Strictly speaking, the term Speyside refers to the entire region surrounding the River Spey, but to most people the name is synonymous with the whisky triangle, stretching from just north of Craigellachie, down towards Tomintoul in the south and east to Huntly. There are more whisky distilleries and famous brands (including Glenfiddich and Glenlivet) concentrated in this small area than in any other part of the country. Running through the heart of the region is the River Spey, whose clean, clear, fast-flowing waters not only play such a vital part in the whisky industry, but also make it one of Scotland’s finest angling locations. At the centre of Speyside, the quiet market town of Dufftown and the well-kept nearby villages of Craigellachie and Aberlour make good bases for a tour of whisky country.
The Malt Whisky Trail
The Malt Whisky Trail
There are eight distilleries on the official Malt Whisky Trail, a clearly signposted seventy-mile meander around Speyside. All offer a guided tour (some are free, others charge but then give you a voucher that is redeemable against a bottle of whisky from the distillery shop), with a tasting to round it off; if you’re driving you’ll often be offered a miniature to take away. You could cycle or walk parts of the route, using the Speyside Way. The following are selected highlights.
B9102 at Knockando. Established more than a century ago, when the founder’s wife would raise a red flag to warn crofters if the authorities were on the lookout for their illegal stills. With attractive, pagoda-topped buildings, it sells rich, full-bodied whisky with distinctive peaty flavours.
Rothes. Well-known, floral whisky aggressively marketed to the younger customer. The highlight here is the attractive Victorian garden, with well-tended lawns, mixed, mature trees, a tumbling waterfall and a hidden whisky safe.
A941 just north of Dufftown. The biggest and slickest of all the Speyside distilleries, still owned by the same family who founded it in 1887. It’s a light, sweet whisky packaged in triangular bottles – unusually, the bottling is still done on the premises and can be seen as part of the tours.
B9008. A famous name in a lonely hillside setting; the Glenlivet twelve-year-old malt is a floral, fragrant, medium-bodied whisky. This was the first licensed distillery in the Highlands, and the Speyside Way passes through the grounds.
Craigellachie. An unusual alternative to a distillery tour, but part of the official trail, demonstrating the ancient and skilled art of cooperage.
Keith. A small, old-fashioned distillery claiming to be Scotland’s oldest (1786); it’s certainly one of the most attractive, with pagoda-shaped buildings and the River Isla rushing by. The malt itself has a rich, almost fruity taste and is pretty rare, but is used as the heart of the better-known Chivas Regal blend. You can get here on the restored Keith & Dufftown Railway.