Created in the early 1980s, the only malt whisky trail in the world includes seven working distilleries and a cooperage, nestled among the rolling green hills of Speyside.

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 Highlands.

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 distillery.

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.

The 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.

In nearby 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.

The 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.