Whisky with no “e” refers exclusively to Scottish, Canadian, and Japanese grain spirits distilled from corn, wheat, or barley whereas whiskey with an “e” is used for these types of spirits crafted in the United States and Ireland. Producing single malt, single grain, and blended whiskies, whisky is one of Scotland’s finest exports and a driver of tourism. According to law, Scotch whisky must be distilled and matured in Scotland in oak casks for at least three years in order to earn the designation.
As the setting of over half of Scotland's malt whisky distilleries, Speyside is known as Malt Whisky Country. In fact, this area in the northeast of Scotland is just one of its five premier whisky regions. The Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown, and the Scottish Isles claim the other four. Travelers who enjoy visiting wine regions around the world may be curious to explore Speyside in tandem with other scenic whisky regions of Scotland.
Speyside’s Malt Whisky Trail
Speyside refers to the region around the River Spey just north of the Scottish Highlands. There are around 60 distilleries in this area where oaky single malt whiskies are suggestive of apple, vanilla, nutmeg, and dried fruit. Of all the regions, the whiskies of Speyside tend to strike a chord with novice drinkers.
Notable producers from Speyside include Macallan, Dalwhinnie, and Glenlivet. Most famous of all, the family-owned Glenfiddich is just one example of a distillery headquartered in the whisky hotspot of Dufftown. Tours walk you through over 100 years of whisky making with the opportunity to sample the flagship Glenfiddich 12, 15, and 18. The tasting experience is rounded off with a measure of the superior Glenfiddich Gran Reserva – a 21-year-old malt finished in rum casks. For those who are driving, the flight is packaged up for the road.
Benromach Distillery is located a 40-minute drive north of Glenfiddich. This distillery adheres to traditional, handcrafted methods and was responsible for the world's first fully certified organic single malt. The distillery offers multiple immersive experiences ranging from the classic tour to the Manager’sExperience. This deluxe package lasts two hours and is led by the Distillery Manager, Keith Cruickshank. At the end of the private tour, you will receive an exclusive bottle to take home.
Whisky of the Scottish Isles
Scottish whisky is also produced on such islands as the storm-lashed Orkney to the north and Islay, Mull, Skye, Jura, and Arran to the west. Brands you may be familiar with include Highland Park, Talisker, and Jura. These whiskies carry smokier tastes mingled with black pepper and honey and are accented by maritime flavors.
Orkney is accessible via ferry from Aberdeen and Scrabster. Tastings at Scapa occur at the clifftop Scapa Noust where the landscape is as dramatic as the artisanal single malt created overlooking the historic Scapa Flow. The whisky is inspired by the extreme elements of this northern archipelago and has a honeyed taste that hints at citrus and heather.
By comparison, the peated whisky at Highland Park is backed by floral notes. Tours take you into the stillhouse where windows enable you to peer into the copper stills and observe the spirit boiling. The most luxurious tour, the aptly named Rare and Exclusive Experience, is a small-group tour to the pagoda rooftops polished off with a tasting of the oldest and rarest whiskies.
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