The Malt Whisky Trail
Have you ever thought about making a whisky holiday pilgrimage to visit some of the most famous names in whisky? I bet you have! There’s quite a few different trips you could do, from island hopping, to mammoth tours all over Scotland… but one great way to see a bunch of great distilleries, along side some fantastic visitor attractions, is to do The Malt Whisky Trail.
The Trail is based around the Speyside area, taking in such names as Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glen Moray and Strathisla, amongst others (go here for the full list). Depending on your time in the area you can always complete the whole list of recommended Trail visits, and could probably fit in a few others as well (let’s face it, in Speyside you can literally throw a stone in any direction and pretty much hit a distillery!).
I recently spent a fun-filled two days in Speyside doing a quick spin around part of the trail with a group of press related folk. If you fancy a two day whisky tour (maybe as part of a larger holiday), then you could certainly do worse than doing a similar schedule to me.
Let’s take a look at what I got up to!…
A trip through the town of Keith to visit Strathisla is always worth it, and for us that was the start of our trip. It’s easy to get to from Aberdeen, so if you’re flying in to there, then it’s a great first distillery to visit. It’s also one of the most beautiful in Scotland, so get your fill of pictures! It produces lots of malt for Chivas Regal blend, and is the home of the brand.
If you’re lucky you might get to visit the cage inside of the warehouse, and if you do there’s treats awaiting you such as Strathisla 25yo, and Chivas Regal 25yo, amongst others.
If you’re not quite so lucky, then there’s still an excellently stocked distillery shop selling lots of exclusives, and there’s a little bar to be able to try various things that take your fancy. For me I tried Chivas Regal Mizunara, where part of the blend was matured in Mizunara oak casks from Japan, quite rare!
Heading in to Speyside central, you could argue that Dufftown is the heart of the whisky region… And having Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie all at the same location it certainly helps to strengthen that argument. Glenfiddich was built and is owned by independent family business William Grant & Sons. It means “Valley of the Deer”. One of the best known names in whisky, you’ve no doubt seen them on your supermarket shelves.
We started in the Glenfiddich Cafe for a spot of lunch, and gosh, what a good lunch it was. For me, haggis neaps and tatties, and from memory the best haggis neaps and tatties I’ve ever had! I’d highly recommend allowing yourself time to have some food in the cafe as you’re passing.
After that we toured the distillery which is an impressive site, and features it’s own bottling hall… and on the same site, in Balvenie, there’s a cooperage as well. After the tour we had a great tasting of the range, the 21 yo being a winner for many of us.
We left Dufftown and whizzed over to Elgin, to visit Johnstons of Elgin, also known as Johnstons Cashmere, a woollen mill that was established in 1797. Being a complete whisky geek, I found it massively interesting to see the processes of taking bales of unrefined cashmere, and the journey it goes through with dying, carding, spinning, weaving, etc to the other end of the process where garments are produced. It’s interesting to draw the parallels with the whisky making process. There’s a well stocked shop which is definitely worth a look around; there’s often clearance sales, if you can beat the locals to the bargains!
Copper Dog, The Craigellachie Hotel
Our meal for the evening was at the Copper Dog, the restaurant belonging to The Craigellachie Hotel. It’s a fantastically appointed, laid back atmosphere with an excellent menu full of things I’d want to eat, the only problem is not being to have it all!
After the meal we visited the hotel’s famous Quaich Bar, absolutely packed with whisky goodies to while away your evening with. I managed to try a dram of Copper Dog, the hotel’s own blended malt whisky… and very good it is too. It’s a blend of 8 malts from Diageo, all produced in the region.
Station Hotel, Rothes
Our stop for the night was the lovely Station Hotel in the middle of Rothes. The hotel has been recently fully renovated, and was modern and comfortable inside. It’s lovely to see the sandstone building brought back into it’s former glory, as it had started to get a little run down. It has a great whisky bar, and one of the best full Scottish breakfasts I’ve had in a long time. Well done to the Forsyth’s (of Pot Still making fame!) for getting this lovely hotel back on its feet.
An early morning visit to Benromach in Forres was next on our travel itinerary. It’s currently owned and run by Gordon and Macphail. It’s a small and charming distillery with one wash still and one spirit still. The tour quickly encompasses the whole process and is only slightly tarnished by the repeated instruction to take no pictures, even though there was no production happening… A little bit of a shame for a small independent; that type of messaging is usually reserved for the large corporations. I doubt it’ll bother most folk though, but I’m a geek who likes photos!
Stepping away from whisky for one moment, we take a trip to local seaside village, Findhorn. The village itself has a couple of cute pubs (of which I need to go back and visit!), and a Bakehouse where we stopped for lunch, encompassing a great array of good honest local food, served well.
We headed to the marina to visit North 58° Sea Adventures for a RHIB boat ride… I can’t speak highly enough of it, what a fantastically fun way to see a different view of the Moray Firth, and there was plenty of wildlife on view for us too!
I’ll be open and say it right now, I’ve a lot of love for Glen Moray, and I’ve visited the distillery many times over the years. The folks are friendly, the cafe and shop are excellent, the whisky is good quality and well valued, and the tour is interesting! This is the best way for us to finish our tour.
One of the things that endears me to Glen Moray is that they’re not constrained by back stories of tradition… and although they are old (they’ve just celebrated their 120th birthday), they are happily embracing the modern. They positively show off their new expanded facilities during the tour, with ingenious heat recovery systems and stills made by Frilli (interesting to see something other than Forsyths stills) that make the process much more energy efficient, and at the time of installation, were the first of their kind in Scotland.
Out of the 60+ distilleries I’ve visited, Glen Moray continues to be one of the top offerings, and that’s even true for their bottle-your-own distillery only exclusives… while we were there it was a 10yo cask strength Marsala finish for £50, that’s awesome.
While in the warehouse I spotted an ex Cider cask being used to finish some whisky, and being from Somerset (i.e. cider country), that’s got my name written all over it! If that ever hits the bottle your own, and you happen to be there, grab a few bottles!
Thanks to Glen Moray for kindly donating me a full bottle of Glen Moray Marsala Finish bottle your own, it’s a winner!
From there it was a short trip back to Aberdeen airport, and a hop back to the South West.
The Malt Whisky Trail has it’s very own podcast, it’s worth a listen for all sorts of goodies… head here!
Also, while on the site, you can plan your trip and create a personalised itinerary.
One stop to highlight that I’ve not mentioned above is the Speyside Cooperage, it’s worth a visit if you’re going by to see the guys making casks, it’s very impressive!
Getting around Speyside, especially when drinking, may well mean you need a nominated driver, or you could use the various bus and taxi services that are available. For our trip we were royally served by Speyside Executive Hire, thank you for looking after us so well over the two days guys!
Many thanks indeed to The Malt Whisky Trail for such a great couple of days, and to all the distilleries that kindly gave their time to welcome us to their sites.