Speyside is one of the foremost regions to product single malt Scotch whisky. It is an area within the Scottish Highlands in the area around the River Spey in Moray in northeastern Scotland and produces some of the best single malt whiskies in Scotland. Due to the high concentration of distilleries in the region it is classed as its own whisky producing region, although some whiskies from this region are marketed as Highland. There are, however, some similarities between Speyside and Highland malts. There are around 60 distilleries in the area and two of the most famous single malt whiskies – Glenfiddich and Glenlivet are from here.
History of Speyside Malt Whisky Production
The history of Speyside single malt whisky production is similar to the history of the Highland region. The first legal license to distill whisky in Scotland was granted to the Glenlivet in 1824. Probably because the abundant arable land which was easy to manage (as opposed to the mountains to the west). Now Speyside has some of the best and largest whisky distilleries in Scotland.
Speyside Single Malt Whiskies
Most whiskies distilled in Speyside use only minimally peated barley. To the taste, they only have a hint of smokiness. The malt whiskies tend to be light with honey overtones and some distilleries produce malt whiskies which are heavier. Generally Speyside whiskies can be divided into two styles: One is light, grassy and at the other end of the spectrum are rich, sweet, sherry-like whiskies.
I will focus on three of the best distilleries in Speyside as there are too many to go into detail.
Glenfiddich. Started in 1886 by William Grant the distillery has remained independent and family-owned. It was built by him and his nine children and the same warehouses are used today. It is located near the town of Dufftown – right in the heart of Speyside. It is really a giant in whisky production with around 10,000,000 litres of alcohol being produced annually. All the whisky is matured in it’s own onsite warehouses, and is bottled onsite also. They produce a number of malts with the youngest at 12 years old and going up to 21 years old. It is the main whisky used in the Grant’s blend – which uses a similar triangle shape bottle to the classic 12 year old single malt whisky. The best single malt from them is the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Single Malt Solera.
The Macallan. Founded in 1824 this is regarded as a classic single malt whisky. It has changed owner and names over the centuries (originally was called the Elchies distillery). It has only gained popularity as a single malt whisky in recent years. It wasn’t until 1970 that it was sold as a single malt. It is now reportedly the world 3rd most popular single malt whisky. The malt whisky is only ever matured in ex-sherry casks from Jerez in Spain. This gives it a sweet distinctive taste.
The Glenlivet. Situated near the town of Tomintoul The Glenlivet distillery is the first legal Scottish distillery. It is situated on what was once a farm distillery called Upper Drummin. Because the neighbouring distilleries were running without a license they became angry that the owner was running Glenlivet legally, and also becoming very successful. So George Smith, the owner, had to resort to carryng a pair pistols for protection. It is a very smooth and light Speyside malt. It is the second most popular malt whisky in the world and the top seller in the US.
Other notable distilleries are Balvenie, Aberlour, Cardhu, Cragganmore and Macduff.
The Speyside whiskies are the jewel in Scotch single malt whisky production. The region produces high quality malts suitable for many palates. The only problem is to decide which is your favourite.
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