The Best Speyside Whisky Distilleries – Speyside Scotch Whisky Trail
The Best Speyside Whisky Distilleries
For scotch whisky drinkers there should be only one destination to add to your bucket list – the Speyside Scotch Whisky Trail. Located in Northeastern Scotland, along the River Spey, there are distilleries, whisky pubs, and restaurants and cafes preparing quality dishes with local ingredients. In this post, I will share our tips on how to visit the best Speyside whisky distilleries.
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Guide To The Malt Whisky Trail
In this post, you will learn the history of Speyside, the home of Scottish malt whisky. We include a list of Speyside distilleries and attractions on the trail as well as additional stops for food and drink travelers.Check out our Scotland Drinks Guide - What To Drink In Scotland
What Is Moray Speyside?
Moray Speyside is located in Northeastern Scotland. It’s about three hours drive north from both Edinburgh and Glasgow. Moray is also sandwiched between Aberdeenshire in the east and the Highlands and Inverness in the west.
At its most northern point, Moray (pronounced like “Murray” in the Scottish accent) includes rugged coastline dotted with fishing villages. The coastline of the Moray Firth gives way to the plains of Moray, where agriculture rules. It’s a landscape dotted with Highland Cows (called coos), loads of sheep, and Belted Galloway cows, which look more like Oreo cookies than cows.
Continuing south, Moray reaches into the Cairngorms National Park, where the plains start to inch upwards into characteristic Scottish Highland hills. The national park is home to the largest mountain range in the United Kingdom.
The largest city in Moray Speyside is Elgin, home to only 12,000 or so inhabitants. Villages and towns spread to the west, to the north, and to the south. Many of these villages and towns include one or more scotch whisky distilleries, making the entire region ripe for whisky tourism. This includes the towns of Keith, Dufftown, and Aberlour, which are all well-known to whisky aficionados.
The River Spey runs through them all and empties into the Spey Bay in the North. The water of the Spey is what results in the world-class whisky. The river is also one of the longest in Scotland. Tourists flock to Moray for castle tours, nature, fishing, and golf. For food and drink travelers, though, this is undiscovered territory.
Moray Speyside Food And Drink Pro Tip
The water of the River Spey has attracted many of the top distilleries, including the Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and The Macallan. Together these distilleries produce some of the best Speyside single malt whisky.
What Is The Speyside Malt Whisky Trail?
There are approximately 100 Scottish whisky distilleries spread across the five whisky regions in Scotland. There are close to 60 Speyside distilleries in this small region, but only about a dozen or so are open to tourists for visits and tastings. Scotland’s Malt Whisky Trail is a collection of distilleries dedicated to promoting whisky tourism. This part of Scotland is considered Malt Whisky Country because it is home to the largest concentration of whisky producers in Scotland.
There are a total of nine stops on the official Malt Whisky Trail, which include working distilleries, a historic distillery, and the Speyside Cooperage. But there is more to the trail than this handful of Scotch distilleries. Not only are there well-known companies and artisan producers, but there are whisky bars and restaurants dedicated to promoting the local food and drink of Moray Speyside.
The Malt Whisky Trail includes the distillers and producers that are characteristic of the region and easily accessible for food and drink travelers. Each of the producers offers whisky distillery tours and tastings. We include more than these nine stops though in our list of Speyside distilleries.Check out our Beginner's Guide to the Scotch Whisky Regions
The Best Speyside Whisky Distilleries With Visitor Centers
In this list, we go beyond the “official” Malt Whisky Trail distillers to include all distillers with visitor centers. We visited a good number of distilleries for tours, VIP experiences, or for tastings, during our 10 day itinerary in Moray Speyside.
It’s best to book ahead and reserve your spot. Although a few times we were lucky just showing up, often times people are turned away. This is true particularly on weekends or during the summer.
Looking to plan your trip? Check out our 5 Day Scotland Whisky Tour Itinerary.
Tips To Make The Most Of Speyside Distillery Tours
There are a handful of things we learned from our exploration of Moray Speyside. First, there are a few ways to visit a distillery. You can take a tour, which includes a tasting at the end. Many also offer VIP or more advanced tastings. This can include higher-end whisky tastings or unique experiences, like blending your own bottle or doing a chocolate and whisky tasting. Some distilleries also offer bars or cafes where you can do a whisky tasting flight or even just offer a tasting in their shop without a tour.
Any Scotland distillery tour itinerary should include a little bit of each experience. There are only so many distillery tours you can take in one trip, but there are other ways to experience the distilleries. Included on our list are some of the various experiences that are possible to book along the trail.
Moray Speyside Food And Drink Pro Tip
Every Spey distillery takes time each year to shut down, conduct maintenance, and allow its teams some down time. This time is called “silent season.” Sometimes this lasts only a few weeks, other times for longer. Most distilleries will let you know on their website when their silent season is. For many, it’s in July. During this time tours are offered, but the distillery might not be working. To compensate, distilleries might reduce their price or offer additional tastings to make up for it.
The Best Speyside Whisky Tours
Cardhu Distillery In Knockando
I wanted to visit Cardhu for a few reasons. One because it is one of the whiskies I drink at home. Also, it was the only scotch whisky distillery founded by a woman. Now owned by Johnnie Walker, I expected the distillery to be a little sterile and corporate. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It was one of the most historic-feeling distilleries we visited.
Tour Options: Cardhu Distillery offers a basic tour that ends with one tasting for £8. Tours run more or less on the hour. We did their Guess Dhu tour, which is a little longer. It offers a blind tasting experience at the end. They offer three tastings of the six whiskies they produce at Cardhu and you need to guess which is which. I guessed two out of three, which was not bad. The Guess Dhu tour is £12. The Cardhu Collection Tour is £25 and includes a tasting of all six of their single malt whiskies. Learn more here.
Leave an extra few minutes in your scheduled to check out the small farm located near the parking area, where it is possible to spot a few Highland coos.
Strathisla In Keith
The Strathisla Distillery dates to the 1780s, making it one of the oldest on the Speyside distilleries map. It is the symbolic heart of the Chivas brand and one of the single malt whiskies that is used to produce Chivas. Because the distillery is so historic, it is more quaint than others and oozes history. They recently renovated their tasting room to be something spectacular, with the feel of comforting library with exposed stone walls and leather sofas. They also have a small bar where you can do tastings, flights, and even try a Chivas cocktail.
Tour Options: The Strathisla Distillery Tour lasts a little more than an hour and costs £15. It includes three tastings although they were offering four tastings when we visited because it was silent season. Or, the Chivas Cellar Tasting is £40 and involves tasting some aged whiskies right from the cask.
We did the Chivas Blending Experience, which was one of our favorites during our visit to Speyside. They have a stunning blending room where they placed six single malts in front of us (without labels) and we each created a malt whisky blend to take home. The Blending Experience is £60. During our tour we also tasted whiskies from the cask. If short on time, stop by the bar for a whisky tasting flight for only £10. Learn more here.
Glenallachie In Aberlour
One of the newest distilleries to open their doors to visitors, we were one of the early visitors. Although opened in 1967, ownership changed over the years. At various times both Pernod and the Chivas Brothers owned the distillery. In 2017, ownership changed once again and now the distillery is owned by well-known master distiller Billy Walker. The distillery is stunning and tour guides knowledgeable.
Tour Options: The basic distillery tour at Glenallachie is £15, lasts an hour, and included three tastings. Their Connoisseurs Tour is £50, includes a visit to their warehouse, and ends with a tutored tasting of five drams. This was the tour we did and because the weather was surprisingly pleasant they set up our tasting outside, which was unique. Learn more here.
Glenfiddich In Dufftown
The famous drinks family William Grant, along with his family, built The Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown in the late 1880s. Many of the whisky distilleries are owned by big companies like Diageo or Pernod. WG Grant & Sons is still family owned but is the third-largest whisky company in the world, which is shocking. They were also one of the first to offer whisky distillery tours in Scotland in the 1960s.
Tour Options: Glenfiddich offers a wide variety of tour options starting at their basic tour for £10. The Spirit of Innovation Tour includes a visit to their bottling hall. This is unique as many distillers bottle in a central location in Scotland and not on site. It costs £25 and is offered three times a day.
The Glenfiddich Solera tour explores one of their most well-known whiskies, the 15 year Solera Vat. This is also our new favorite whisky! This tour costs £50 and is offered twice a day. They also offer a Pioneers Tour, which is four hours long and includes a 200ml bottle that you fill from a cask yourself. This tour is £95 and is offered once a day. We actually visited the Malt Barn, their cafe and bar, and ordered a tasting flight. Flights start around £25 for four drams. Learn more here.
Glenfarclas Distillery In Ballindalloch
Family-owned for six generations, Glenfarclas is located on the road to the Ballindalloch Castle, near Aberlour. One of the more historic-feeling distilleries, particularly with all of the “duty-free” warehouses spread around the property. The tasting room feels like a hunting lodge, with long wooden tables and red leather, high back chairs.
Tour Options: We got lucky with this one and showed up 30 minutes before their last tour of the day and managed to squeeze in. People who showed up just after us were turned away. They have one of the most popular tours so I would recommend booking ahead. Their basic tour is £7.50 and includes two tastings or one driver dram travel bottle. The tasting is not a guided tasting like other tastings we did, but it is also one of the least expensive. They also offer a Connoisseurs Tour for £40 and a Five Decades Tour for £125. Learn more here.
Cragganmore Distillery In Ballindalloch
Cragganmore is also owned by Johnnie Walker and offers a similar experience to Cardhu. At the top of the chain, Diageo owns both Cardhu and Cragganmore so I expected both of the distilleries to have a corporate feel. Instead, they both felt classic and historic. I hope Diageo keeps this setup in the future particularly with other distilleries going very modern. Cragganmore is a little off-the-beaten-path, set on the far side of Ballindalloch Castle, down a winding road through a wee village with bunnies darting across the road. It just felt quaint.
Tour Options: We actually stopped in just for a tasting. It is conducted in their visitor center, not in a bar. It was simple, but it was hosted, with explanations of each of the Cragganmore offerings. You can try just one or all of them. Their basic tour is £12. The Range Tour is £30 and includes a tasting paired with local foods. Learn more here.
The Macallan Distillery
At the opposite end of quaint is The Macallan, which recently opened its doors to a contemporary visitor center that cost upwards of £140 million. Known as one of the most exclusive whisky companies in the world, the visitor center projects this image. It’s an architecturally unique design, with high ceilings and an uber-contemporary feel. Whereas most visitor centers were built around an existing distillery, this distillery was built with visitors in mind.
Tour Options: The Six Pillars Tour lasts 90 minutes, is £15, and includes two tastings. It should definitely be booked ahead of time online. Learn more here.
Speyside Tours Pro Tip
When talking with folks in the industry, the general thought behind this new endeavor with Macallan is that they are not as concerned with typical whisky tourists, but are catering to high net worth individuals who will spend thousands of pounds on whisky during a visit. It is worth it to at least drive by, explore the shop, maybe do a tasting in the bar because this distillery is unlike all others. I do hope the other distilleries don’t follow suit and that they retain their historic feel.
Additional Scotch Whisky Distillers With Visitor Centers
Aberlour Distillery in Aberlour is just at the base of The Dowans Hotel. Their basic tour is £15 for 90 minutes and definitely needs to be booked ahead. We tried booking a few days before and they were filled, mostly with large groups.
Benromach in Forres is one of the two distilleries to visit at the eastern edge of Moray, close to the coast. It’s family-owned and one of the smallest. They recently started producing Red Door Gin as well. Tours are one hour long and cost £8.
Dallas Dhu in Forres is an historic distillery located just across the highway from Benromach making it possible to visit two distilleries back-to-back. They no longer distill whisky but a visit shows how distilleries used to operate. They offer a tour for £6 with an audio guide.
The Glenlivet in Banffshire is located at the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. It takes a good amount of driving down a series of roads that each seem to lead to nowhere before arriving at one of the most remote distilleries in Speyside. They do offer a small cafe and cafeteria. They offer a variety of tours with the most basic costing £12.50.
Glen Grant in Rothes offers tours and tastings that include a visit to a lovely garden. Tours cost £7.50.
The Glen Moray Distillery is the only distillery located within the city of Elgin. They offer a basic tour as well as a whisky and chocolate tasting each Friday. They also offer a tasting flight for only £10 without appointment.
Scottish Distillery Tours Pro Tip
Some distillers won’t allow any photography during their tours. They say it is because of the distilled spirits and the danger due to flash photography. We only booked tours where we could take photos during all or most of the tour. If this is a concern for you, just ask at booking. Minimally, Benromach and The Glenlivet do not allow photos.
Driver Drams At Whisky Distilleries
Scotland has a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving. This means a driver shouldn’t drink a single pint of beer or a single dram before driving. As a result, distilleries offer “Driver Drams.”
This means that you can take your tastings with you at the end of your tour and enjoy them at your hotel later at night or bring them home with you. This is a great way to encourage drivers to be responsible, particularly because very few Spey whisky distilleries are walking distance from hotels or accommodations.
Distilleries offer different versions of Driver Drams. The Glenfarclas Distillery offered two drams as part of the tasting at the end of the tour. They offered an “airplane” sized bottle of whisky for each driver. At the Glenallachie, they prepared five small bottles for Eric of exactly what we tasted.
Unfortunately, some distillers actually charge extra for driver drams, which I disagree with. It is often only £3-4 for the bottles. But, I don’t think it should cost extra to encourage drivers to be responsible. When making a booking feel free to ask if they offer driver drams if this is a concern for you.
Visiting The Speyside Cooperage
This is one of the most interesting stops on the Malt Whisky Trail and a must-visit even if you don’t have a lot of time in Moray Speyside. A cooperage is a place where barrels are made and you can’t make scotch whisky without the barrels. Their catchphrase is “acorn to cask” and the Cooperage explains the process of producing and refurbishing barrels for use in the region. The cask is what gives the flavor to the whisky and is integral in the production process.
The Speyside Cooperage is located in Dufftown, on the road that leads from the distilleries around Aberlour and those in Dufftown and Keith. They are open from 9:00 am to 4:45 pm Monday Through Friday. The Classic Tour runs every 30 minutes and costs £4. They also have a VIP tour for £30 at 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, which includes a whisky tasting with local shortbread. The regular tour visits the viewing gallery but the VIP tour takes visitors onto the shop floor.
FAQs - Malt Whisky Trail in Scotland
This is a great question and it depends on the time of year. We created a Scotland Packing Guide, which includes everything you need to prepare for a trip to explore the Scotch trail.
Our packing guide includes information on the weather in Scotland. For food and drink travelers, plan your visit around the Speyside Whisky Festival or the Speyside Gin Experience. They are both organized by the Spirit of Speyside.
This depends on the drinker and their preferences. Check out this guide to the Scottish Whisky Regions to figure out what kind of scotch you like and where it can be found.
Moray Speyside doesn’t have a commercial airport. Occasionally people helicopter in but otherwise Speyside flights arrive at the nearby Inverness airport. The airport is about a one hour drive west of Elgin.
* *We were hosted by the Moray Speyside Tourism Board but all of our views are our own.
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The Best Whisky Distilleries In Speyside
For scotch whisky lovers, Speyside is a bit of a pilgrimage. There is more to to the region, though, than whisky. Moray Speyside is a great food and drink destination. Great pubs, sophisticated cuisine, and passionated food providers interested in showing off the best of the region. It’s a must visit! Cheers!