Those who hike the Speyside Way Whisky Trail can enjoy beautiful Scottish landscapes, charming villages and traditional meals. But it’s virtually impossible to talk about the Speyside region of Scotland without talking about whisky in the same breath. After all, half of all of Scotland’s single malt whisky – which is quite a bit – is produced within this area. So in this post, we investigate 8 famous distilleries along the Speyside Way Whisky Trail.
What is the Speyside Way Whisky Trail?
Never heard of the Speyside Way Whisky Trail? This multi-day walking route of 116 kilometers (72 miles) is one of the ‘Great Trails’ of Scotland. The tour runs right through Speyside and thus past a large number of distilleries. Hence, the trail is called a ‘Whisky Trail’.
History of Speyside
The Speyside region of the Scottish Highlands is named after the River Spey. The fertile valley around this river is today the heart of Scotland’s single malt whisky production. This status is partly due to the good quality of the spring water in this area, but also to the remoteness. After all, when the first whiskys were produced here, this was an illegal trade.
In 1822, King George IV took a trip to Speyside, where he got to taste one of these illegal whiskys. He immediately developed a love for Highland whisky, which suddenly was recognized for its high quality. After his visit, more and more licenses were gradually issued for distilleries, putting the Scottish single malt whisky from Speyside on the map in one fell swoop.
Today, the Speyside distilleries are known worldwide. Some of the most famous brands of Scotch whisky are produced in the area, but a large number of lesser-known distilleries can also be visited in Speyside.
Speyside Way Whisky Trail
The Speyside Way Whisky Trail runs from the town of Buckie on the coast of the Moray Firth to the more southerly mountain ranges of the Cairngorms National Park. The first part of this route was opened in 1981. After that it was further expanded to include more different distilleries.
The route is mostly on flat terrain. Sometimes it follows old railway lines that are no longer in use; other parts take old military roads and paths through the forest. The route is on the list of 29 ‘Great Trails’, a series of famous distance walks, of Scotland. It is also one of the four official long distance routes in Scotland (along with the West Highland Way, the Great Glen Way and the Southern Upland Way).
The Speyside Way Whisky Trail is a clearly signposted route. The signposts contain the image of a thistle in a hexagon, the logo of the Speyside Way. Every year the route is walked by about 50,000 people – about 3,000 of them walk the entire route. Some parts of the route are also accessible to cyclists.
Not a fan of whisky?
Those who are not very fond of whisky can still walk and enjoy this route of course. In addition to the whisky-related sights, the path passes several special places to admire.
For example, visit the Scottish Castle of Ballindalloch, enjoy a walk through the forest and learn about the old railways – sometimes part of the trail – that are now part of Scotland’s National Heritage.
8 Famous distilleries along the path
There are some fifty distilleries in Speyside, including some of Scotland’s best-known brands. Take, for example, these 8 famous distilleries along the Speyside Way Whisky Trail:
1. The Macallan
Perhaps the greatest pride of this distillery is the oak barrels in which the whisky is aged. These are specially chosen and made for each type of whisky that The Macallan produces. The distillery has an extensive visitor center, where guides offer guided tours and recount the history of The Macallan – one of Scotland’s first licensed distilleries – and the whiskys made here.
This world famous distillery was founded in 1886 by William Grant, the whisky manufacturer who is also behind Kininvie and Balvenie. Glenfiddich is not only the world’s best-selling single malt whisky. The brand has also won the most international awards of all Scottish single malt whiskys.
The centuries-old family business has, in addition to the standard whiskys in the range, also marketed a number of very exclusive whiskys. For example, a 64-year-old whisky in 2001, of which only 61 bottles were made.
Of all the distilleries along the Speyside Way Whisky Trail, this is perhaps the most atmospheric. The Aberlour Distillery offers visitors a warm welcome and an educational tour – in combination with a tasting, of course. Both outside and inside, this place has a traditional and inviting character. The room for tastings in particular has been tastefully decorated and is a lovely area to relax.
4. Glen Grant
As one of the first distilleries in the Scottish Highlands to be licensed to produce whisky, Glen Grant has a fascinating history. Founded in 1840, the distillery was instrumental in the construction of one of Scotland’s first railway lines. Innovation continued to play an important role at Glen Grant into the twentieth century. In 1900, it became the first distillery to have electric light. The owner at the time, James Grant, was the first person in the Scottish Highlands to own a car.
The Cragganmore Distillery is located in a beautiful valley on the River Spey. The special shape of the stills is an important feature of Cragganmore. The kettles have a flat top and a relatively short neck. The whisky distilled in these stills is known as one of the most complex and distinctive whiskys along the Speyside Way Whisky Trail.
6. Chivas Regal
Brothers James and John Chivas came from the Scottish countryside, but moved to Aberdeen and started their own luxury goods store there in 1801. They produced their first whisky blend around 1850. Chivas Regal did not enter the market until the early twentieth century, made by the brothers’ successors. Chivas Regal became the first luxury whisky and became extremely popular in New York. Today there are different types of Chivas Regal.
The famous whisky has been produced in the oldest working distillery in the Scottish Highlands since 1950. The Strathisla distillery dates back to 1786 and is worth a visit for that reason alone.
7. The Glenlivet
With a remote yet idyllic location, The Glenlivet Distillery is well worth a visit. The Glenlivet is said to have been a favorite whisky of Charles Dickens. In 1852, he wrote a letter to a friend in which he recommended the single malt whisky.
The Glenlivet is also doing well outside the British Isles. This brand accounts for about half of all Scottish malt whisky sold in the United States. Those who visit the distillery will be treated to stories of a fascinating history of smugglers – and, if you wish, to a tasting!
This distillery also has a history of smugglers, although the company was licensed as early as 1824. But there are more details in Cardhu’s history. It was the first distillery founded by a woman, Helen Cumming. In 1872, it was taken over by another female pioneer, daughter-in-law Elizabeth Cummings.
The whiskys that Cardhu makes have won several international awards. They are known for their sweet, rich flavors and exquisite smoothness.