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Instead of being named after a place or region – like most Scottish Whiskies – Speyside whisky takes its name from the River Spey, alongside which its distilleries run.
Whiskies from this area have long since joined the hallowed halls of the world’s most famous, and for good reason: Speyside whisky is celebrated for its rich, fruity taste – a result of sherry cask-ageing.
Speyside whiskies make up 60% of Scotland’s entire single malt production and it is the most densely populated whisky region in the world. Surrounded by fertile rivers and glens, Speyside whisky has hit nature’s jackpot for producing smooth, rich whiskies with their own unique characteristics, tastes and textures.
Home to over 50 distilleries, there’s plenty to explore on your next whisky trail. For now, here are five better and lesser known distilleries that deserve a spot on your whisky bucket list.
The Gaelic translation of ‘mill on the hill’, Tamnavulin distillery is nestled in the foothills of the Cairngorm mountains, deep in the heart of Speyside.
This Speyside whisky trades its popularity on the local microclimate, with shelter from the Cairngorms giving the region the reputation of the driest in Scotland, with fertile farming land and a packed larder of raw ingredients, including barley, oats and wheat.
The distillery’s core collection includes double cask, red wine casked and sherry casked whiskies, which all reflect the unique taste of Tamnavulin: a sweet, mellow and smooth single malt.
One of the oldest Speyside distilleries, the Cardhu distillery has been nestled in the foothills near the River Spey for 200 years. Successfully run by two generations of pioneering women, Helen and Elizabeth Cumming helped to define Cardhu as a whisky with heart. To find out more about other female whisky pioneers, check out our blog: Women in Whisky!
The first distillery to partner with John Walker & Sons, the elegant and smooth character of Cardhu has been at the centre of shared celebrations around the world.
A sip of this classic, rich Scottish malt will give you a rich texture and a balance of sweet and spicy flavours.
The Balvenie is an ode to centuries-old craftsmanship. Dedicated to maintaining the ‘Five Rare Crafts’, not only does the distillery grow its own barley (the only one in Scotland to do so!), it also uses traditional floor maltings and keeps both a coppersmith and a team of coopers on site.
Finally, Balvenie’s Malt Master David C. Stewart is the longest serving in the Scotch whisky industry. Having first joined The Balvenie distillery in 1962 at the age of 17, today David has mastered the complex skills required to create the very finest single malt whisky.
Although Ballindalloch Distillery only began production in September 2014, the estate’s family history stretches back to 1546, when Ballindalloch Castle became home to the Macpherson-Grant family.
Guy Macpherson-Grant is the 24th generation to live at the Castle, and he continues a family legacy of sorts in the whisky world. His great, great Grandfather, Sir George, was involved in the building of Cragganmore and Speyside distilleries in the 19th Century.
The distillery itself sits within a renovated farm steading dating from the early 1800s. As one of Scotland’s Single Estate Distilleries, Ballindalloch takes a sustainable approach to its operations. Harvesting barley from its own farm, distilling and maturing the whisky on the Estate and feeding its Aberdeen Angus cattle with the draff, the distillery even uses its by-products to fertilise the Estate’s surrounding fields.
Believing in skill and experience to guide them, Ballindalloch’s commitment to quality and by the Grants of Glenfarclas since 1865. Using traditional, direct-fired stills, the purest water from tradition saw the distillery win the Icons of Whisky Craft Producer of the Year 2016.
A family-run operation for five generations, Glenfarclas distillery has been owned and managed by the Grants of Glenfarclas since 1865. Using traditional, direct-fired stills, the purest water from Ben Rinnes and high quality European oak casks, Glenfarclas works hard to preserve the “time-honoured quality” you’ll find in a bottle of this famous Speyside.
Glenfarclas was also one of the first distilleries in Scotland to open a dedicated visitor centre back in 1973, and offers a range of tours to appeal to everyone from budding whisky enthusiasts to seasoned fans of the spirit.