotch whisky’s flagship luxury brands, where it is proudly showcased on its 370-acre, world-class estate in Craigellachie, in the heart of Scotland’s Speyside region. It’s truly a destination not to be missed.
The Glenlivet, near Ballindalloch in Moray, Scotland is part of the rich heritage of illegal stills likely for hundreds of years during the pre-legalera. However, when an act of Parliament finally made whisky production legal in 1823 with the purchase of a license, it’s founder George Smith became the first to apply for a license, and within a year, Glenlivet was the first licensed distillery in the Speyside region. As the Glenlivet brand gained in status and recognition, other distilleries along the River Livet began to use the Glenlivet name. Through legal actions the distillery eventually won the right to the exclusive use of “The Glenlivet” and it stands on the same site to this day.
Over the years Glenlivet has gained a reputation as a ‘smooth whisky’ and produces a lighter spirit, floral and fruity characteristic, which is often thought of as a typical example of the Speyside style of whisky.
A large portion of Glenlivet whisky produced is bottled as single malt. Almost half of that is sold in the US market, where The Glenlivet is the number one selling single malt, and has been for almost 40 years, however it is enjoyed around the world, and is one of Scotland’s best-selling whisky brands.
Glen Grant is located at the northern end of the village of Rothes, Speyside. In 1840, two brothers John and James Grant had the dream and ruthless determination to establish what is today, one of the world’s top five selling single malt whiskies. In addition to its reputation as single malt Glen Grant is also the engine behind the production of single malt that is used in the Chivas blends.
When James Grant’s son, known as “The Major”, inherited the distillery from his uncle John Grant, he introduced tall slender stills and purifiers which created the fresh malty flavor and clear color that defines Glen Grant whisky to this day.
The current distillery was officially founded in 1879 by entrepreneur James Fleming, although there was already a distillery in the town of Aberlour, which was built in 1826. As history has it,as Fleming’s new facility was being built, the existing Aberlour distillery burned down, and Fleming decided merely to reuse the name.
Aberlour is situated in the town of Aberlour where the River Lour empties into the River Spey and the foot of a local mountain called Ben Rinnes. The exceptionally pure, soft spring water used for making Aberlour whisky is drawn from nearby natural springs.
Situated practically in the middle of the Speyside region, the Balvenie distillery, whose name means “village of luck”, lies in the middle of the Conval Hills in Duff town. The Balvenie shares the same owner as its sister distillery the Glenfiddich which is nearby. They even share the same water source. However, the styles of the two whiskies remain very different.
Built in 1892 by William J. Grant, the distillery was equipped with used stills from the Lagavulin and Cardhu distilleries. While this may appear to be counterintuitive, given how much efforts distilleries generally take in the exact shapes and styles of their stills, reusing equipment from other distilleries is not surprising and it saved Grant considerable money on equipment costs. Additional stills were eventually added decades later from two to four, with a major renovation in 1971 where stills were increased to nine in total.
Originally, spirit from The Balvenie was used exclusively in scotch blends. It wasn’t until 1973 that the distillery began its own distillery bottling which went on to become very successful, winning many awards at international spirit competitions.
Cardhu is a Speyside distillery founded by the whisky smuggler John Cumming and his wife Helen Cumming in 1824. In fact it is believed that Cardhu was the only distillery started by a woman. The word “Cardhu” is derived from the Scots Gaelic Cam Dubh, meaning “Black Rock”.
Helen Cumming was a colourful woman who used to sell bottles of whisky to passers-by through the window of their farmhouse. Because of the hill the distillery was on, it provided Helen the ability to see police coming. It is believed that she would offer them tea while flying a flag outside to warn nearby distilleries allowing them the opportunity to take the appropriate action.In 1885 the distillery was rebuilt and increased production by three times. Much of the added production was used in Johnnie Walker and Sons increasing proper blend. The distillery was later sold to Johnnie Walker and Sons. Today Cardhu is home to the world-famous Johnnie Walker blend.