As the very heart of Scotch whisky distilling, Speyside boasts around half of the world’s malt distilleries all within 30 miles of each other. This is because Speyside offers a unique combination of fertile land, brooks, rivers and lochs and the perfect climate for maturing. Speyside’s landscape is shaped by whisky production, with rolling barley fields as far as the eye can see dotted with malt kilns and warehouses filled with the finest whisky soaking in flavour till it’s ready for its long-awaited debut.
With over 50 distilleries in Speyside, it’s a veritable heaven for those looking for a peek behind the curtain at how the most delectable whiskies ever produced are made – not to mention the chance to sample some of the rarest expressions in their natural habitat.
Here are 10 of our favourite distillery tours to visit, chosen for their knowledgeable guides, unique histories and quality of their final product (that you can take home with you for a price of course!)
Our Top 10 Speyside Distillery Tour Recommendations
The distillery tour for real enthusiasts is to be found at Aberlour Distillery. Surrounded by the spectacular scenery of Ben Rinnes, you will be accompanied by truly knowledgeable guides in The Aberlour Experience or Casks From The Past Tasting tours. Pre-booking is a virtual must for this sought-after tour where you’ll get a sneak peek at the secrets of Aberlour’s world-renowned expressions.
Six of Aberlour’s most prestigious malts can be sampled, and at the end of the tour you have the opportunity to fill a personalized bottle yourself to take home, destined to be the pride of your home whisky collection. Tours are 90 minutes long.
Regarded by some as the pinnacle of Scotch whisky, Macallan Visitor Centre is a must-stop. With a regular Macallan Experience tour, a Spirit of Macallan tour and a Most Precious tour, one can spend an hour or a day here amongst the ex-sherry casks from Spain, soaking in the history of the Macallan Estate and its unique single malt.
Photo opportunities abound at one of the most beautiful distilleries in the world – Strathisla. One feels instantly transported back to 1786 thanks to the distillery’s attention to historical detail – despite the distillery being burnt badly in a fire in 1879. Now a key part of the ubiquitous Chivas Regal brand the Strathisla distillery and attached bonded warehouses are truely a sight to behold. If you get the chance, take a look at the Royal Salute collection tucked away in the corner. It's under lock and key but you can see the indiviual named casks kept exclusively for the Royal family.
At the end of an intimate tour, take a seat in the gorgeous meeting room and sample the best of Chivas and Strathisla. If you are feeling up to it (must like I was) you have the opportunity to create your own personalized bottle of a very rare cask strength Strathisla Single Malt.
“The single malt that started it all,” Glenlivet Distillery was born in 1824 during tumultuous times for the burgeoning whisky industry. At the time, all distilleries in Speyside were operating illicitly, and Glenlivet was the first distillery to apply for and gain official legal status. This led to much disgruntlement from the other distilleries, and the Duke of Gordon issued owner George Smith with two pistols to protect his own life in the aftermath.
Thirty miles from Elgin, the distillery offers free 45-minute tours as well as longer pre-booked group tours that can give you a tutored exclusive tasting of some rare Glenlivet single malts.
In addition to the tours there is a fantastic self guided interactive musem that you can wander while waiting for your tour to commence.
One of the few distilleries that have resisted corporate buyouts over the decades, Glenfiddich is still owned by its founding family, and its single malt has won more awards than any other Scotch whisky.
The basic Explorers tour costs just GBP10 and more in-depth tours such as the half-day New Pioneer (GBP95) can be pre-arranged. These include a detailed tour, a nosing in the Grant family home, and a chance to bottle your own whisky from a select range of rare casks.
After the tour enjoy a delicious Haggis lunch (with Whisky sauce of course!) complete with Neep's and Taties.
While Glen Grant is one of the most famous and sought-after Scotch whiskies worldwide, often making industry experts’ top 5 lists, it’s the acres of beautifully-tended and visitor-accessible gardens that surround Glen Grant that make the distillery’s tour stand out from the rest.
Perfect for a rest stop between cramming in distillery visits, the distillery and its gardens get over 10,000 visitors a year. Guided tours and private tastings are accommodated, making it a must-visit on your list.
Since 1897 Glen Moray Distillery has been creating Glen Moray in Elgin, and the ingredients and process has remained virtually the same for over a century. The distillery has a classic farmhouse layout with a courthouse in the centre, and offers a more informal tour than some of the larger distilleries. Tours start at just GBP5 per person including tasting.
Glenfarclas Distillery was purchased by the famous Grant family in 1865 and they have continued to run it with a view to brewing only the finest single malt possible. The deep sherry tones of the single malt have won Glenfarclas numerous rewards, notably Whisky Magazine’s Distiller of the Year 2006. Multiple tours are available, including the Connoisseur's Tour & Tasting for GBP40 per person.
A unique distillery that uses a special slow distillation, Cardhu’s subtle malt is used in a number of Johnnie Walker blends. The only Speyside distillery to be pioneered by a woman, Cardhu offers four different tours that run at different times during the year. Tasting tours are often fully booked, so it is advised to book well in advance.
The smallest working distillery in Speyside, Benromach offers you not just a guided tour but the chance to meet those who own the distillery. Enjoy a nosing or bottle your own Benromach, this distillery offers a more intimate experience that you’ll cherish forever. A must for fans of Gordon and Macphail independent bottlings.
Remember to allow plenty of time between each tour if you plan on visiting multiple distilleries. At the end of each tour you’ll typically be able to sample some of the expressions – the part of the tour that you should certainly not rush!
Consider the start and end times of each tour and how long it will take you to get between each distillery and you’ll pack in more fun and whisky discovery into your incredible Speyside distillery adventure!
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