Speyside whiskies

31 January, 2014

The Edrington Group’s investment at The Macallan reflects the contemporary importance of the image of distilleries and their visitor centres. It is sometimes not enough to make great whisky, but distillers have to be seen by members of the public to be making great whisky. 

In this respect, a key way in which Speyside’s distillers align their products with the region is through visitor facilities, and seven operational distilleries, along with the historic Dallas Dhu distillery museum and the Speyside Cooperage at Craigellachie, are part of Scotland’s Malt Whisky Trail. In total, 13 working distilleries open their doors to the public.

The most popular distillery in terms of visitor numbers is Glenfiddich, on the outskirts of Dufftown, partly because admission to the standard tour is free. In 2012 some 74,500 people toured Glenfiddich, but the historic, family-owned distillery is also now offering more in-depth tours, including the ultimate Pioneers’ Tour.

This is a pre-booked £75, three-hour experience during which participants may bottle their own 20cl cask strength unique Malt Masters’ Selection directly from a cask in Warehouse 8. There is also a masterclass which involves nosing and tasting Glenfiddich whiskies aged up to 30 years.

The brand’s proprietors, William Grant & Sons, use the strapline From the Best Dram in the Valley to the World’s Most Awarded Single Malt Scotch Whisky, with the ‘best dram’ referring to founder William Grant’s ambitions for his new distillery back in the 1880s. Heritage and tradition, along with progress and innovation, are keystones of the Glenfiddich ‘message,’ which places the distillery and the Grant family firmly within the context of their Speyside location.

The Grant Family Home – created during 2012 in a former maltings – provides an opportunity to emphasise this. It offers a fully functioning blending room and private dining facilities, in addition to an archive area which focuses on key items from the Grants’ vast collection of memorabilia. The Home is also where those participating in the Pioneers’ Tour complete their experience with a sampling session.

Glenfiddich boasted sales in excess of one million cases during 2012, and last September three new expressions, selected solely on the basis of their flavour profile then married in purpose-built Solera vats in Warehouse 8, were launched into the travel retail arena under the Cask Collection banner.

In addition to distillery visitor offerings, Speyside’s identity as a leading whisky-producing region is underlined by two well-attended annual whisky events, namely the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival staged each May, and the Dufftown Speyside Whisky Festival held in September. 

These allow distilleries not in the ownership of the industry’s major players an equal opportunity for exposure, with the likes of Benromach, Tomintoul and BenRiach and GlenDronach, with their lively programme of releases, taking their place in the limelight, along with Tamdhu distillery – reopened in 2012 after three years of silence and already building six new warehouses.

Speyside came to prominence as a malt whisky region in the late Victorian whisky boom, when no fewer than 21 distilleries were created in the area during the 1890s alone. It seems that in the current Scotch whisky boom Speyside is once again fairing very well. 

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