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.