Scotland is renowned for its Scotch Malt Whisky and one of its most celebrated regions is Speyside. For a sub-region of the Scottish Highlands it is somewhat surprising just how many celebrated distilleries there are in such a small area. Though little has changed in the area itself, the whiskies to originate there can boast a range of different characters.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
To appreciate Speyside whisky is to gain an understanding of where in Scotland it comes from. Speyside is also known as Strathspey, with ‘strath’ meaning ‘near’ and in this case it is roughly the area situated around the River Spey in Morayshire in northeastern Scotland. This definition includes the fertile valley of rivers and secluded glens between the Highlands to the west, Aberdeenshire in the east and extending north to the Cairngorms National Park.
“Speyside still has the largest number of distilleries from any whisky producing areas in Scotland”
The location isn’t dramatically big yet Speyside still has the largest number of distilleries from any whisky producing areas in Scotland which is certainly saying something. In fact, Dufftown alone has six working distilleries which have a combined annual capacity of around 40 million litres of spirit. Around sixty percent of Scotland’s single malt whisky is made in Speyside and there are around 50 distilleries located in the sub-region which is over half of Scotland’s total.
The reason why this area is so well known for Scotch Whisky production is likely because it is so well suited to it. Firstly, the River Spey provides a ready and available water source. Then there is the climate being relatively dry and warm making it natural for whisky distillation. Barley growing plains are also nearby meaning that the basic ingredients for malt whisky are close to hand.
WILLIAM GRANT & SONS
The most famous whisky brand to originate in Speyside, and indeed Scotland, is William Grant & Sons. Founded in 1887, the company has remained wholly family owned to this day and is the third largest producer of Scotch Whisky with an estimated 8% market share. Grants Family Whiskies produces the whisky that carries the family name, Grants, as well as the world famous and world’s best-selling single malt, Glenfiddich. The family of whiskies also includes Clan MacGregor, Monkey Shoulder, and Balvenie. Crucial to the operation are their four Scottish distilleries which are the Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Kininvie Distilleries in Dufftown, Moray supplemented by the Girvan Distillery in South Ayrshire.
THE TASTE OF A SPEYSIDE WHISKY
Even the water is well suited as reports suggest it has the lowest level of dissolved minerals of any area across Scotland which has a positive impact for the purity and taste of its whiskies. There is some science behind this as the quartzite at the water source keeps high levels of minerals from mixing with the water thus improving the potential purity.
The taste of Speyside’s whiskies clearly sets it apart. The region’s whiskies have an elegant and easygoing taste with Speyside malts being typically the sweetest of all Scotch Malt Whiskies. The nature of the whiskies is known to be fruity and nutty featuring notes of caramel, apple, pears, honey, vanilla and spice. There are essentially two types of flavours for Speyside Whiskies; the light, complex, grassy whiskies and the heavy, rich and sweet sherried ones.
For a sweet, fruity and floral Scotch Whisky there is the Grant’s Family Reserva which is complex and clean with notes of ripe pear and summer fruits. A more intense Single Malt Whisky is the Glenfiddich 21 Years which is vanilla sweet with hints of banana, figs and rich toffee. Initially soft on the palate then vibrant and drying with a very long, warm and spicy finish. One of the finest matured whiskies is The Balvenie which is a distinctly elegant and rich Single Malt Whisky with a sweet palate of dried fruits, toasted almonds and cinnamon. There are layers with the richness of creamy toffee notes and even traces of oak and vanilla.
THE HISTORY OF SPEYSIDE WHISKY
In order for it to be classed as Scotch Whisky there are certain requirements. That’s why Speyside is known as a ‘protected region’ for Scotch Whisky distilling under UK Government legislation. King George IV was a fan of Scotch Whisky from Speyside and the royal association continued with Queen Victoria who gave a standing order that all royal coaches should carry a bottle of whisky under the coachman’s seat in case of an ‘emergency.’
For such a small sub-region of the Scottish Highlands, Speyside offers a wide range of stunning whiskies. The location is well suited for it attracting tourists from across the world to see for themselves where their favourite whiskies are made. William Grant & Sons is the most recognised brand yet they not only produce Scotch Whisky but also a few more brands we think you’ll know and love.