Much like kilts, the
Highlands and bagpipes, Scotland is inseparable from whisky, its national drink.
So it makes sense that the only malt whisky trail in the world is nestled among
historic castles in the rolling green hills of Speyside, a region in the northeast
Created in the early 1980s, Scotland’s Malt Whisky Trail does not
encompass all of the distilleries in the area, though it includes seven working
ones, a cooperage and a historic distillery. Drive through the lush countryside and follow the
signposts to each locale, which can be visited in any order.
Though the distilleries are fairly close together, leisurely travellers may
want to dedicate a few days to taking in the distinct traditions and lore at
each stop. Also be sure to build in time to sample all of the unique flavours
-- since every working distillery gives guests the opportunity to smell and
taste the handcrafted drink.
Whisky has played an integral role in Scottish life since
1494. The term “whisky” comes from the Gaelic “uisge beatha” or “usquebaugh”,
which means “water of life” and Scotch whisky — which is often referred to as
Scotch — must be made in Scotland.
Travel back in time at the Dallas Dhu Historic
Distillery, a state-owned site
that became a museum in 1988. Located just outside the ancient market town of
Forres, the well-preserved Victorian
distillery was the last one to be built in the 19th Century. Visitors
can wander the grounds, learn about the craft of Scotch whisky, and tour the
two-storey malt barn warehouse, kiln and other original sections of the
Located about 14 miles north, Glen Moray is a traditional Scottish
farm-turned-distillery, with a courtyard
that is surrounded by traditional, low-roofed brick warehouses and rich blue
doors that match the bottle’s label. Founded in 1897, Glen Moray is located on
the banks of River Lossie, in the Royal Burgh of Elgin, the capital of Speyside.
Distillery employees, who are known for sharing their insider expertise about
the whisky making process, may be on hand to lead you through the working
distillery. The internationally-celebrated label is known for its classic
single malt whisky, with notes of butterscotch, shortbread and lemongrass.
oldest continuously operating distillery in the Highlands — and home of the
famed Chivas Regal brand — is Strathisla, located
about 18 miles east of Glen Moray in Keith. Known for its double pagodas and
cobbled courtyard, the enchanting grounds have not changed much since it was
established in 1786. Take the guided tour to learn about the
history of its single malt and blended whiskies, and see the traditional
warehouse where the single malts that make up the premium and super premium
blends are stored. You will not just learn about its past, you will taste it
too -- with a dram of 12-year-old Chivas Regal and 18-year-old Chivas Regal. Caroline Mitchell, the
manager of the Chivas Brothers Visitor Centre, described the Strathisla single
malt whisky as having a “distinctive mellow honey flavour, offering a full,
nutty, balanced whisky”.
About 27 miles farther south along the trail is The Glenlivet, which was founded in 1824
as the first licensed distillery in the Livet Valley and is also known for its
distinct taste: a defining fruity pineapple note. An exhibit at the distillery explores
how The Glenlivet’s natural resources — the mineral-rich spring water, cool
mountain climate and raw terrain — provide the ideal environment for producing the
spirit. “Two centuries ago, the whisky from the remote and wild region of
Glenlivet was sought after for its smooth and character-full qualities,”
Mitchell said. During a guided tour, sample a dram of the 12-year-old Glenlivet,
which has delicate layers of honeyed, floral aromas.
Knockando, west of Aberlour, Cardhu is a Scotch that
may taste familiar because it is used in Johnnie Walker’s blended
whiskies. But that is not Cardhu’s
only boasting point; it is also the only malt distillery pioneered by a woman.
After her husband and whisky-smuggling in-laws passed away, Elizabeth Robertson
took over in 1872. In 1884, she expanded and built a new distillery, tripling
the output of Cardhu single malt whisky within a year. She eventually sold the
distillery to John Walker and Sons in 1893.
The stills from Cardhu’s old distillery building were sold to William Grant,
who started the Glenfiddich distillery in
nearby Dufftown. With the help of only one stonemason, the Grant family built Glenfiddich
in 18 months and opened its door on Christmas in 1887. Five generations later,
the Grant family still runs Glenfiddich, and production methods for the single
malt scotch have not changed either. Tours begin with a video about the
distillery’s history, followed by a visit to one of the stone-walled
traditional warehouses, the mash tun (where the whisky ingredients are stirred)
and the giant washbacks, which are handmade from local Douglas fir. At the
bottling hall, you will learn that the deer symbol on the bottles comes from
the distillery’s name — Glenfiddich means “Valley of the deer” in Gaelic.
Finally, sample a dram of the light, sweet whisky in the malt barn.
“There are no rules as to how you enjoy drinking your
Scotch whisky,” said Colin Scott, Master Blender of
the Chivas Regal and Royal Salute brands. He recommends adding a small
amount of water to reduce the strength of the alcohol, as he does when
assessing whiskies in the blending laboratory. “We believe that
at this lower strength, the barrier of the peppery alcohol is removed and the
complex aromas and flavours are more readily assessable to enjoy.”
At Benromach, also just outside of Forres, enjoy
a tasting tutorial with a pour of the award-winning, richly-flavoured
Benromach Single Malt in the old Drier House, now the Malt Whisky Centre.
Founded in 1898, the distillery changed hands several times and was empty for
many years until 1993, when malt whisky specialists Gordon and MacPhail
restored it and the Prince of Wales officially reopened the distillery in its centenary
year. Now the smallest working distillery in Speyside, visitors can see the
traditional dunnage warehouse (where the whiskys are stored to mature), the
mash tun, the burnished copper stills — and the cask signed by Prince Charles.
Curious to learn more about
the casks that fill the whisky trail? Stop by the only working cooperage in the
UK, Speyside Cooperage, to
experience the ancient art. Since 1947, the cooperage in Craigellachie has
employed traditional methods and tools for creating exceptional casks from American
oak, many of which are sent around the world. Witness how a cask is made from
start to finish, and if think you have got the hang of it, try it yourself by
building a mini demonstration cask.
Speyside countryside is almost enough to distract you from sampling the Scotch,
but luckily, at Glen Grant, you can
enjoy both. A tour of the grounds includes a guided walk through the distillery
and warehouse, a film about Major James Grant, the vibrant character who founded
the distillery in 1840, a sample of whisky in Major Grant's Study and a stroll
through the Woodland garden. Near the barley-growing plains, sea and port of
Garmouth, and with River Spey running through, all of the elements for making
great whisky are here – which shows in the single malt’s pale golden hue and
clean flavour. The idyllic beauty of the Malt Whisky Trail may be one of the
most important ingredients to this world-renowned drink.