TWA’s Best Distilleries of Speyside: Scotland’s Whisky Triangle
Scotch whisky has changed a lot in recent years, and, as has been given considerable coverage, whisky’s geographical origins within Scotland have started to matter less and less to the nature of the whisky itself. Speyside whiskies are no exception to this trend.
Whilst whiskies from what is by far Scotland’s most prolific whisky producing area have always been amongst Scotland’s lightest and ‘sweetest’ single malts, more recent expressions are at the forefront of Scotland’s lightest drams. Lacking the peat of Islay, the salinity and ocean breeze of the islands or the fruity, perfumed nature of Lowland whiskies, Speyside are sweeter; more subtle. This is in stark contrast to traditional Speyside fare, which would be nowadays much more similar to a Highland malt: robust and peated. The sweet, un-peated nature of modern-day Speyside whisky owes much to the area’s low mineral content. Located next to the Grampians, the area’s granite allowing for some of Scotland’s softest waters, mixed with very few areas with significant amounts of peat.
Moving on from the technical aspects, with over half of Scotland’s distilleries tucked into its borders, Speyside more importantly makes some of Scotland’s damn finest and most famous whiskies. For those pursuing the softer side of whisky above Islay’s gut-punch of TCP aromas, we’ve put together the best choices for taking your tour around the Jewel in Scotland’s whisky crown, well ahead of the exciting annual Spirit of Speyside festival taking place May 3rd-7th, an event that’s sure to bring much of the spotlight onto Scotland’s most prolific Whisky region.
At the risk of sounding cliché, Glenfiddich is one of the undisputed giants within Scotch whisky. No matter what bar you’re in the world, you’re bound to see at least one bottle at Glenfiddich. It’s this popularity and pervasiveness that’s turned up a lot of noses in the whisky world, but Glenfiddich themselves have some wonderful drams, from the gorgeous 15 years old to the pricey 21 year old Gran Reserva. Moreover, Glenfiddich offer tours of the epicentre of Scotch whisky in Dufftown from just £10, which includes a stop off in one of the most impressive distillery tours available, only topped off by the lovely ruins of Balvenie Castle. Importantly, Glenfiddich are also the only distillery to offer a tour detailing the whole process, all the way from barley to bar.
Macallan distillery deserves a spot for being one of the foremost whiskies that encompasses what the ‘Speyside’ taste is all about: Light, florally, mellow and smooth. Their sherry oak and fine oak are both lovely, mixing in citrus-ey spices and toffee notes, and you can expect plenty of this on the Macallan tour. The distillery was only recently renovated and offers one of the finest you can have in Speyside, prices starting from around £15 per person. That being said, with one of the finest distillery shops in Speyside, you’ll be inclined to spend much more at the tour’s end…
Located in the ‘heart of Speyside,’ the Cardhu has a unique history as the only distillery started by women. Its light-natured 12 year old is an excellent starter, with the 15 and 18 year olds offering something more complex. Nonetheless, Cardhu’s signature is a sweet and spicy mix, with vanilla at the forefront in the tasting notes. Of all the whiskies to try, the 18 year old in particular is one of Speyside’s smoothest, but the others aren’t to be sniffed at. Cardhu offer a £9 tour, but others can be as low as £5, Cardhu is one of Speyside’s smallest distilleries, but also one of its mightiest.
Licensed in 1824 with the distillery founded in 1858, Glenlivet gives standard, small-group distillery tours every 20 minutes, which last 45 minutes and are, most importantly, free! Other tours come recommended, however, and start at £35pp. These should be pre-booked however, as they’re likely to fill up fast on the day. On these tours, you’re able to fill your own bottle straight from the cask, before corking, capping and labelling it.
Of all the whiskies distilleries in Speyside, one in particular that can brag of the fervour and professionalism of its tour-guides, is Aberlour. Aberlour distillery sits in a wooded hollow beside the River Lour, and it is one of the most attractive distilleries in Speyside. During the tour, you get a chance to taste the “sweet worts”, the beer-like liquid distilled to produce whisky spirit.
You’ll spend the last hour of the tour tasting 5 different “expressions” of the Aberlour Malt in the tasting room, as well as some of the pure spirit taken direct from the still. If that still isn’t enough, the Mash Tun pub is also nearby, which will be sure to make you merry if the tour hasn’t done enough.
To this day, Glenfarclas is one of very few remaining independent, family owned distilleries still managed by the family itself. To this end, their tour does its best to put across a rich, intimate and personal family history of the distillery and how the business evolved.
Their range of traditional Speyside single malts includes the 10, 15, 21, 25, 30, and 40 years old, all renowned for a full bodied, smooth and heavily sherried style. The tasting room features beautiful wood panelling salvaged from a nearby sunken ship, with the room being designed out of the ship itself. That being said, there’s little glam to the tour, which just lets the history and location of Glenfarclas do the talking. Moreover, such a rich history is only furthered by some of the best tour guides in the business, whose warmth and hospitality is famed amongst whisky distilleries.
Benromach have been making Benromach since 1898 using the spring water from the nearby Romach Hills. The tour itself includes almost every part of the whisky production process as their friendly tour guides show you around what surely must be one of Scotland’s smallest bobby mills, followed by the mash tun, wooden washbacks, copper stills and the warehouses. Benromach certainly pride themselves on the small scale of their setup, with a small, manned and un-computer-led production process. Better still, like Glenfarclas pride themselves on having some of the friendliest and warmest tour guides in the business, and for both a warm welcome and some of the best Whisky in speyside, we recommend the Benromach on any tour of Speyside.