Speyside whisky region

Scotland's Malt Whisky Trail... sort of

[The still house at Glen Grant Distillery, Rothes]

The Malt Whisky Trail claims to be the only official whisky trail in the world. VisitScotland, the national tourist organisation, recommends splitting the route into three days, travelling from The Glenlivet on the fringes of the Cairngorms National Park through Speyside to Craigellachie on the first. The middle stretch takes in distilleries around Dufftown, Rothes and Keith, before finishing up with a whistlestop tour through Elgin and Forres on the main road from Aberdeen to Inverness. The trail is marked by brown tourist signs and is a popular way to explore a good number of Speyside distilleries. However, following the route in its strictest sense mightn't be a good idea.

First of all, the trail doesn't incorporate all the distilleries open to the public in Speyside, a region with such a dense concentration of whisky producers that you half expect the local burns to run golden. Some of the best are neglected, as well as a couple of "off the beaten track" producers where you've a much better chance of getting a personal tour rather than being rushed around one catering for the masses. Secondly, the trail finishes not with a bang but a whimper, at a distillery that closed in 1983 - an interesting site nonetheless, but a negative way to finish off a tribute to an industry currently undergoing a major resurgence. Finally, exclusively drinking whisky, traipsing around still houses and marvelling at mash tuns for three days does a disservice to the huge number of other attractions around Speyside, not to mention to your liver.

So what's the best solution? Create your own whisky trail! All the Speyside distilleries regularly offering tours are listed below, ordered around the bare bones of the Malt Whisky Trail, but also incorporating those missed by the official route. Glenglassaugh is the exception - much further to the east and sometimes pushed into the Highland whisky region bracket. Try to book distillery tours in advance (even booking on the day gives you a head start over people who just turn up). Some of the area's magnificent castles, idyllic river walks, desolate ruins and lofty hills are also on route. They're covered by other posts, but linked to from this one (look for trail add-on in the text below). The straight line distance from end to end of the official route is only about 20 miles, so you needn't worry about travelling huge distances or choosing different places to stay around the area. One base for all of Speyside is sufficient.

Set a limit for the number of distilleries you expect to get round - more than a couple each day and the added value decreases. If you live in Scotland, you can always come back. And if you live abroad, you can always come back...

[The Macallan Distillery is missed by the official route - this is the old complex, now redeveloped (22/7/13)]

[Trail starts in Glen Livet]

📌 Glenlivet Distillery ★☆☆
Description: Large, modern distillery with a good exhibition area. The standard tour felt rushed to us - though it may have been revamped since our last visit.
Location: Minor road a mile south of the B9136 / B9008 junction, Bridge of Livet, G.R.: NJ 195289 ///column.buggy.amused. Start point for the official trail.
Open (2018): Daily, mid-March to mid-November
Cost: £10+ depending on tour type

[Bottle sculpture at Glenlivet Distillery (4/5/13)]

>> Drumin Castle ☆☆☆ (trail add-on, 1 mile off-route)

>> Old Bridge of Livet ☆☆☆ (trail add-on, on-route)

[Drive to Knockando]

📌 Cragganmore Distillery ★☆☆
Description: An off the beaten track tour - smallish distillery tucked away in the upper reaches of the River Spey.
Location: B9137 road end, Cragganmore, G.R.: NJ 163364 ///cascade.wobbles.lung. Trail add-on, 2 miles off-route.
Open (2018): Daily, April to September; weekdays in October
Cost (2018): £5+ depending on tour type

>> Ballindalloch Castle ★★☆ (trail add-on, on-route)

📌 Glenfarclas Distillery ★☆☆
Description: The largest whisky stills on Speyside, set against the backdrop of lofty Ben Rinnes.
Location: Off A95 a mile east of Marypark, G.R.: NJ 211382 ///scrambles.apes.glaze. Trail add-on, 1 mile off-route.
Open (2018): Monday to Saturday, July to September; weekdays, October to June
Cost (2018): £7.50+ depending on tour type

>> Knockando Woolmill ☆☆☆ (trail add-on, on-route)

📌 Cardhu Distillery ★☆☆
Description: Attractive distillery overlooking Speyside - uniquely amongst Scottish distilleries, it was established in 1824 by a woman - ahead of the times?
Location: Off B9102 3 miles west of Archiestown, G.R.: NJ 192431 ///discount.snacking.divisibleOn the official trail.
Open (2017): Daily, April to September; weekdays, October to March
Cost (2018): £5+ depending on tour type

[Drive to Craigellachie]

📌 The Macallan Distillery ★★☆
Description: One of the world's most famous whiskies, recently helped by an appearance in the 2012 Bond film Skyfall. Good tour - especially relating to how cask wood influences the finished product - with new premises and visitor experiences for 2018.
Location: B9102 a mile west of Craigellachie, G.R.: NJ 277444 ///that.continues.opposeTrail add-on, 1 mile off-route.
Open (2018): Monday to Saturday, Easter to September; weekdays, October to Easter
Cost (2018): £15+ depending on tour type

[The (old) Macallan Distillery (22/7/13)]

>> Craigellachie Bridge ☆☆☆ (trail add-on, on-route)

📌 Aberlour Distillery ★★☆
Description: Picturesque distillery offering one of the best tours and tastings on Speyside, at the end of the pretty village of the same name.
Location: West end of Charlestown of Aberlour, G.R.: NJ 264425 ///repeating.familiar.trickledTrail add-on, 2 miles off-route.
Open (2018): Daily, mid-March to mid-November; weekdays, mid-November to mid-March
Cost (2018): £15+ depending on tour type

[Aberlour washbacks: distillery not on the official trail but has a superb tour / tasting experience (6/6/13)]

>> Walk: Aberlour's waterfall waterfalls ★★☆ (trail add-on, 2 miles off-route)

📌 Speyside Cooperage ★☆☆
Description: Fascinating site where you can experience the traditional art of building (and refurbishing) whisky casks.
Location: A941 just south of Craigellachie, G.R.: NJ 293442 ///mimics.handyman.curiosityOn the official trail.
Open (2018): Weekdays
Cost (2018): £4+ depending on tour type

[Drive to Dufftown]

>> Dufftown page: Dufftown ☆☆☆ & town sites (trail add-on, on-route)

📌 Glenfiddich Distillery ★★☆
Description: The world's most popular single malt and one of the most popular visitor centres, though the tour's no longer free!
Location: A941 / B975 junction just north of Dufftown, G.R.: NJ 324410 ///ripen.cocktail.jettedOn the official trail.
Open (2018): Daily
Cost (2018): £10+ depending on tour type

[Glenfiddich Distillery (23/6/12)]

📌 Balvenie Distillery
Description: The only Speyside distillery still with floor maltings, and a cooperage to boot. One for the connoisseurs - see the tour price.
Location: A941 a mile north of Dufftown, G.R.: NJ 324415 ///tasteful.sends.fillers. Trail add-on, on-route.
Open (2018): Weekdays - pre-booking essential
Cost (2018): £50

>> Walk: Giant's Cradle & a Linen Apron ★☆☆ (trail add-on, on-route)

[Drive to Rothes]

📌 Glen Grant Distillery ★★★
Description: One of the best all-round distillery experiences, with a quirky and interesting tour as well as stunning gardens. Unmissable.
Location: North side of Rothes, G.R.: NJ 276496 ///relishing.sharpness.simulatesOn the official trail.
Open (2018): Daily, April to October; Monday to Saturday, November to March
Cost (2018): £5+ depending on tour type

[Glen Grant's beautiful gardens are an essential part of visiting the distillery]

>> Walk: Walk it off up the Dounies ☆☆☆ (trail add-on, on route)

[Drive to Keith]

📌 Strathisla Distillery ★★☆☆
Description: The oldest continuously-operating distillery in Scotland and the spiritual home of Chivas Brothers, on a photogenic site easily accessible from Keith.
Location: Seafield Avenue, 5-min walk north of Keith town centre, G.R.: NJ 430512 ///dissolves.visions.insistOn the official trail.
Open (2018): Daily, late spring to early November
Cost (2018): £15+ depending on tour type, free for children

[Strathisla Distillery is one of Speyside's most beautiful (23/6/12)]

[Drive to Elgin]

>> Elgin page: Elgin ★★☆☆☆ & town sights (trail add-on, on-route)

📌 Glen Moray Distillery ★★★☆
Description: Compact distillery close to Elgin town centre with an excellent tour (and generous at the tasting stage), but we don't rate the "Classic" expression sold widely (and cheaply) in supermarkets.
Location: Bruceland Road, Elgin, G.R.: NJ 200624 ///crunch.young.forestOn the official trail.
Open (2018): Monday to Saturday, May to September; weekdays, October to April
Cost (2018): £5, free for children

[Spirit Safe at Glen Moray Distillery (4/7/12)]

[Drive to Forres]

>> Forres page: Forres ★★☆☆☆ & town sights (trail add-on, on-route)
>> Forres green spaces page: Grant Park ☆☆☆; Nelson's Tower ☆☆☆; Sanquhar Loch ☆☆☆ (trail add-on, on-route)

📌 Benromach Distillery ★☆☆
Description: Cute distillery, producing less whisky than any other in Speyside.
Location: Invererne Road, 10-min walk north-west of Forres town centre, G.R.: NJ 033593 ///hindered.relax.euphoric. On the official trail.
Open (2018): Daily, June to August; Monday to Saturday, April, May & September; weekdays, October to March
Cost (2018): £6+ depending on tour type

[Garden display at Benromach Distillery (15/8/12)]

📌 Dallas Dhu Historic Distillery ★★☆☆
Description: A traditional whitewashed distillery which closed in the 1980's - but this allows you to get up close and personal and explore at your own pace, helped by a good audio guide and the promise of a (blend) tasting at the end.
Location: Minor road a mile south of Forres, G.R.: NJ 036567 ///outhouse.acted.outdoors. End point for the official trail.
Open (2018): Daily, April to October; Saturday to Wednesday, November to March
Cost (2018): £6 (adults), £3.60 (children), free for Historic Scotland members

[Trail ends at Dallas Dhu]

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