Wine lovers make it a habit of seeking out great wineries while traveling the world. There’s nothing like discovering a wonderful vintage to add to your list of favorites. But if whiskey is more your speed, you don’t really have the same kind of tasting opportunities as these wine aficionados who kind it easy to locate winery tours and tasting trips in many parts of Europe…unless you go to Scotland.
Scotland’s Malt Whiskey Trail, the only one of its kind on the planet, is the whiskey lover’s dream route, featuring more than half the malt whiskey distilleries in the country. Along the way, visitors are treated to lessons in distilling, behind-the-scenes tours of the distilleries and warehouses, and – of course – the opportunity to taste some of these unique, hand-crafted malts. Add to that the beauty of the area through which the trail runs and you’ve got a vacation activity that’s ideal for anyone who loves that amber-colored liquid and wants to explore Speyside as well.
Speyside is world famous for its whiskey production and the Malt Whiskey Trail hits seven wonderful distilleries, including the Speyside Cooperage, which is where the casks for the whiskey are produced. (There aren’t many coopers left in the world!) It’s easy to traverse the trail via automobile as the route is well-marked, or you can sign up for a Malt Whiskey Trail tour, which is the preferred option for those who want to indulge a bit while going from distillery to distillery.
Here’s what’s included:
· Benromach – Situated on the outskirts of the town of Forres, Benromach Distillery is small but produces a very fine single malt that’s made a name for itself as the first fully-certified organic single malt. Tour the facility and watch the distillers in action, view an insightful DVD about the company, attend a “tutored” tasting, and even fill your own bottle of Benromach Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whiskey while you’re there.
· Cardhu – History tells that the goings-on at the Cardow Farm weren’t completely on the up-and-up when whiskey first began production there in 1811, but a few years later the owners made their distillery legal. Since that time, Cardhu has become well known for its 12 Year Old Single Malt Whiskey and its Special Cask Reserve. Visitors can take a guided tour and enjoy a “nosing” and tasting of three single malts, including a complimentary glass. Allow about 90 minutes if taking the tour.
· Dallas Dhu Historic Distillery – No longer a working distillery, Dallas Dhu was once the producer of a number of fine single malts, but the facility closed in 1983 and now functions as a museum. Visitors can tour the property and take a look at the tools of distilling as well as a number of other artifacts and monuments. Definitely worth a short stop.
· Glenfiddich – If you’re a fan of Scotch whiskey, you no doubt recognize the Glenfiddich name. This brand is – without a doubt – the international favorite among single malt Scotch whiskeys, found in restaurants, bars, and homes throughout the world. Little has changed here since the company first started production in 1887 and it’s quite interesting to watch the film about the history of Glenfiddich. A guided tour takes about 90 minutes and includes a tutored tasting of the distillery’s 12, 15, and 18 year-old whiskies
· Glen Grant – Glen Grant is the only Scotch whiskey that bears the name of its founders. This smallish distillery produces a rather light colored whiskey that’s known for its clean, distinctive taste. Tours are offered and there’s also a pretty Victorian garden on site.
· Glenlivet – Well-loved in the area, Glenlivet offers visitors a 45-minute guided tour of the distillery and warehouses and a complimentary dram of “The Glenlivet”. There’s also a nice gift shop on site and a coffee shop where trail travelers can enjoy snacks and light meals. Guests can also fill their own personalized bottle of Scotch whiskey.
· Glen Moray – Situated on the banks of the River Lossie in the city of Elgin, Glen Morey has been producing single malt scotch since around the turn of the 20th century. You can choose a regular tour or the custom Fifth Chapter Tour, which includes an in-depth discussion about the production of whiskey with the Production Manager as well as a more comprehensive tasting.
· Strathisla – Though you might not recognize it from the name, this is where the famous Chivas Regal is produced. Strathisla offers regular tours as well as two unique “whiskey experiences” that are more costly, including “Straight from the Cask”, which is self-explanatory. Visitors must pre-book for the special tours.
· Speyside Cooperage – The coopers at Speyside Cooperage, founded in 1947, are said to make some of the finest casks in the world, produced from American Oak and used by distilleries worldwide. Learn about how casks are made, watch the coopers in action, and try your own hand at coopering. If you’ve got kids in tow, they’ll enjoy this stop on the tour.
The distilleries and cooperage are open year round, for the most part. Check their websites for specific closings, which happen most often near the December holidays or in the wintertime. If you’re visiting during the summertime, you should be able to make a stop at each.