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Issue 41 - A land of drams

Scotland Magazine Issue 41
October 2008


This article is 10 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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A land of drams

In the second part of our series on whisky we head south of the Highland line.

Following last edition’s whirlwind tour of the whiskies of the Highlands and Islands, we now turn our attentions to Speyside and the Lowlands.

Both areas have great access via main airports at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness, and there is plenty to see and do. Expect to see some dramatic scenery, gorgeous rolling, lush river valleys and to taste some of the greatest malts in Scotland.

SPEYSIDE We start off in what many consider to be the true whisky country. It certainly is one of the finest whisky producing regions in the world and has the greatest concentration of distilleries.

Depending where you draw the boundary, there is between a third and a half of Scotland’s malt distilleries here, including some of the world’s best loved names, as well as some you may not have heard of.

With classic names such as Glenfiddich, The Macallan, Aberlour and The Glenlivet, and an official Whisky Trail of its own, it is up to visitors to choose their path.

But it is safe to say that if you are driving around Speyside you will be hard pressed to miss a distillery. Come round a corner, admire the beauty of the River Spey and there you go, another distillery.

Perhaps one of the best places to start is Glenfiddich distillery on the outskirts of Dufftown. Glenfiddich is one of the world’s best selling single malts and was the first to offer distillery tours. Today the scale of the distillery is matched by the number of people who flow through the doors.

The distillery offers several types of tour catering for those with little or no whisky knowledge up to the expert level. Don’t let the size of the car park, normally complete with a couple of coaches, put you off, you will receive an exceptionally friendly welcome even at the most busiest times.

Out of the most well known names that dominate the Speyside style, renowned for big, fruity and honeyed whiskies, are Aberlour and The Glenlivet. Aberlour 10 Years Old and The Glenlivet 15 Years Old are a couple of particularly good ones to start you off in your exploration of Speyside. And in the Chivas portfolio nestled in the Speyside area are Strathisla and Longmorn.

The former is worth visiting with its instantly recognisable twin pagodas. It is often considered one of the prettiest of Speyside distilleries and you can also get a good tour and tasting too.

Also worth looking out for is The Balvenie range, and the much sought after Balvenie Vintage 1972 which the experts have described as a “superb balance and harmony between all the elements.” The distillery itself backs onto Glenfiddich and offers good tours for the more knowledgeable.

Right in the heart of Speyside, Glenfarclas is a must for any discerning malt drinker. Still a family-run enterprise, the wonderful distillery has a stock list to rival any global concern. If you are in the market for a birthday present, the Glenfarclas Family Casks could be just the thing, with single barrels bottled since 1952.

If you are travelling to Elgin from Dufftown, watch out for the majestic Macallan distillery. You can expect to discover the importance of wood, water and barley to this most luxurious brand at its visitor centre.

Not far away lie two other Speyside trailblazers in the form of Glenrothes and Glen Grant. Glenrothes has recently experienced a massive growth in its sales, creating a niche for itself as a boutique malt offering different vintages.

Glen Grant is a different beast. It is among the top selling malts in the world, the market leader in Italy and has the honour of being the only whisky that still bears the name of its founders. With a new visitor centre and some magnificent gardens, this distillery should be part of any whisky tour of Speyside.

Not far from Nairn the Benromach distillery is another must-see, producing one of the only organic single malts on the market. Expect a warm welcome and tour followed by a tasting of this wonderful spirit.

Going slightly against the grain of the Speyside style is BenRiach. Expect a bit of a swerve ball with this malt as it has a fairly peaty and smoky nature, more reminiscent of the Islay style than its native Speyside.

THE LOWLANDS The Lowland area has only a few remaining distilleries, but at a time when the Highlands were distilling illegally, the region became the home of some big whisky producers – now with just three malt distilleries surviving.

The characteristic big stills traditionally employed made for a lighter spirit and whisky, and often has a distinctive floral note.

The furthest south, and possibly the most difficult to get to but well worth the trip, is Bladnoch lying a couple of kilometres from Wigtown in Galloway.

Bladnoch is regarded as one of Scotland’s prettiest whiskies, dominated by the Lowland floral notes. But its location is special too, and the great museum and visitor centre should give the traveller further cause to visit if any is needed.

On the other side of the country is Glenkinchie, and here you will get an excellent tour with some whiskies well worth sampling, including the new 12 year old.

If you are travelling out of Glasgow the nearest distillery, roughly a 20 minute drive, is Auchentoshan. This distillery takes the smooth and light Lowland style one step further by triple distilling the whisky, similar to the method employed in Ireland. On the shores of the River Clyde, the distillery has a great visitor centre and the Three Wood expression is worth looking out for.

Another distillery just a stone’s throw from Glasgow is Glengoyne. This picturesque distillery is set in some glorious countryside and offers a great tour and tasting.

Also worth visiting if you are staying in Perth is the Glenturret distillery, the oldest in Scotland and home to the Famous Grouse.

Here you will find a fantastic visitor experience with fun for all the family.

Not too far away, just north of Pitlochry, lies Edradour distillery, the smallest in Scotland. Another worthy stop on you Lowland whisky tour, as you can truly get up close and personal with the distilling process here.

So it’s all out there, a world of whisky to discover at your leisure. And if you put in the time researching and planning you can expect a most rewarding trip.