The Malt Whisky Trail offers a wonderful blend of experiences

There is so much more to Scotland’s Malt Whisky Trail than just distilleries and drams.

Saturday, 15th June 2019, 9:00 am
Strathisla Distillery, Keith offers a unique whisky blending experience.

Whether you’re a whisky connoisseur or not, the trail offers something for everyone.

Set up to promote the local malt whisky industry, the collection of impressive visitor attractions – and the picturesque places between them – draw huge numbers of tourists to the Moray Speyside region each year.

The trail in Scotland’s scenic north-east boasts nine locations including the Historic Scotland site at Dallas Dhu, Speyside Cooperage and seven working distilleries, each with its own four-star or better Visit Scotland-rated visitor centre.

The copper pot stills at The Glenlivet Distillery. Pic: Peter McNally

The seven working distilleries – Benromach, The Glenlivet, Cardhu, Glenfiddich, Glen Grant, Glen Moray and Strathisla – and the experiences they offer are each as unique as the whiskies they produce.

“Each distillery has its own character, and that goes from the fine golden fluid through to the hard stone structures of the buildings,” said James Johnston OBE, who has served as chairman of The Malt Whisky Trail for the past six years.

Stressing that the concentration of distilleries in the Moray Speyside region – more than 50 in total – sets it apart from other parts of Scotland, he continued: “We are privileged to have the finest collection of malt whisky distilleries in the world.

“We have people coming to Moray Speyside who have no interest whatsoever in whisky and we have people coming who are complete whisky fanatics and there is a scale in between.

A cooper hard at work at the Speyside Cooperage. Pic: Peter McNally

“There is a malt whisky out there for everyone, to suit your palate, your taste and the style of individual you are. And I couldn’t commend more highly you visiting all the visitor centres because of that uniqueness of each one.”

Our journey to Moray Speyside started with a smooth and comfortable two-hour ferry crossing from Larne to Cairnryan with P&O Irish Sea, followed by a drive up the A77 to Glasgow. After a brief stop for lunch it was back on the road towards Stirling, onto Perth and then up the A9 into The Highlands through the stunning scenery of the Cairngorms National Park.

The towns and villages of the Moray Speyside region offer a great array of camping, glamping, B&B and hotel options, and having set up our base in the picturesque seaside town of Lossiemouth we set about finding out what The Malt Whisky Trail has to offer.

We picked a great time to visit, during the Spirit of Speyside malt whisky festival when the area is buzzing with events celebrating Speyside’s many wonderful whiskies.

The blending room at Strathisla Distillery.

An undoubted highlight of the trip was our visit to Strathisla Distillery in Keith – a picture postcard distillery with a rich history, part of which would lend itself to the plot of a movie.

Strathisla, home of the world-renowned Chivas Regal blends, offers the standard distillery tour and visitor offering, but it’s well worth trying its unique blending experience.

At the end of our tour, our experienced and friendly guide Donnie took us to the blending room – something akin to a plush chemistry lab – and introduced us to a grain whisky and four single malts and let us set about creating our own unique blends.

You don’t need to be a whisky connoisseur or even have a great knowledge of whiskies to enjoy the smelling, tasting and blending experience. Once you realise it’s not a test and there is no right or wrong ratio – only what tastes best to you – it is just good fun. And the best bit is you leave with a 200ml bottle of your own beautiful blend to impress family and friends.

The Moray coast is dotted with beautiful sandy beaches. Pic: Peter McNally

Visitors can take a train or bus to Keith, but if you’re driving it’s not a problem. Your guide will be happy to sort you out with a ‘driver’s pack’, meaning you can leave with a few drams to enjoy when you get home.

Also well worth a visit is the Speyside Cooperage near Dufftown, where you can watch the skilled coopers hard at work repairing oak casks and barrels for the whisky industry.

The VIP tour offers access to the ‘shop floor’ where you get up close to the coopers as they work – a unique opportunity in the UK to savour the sights, sounds and smells of a working cooperage.

We also dropped in to The Macallan Estate at Craigellachie and had a quick look around the new £140m distillery and visitor centre, which opened last year.

Although it’s not on The Malt Whisky Trail, the “Disneyland of distilleries”, as one local called it, is definitely worth seeing.

While it is undoubtedly ‘Malt Whisky Country’, Moray Speyside has so much more to offer. The places between The Malt Whisky Trail sites offer people the opportunity to try a wide array of other experiences, from fine foods, dolphin watching and walking to cycling, fishing, white water rafting, mountain biking and much more.

Strathisla Distillery, Keith is the oldest distillery on The Malt Whisky Trail.

According to Mr Johnston, a retired RAF base commander, the trail is about showcasing the malt whisky industry and everything else that goes on in the area.

“The way I look upon it is you have The Malt Whisky Trail with its visitor centres around Moray Speyside, and the really important glue is the places between the distilleries and the visitor centres,” he said.

“So whether it’s watching dolphins from golden sand beaches or mountain biking up in the Cairngorms it is the overall experience you get, and the visitor centres for The Malt Whisky Trail are designed to provide that collaborative focus.

“We are as confident about promoting our own individual products as we are about branding the whole of Speyside and Moray for what it offers – Alpine mountains, golden sand beaches and everything in between.

“Just what is it you want to do, because I bet you will find it here in Moray.

“That’s the beauty of Moray Speyside, we genuinely do have such a spectrum of offering. There is so much to do and so much to do well.”

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A malt whisky storehouse. Pic: Peter McNally
At just two hours, P&O's Larne - Cairnryan service is the fastest ferry crossing between Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The Moray Speyside region boasts plenty of stunning scenery.
Take a stroll around the picturesque gardens at Glen Grant.