Whisky month, a region at a time - Speyside

I always say if you have only heard of one single malt, the chances are it is a Speyside (perhaps that’s contentious!).  Home to around half of Scotland’s whisky distilleries and almost all of the “glens”.  In fact one of my favourite bits of mis-information was overhearing the advice “choose anything so long as it’s “Glen”, they are the best ones!”.  Of course, the proliferation of Glen-somethings in the Speyside region comes from the landscape.  The powerful rushing of the mighty river Spey with its dozens of tributaries and precious springs and sources, creates a landscape of many valleys or “glens”, each giving its name to its distillery.

Strathisla Distillery in Spring; Credit Chivas Bros

The second week of our Whisky Month is dedicated to Speyside, the triangle of whisky heaven located between Aberdeen to the south east and Inverness to the north west. Known for its unique micro-climate, Speyside is bordered by the natural features of the snow peaked Cairngorm mountains to the south and the Moray Firth to the north.

Seven Speyside Distilleries


Pronounce        dal-YEW-in

Meaning            Green valley

Fact                     Dailuaine Distillery was the first distillery to have a pagoda roof.


Pronounce       glen-FID-ich

Meaning           Valley of the deer

Fact                    Glenfiddich first ran its stills on Christmas Day 1887.


Pronounce        glen-FAR-class

Meaning            Valley of the green grassland

Fact                    Glenfarclas celebrated 175 years in 2011 and is still a family-owned and                              family-run distillery now in its 6th generation.


Pronounce        ma-CALLAN

Meaning            “Magh” – a flat fertile place & “allan” from Saint Fillian, who was                                            reputed to have passed on the secrets of distilling.

Fact                    The Macallan distillery borders the River Spey and it has its own salmon                              fishing beat which is let out during the season.


Pronounce       man-och-MORE

Meaning           The place of the monks

Fact                    During the 1990s an expression of Mannochmore called “Loch Dhu” was                              released – it was a black Whisky.


Pronounce        mort-LACH

Meaning            Bowl shaped valley

Fact                    For a short time the barley store at Mortlach was used as a Free                                            Church until one could be built in Dufftown.


Pronounce        glen-LIV-it

Meaning            Glen of the smooth place

Fact                    Glenlivet was the first distillery to purchase a license in 1824.

When to visit Speyside

Speyside has some of the mildest and sunniest weather in Scotland.  That said, the locals say that the spring only truly begins when the snow has melted from Ben Rinnes, and that can be at the end of May!  Most of the distilleries are open in good time for Easter so any time from the end of March through to the end of September is perfect for a jaunt to Speyside.

Glenallachie Distillery

Typical Speyside characteristics

Speyside has one characteristic that almost everyone agrees upon: fruitiness!  From lighter “estery” notes of pear and apple, through to orchard fruits of peach and plum and finally rich dried sultanas, Speyside is the queen of the fruity, elegant single malts.  Now with so much choice and innovation, you will find expressions experimenting with smoke and interesting cask finishes, deepening the range of flavours, but fruit is always at the heart of the dram.