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The Malt Whisky Trail is the ultimate Scotch experience, sitting in the heart of malt whisky country. Be sure to check back on our blog to keep up to date with all the latest news from the Malt Whisky Trail. Read stories from our visitors, enjoy insight from the masters of malt, and find out what is going on in beautiful Moray Speyside.

Chairman’s Q&A with Booze Dancing

The Malt Whisky Trail’s Chairman, James Johnston, recently did a fascinating Q&A with the bloggers from Booze Dancing, read it all right here:

Boozedancing: The press kit that you sent us about The Malt Whisky Trail® mentions that it dates back to the 1950s. How has your organization evolved since its inception, i.e. (a) has it always been just 9 whisky industry locations that are part of The Trail, (b) has the organizational structure changed in any way over the years, and (c) has the Trail always been exclusive to Moray Speyside, and if so, is there any talk of expanding The Malt Whisky Trail® to other neighboring regions?

James Johnston: The Malt Whisky Trail® has always had a presence in this iconic whisky producing region since the mid-50s but it is only recently that it has ‘awoken’ as a brand and looked to fully maximise the potential it has. There is no doubting that collaboration between the Partner Members and within the Industry has always been strong; the idea of the “awakening” of The Malt Whisky Trail® has been to provide support to the notion of a better integrated region and a truer reflection of the holistic experience that Moray can offer.

BD: There are 50+ distilleries in Speyside. How did you choose the distilleries that are currently part of the Trail? Are you working towards ultimately include them all?

JJ: You will be aware that there are few truly independent Distilleries in the Region; most are captured within larger organisations, such as Pernod-Ricard or Diageo. The Articles Of Association determine that Partner Members are required to have a Visitor Centre of a high standard and that immediately reduces the physical number of distilleries that can look to be part of The Trail. In terms of capture, we work with and between all the distilleries, and it is our enduring ambition that all the distilleries with visitor centres within the region are part of it.

BD: A recent article in The Press and Journal stated that tourism revenue in the Moray Speyside region has risen by over 50% since 2009. How much of an economic impact has The Malt Whisky Trail® had on this rise in tourism activity? What are the other areas that you see benefiting from this in Speyside, i.e. parks, outdoor activities, cultural spots, the arts?

JJ: We are currently taking time to understand how we can best identify how The Trails many and varied businesses and activities contribute to the Regional Tourism revenue. And when we can do that…no doubt that we will celebrate the difference that we make and the value that we add!

BD: Of the 9 whisky industry locations, we’re guessing that Glenlivet and Glenfiddich are the most well known. Is it safe to assume that these two distilleries draw the most visitors? Assuming we’re correct about the popularity of Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, which of your other locations is most visited by tourists?

JJ: The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich both receive a high volume of visitors from around the world that contributes largely to the overall number of visitors to The Malt Whisky Trail®. However, each Malt Whisky Trail site focuses on providing premium level experiences by offering more intimate tours with smaller group numbers. Each site continues to increase the number of visitors per annum and surpasses yearly goals set by their parent companies.

BD: Touch on the response you’re getting from the distillieries to this marketing push. What kind of budget do you have to promote the area and support the goal? Is the Malt Whisky Trail® funded privately or publicly?

JJ: The overall response from the partner members and sites has been very positive. Collaboration between the sites is integral to promoting The Malt Whisky Trail®, and partner members are pleased with the direction we aim to move towards. We have a number of plans and ideas in discussion and are looking forward to what the future will bring for The Malt Whisky Trail®. Because The Malt Whisky Trail® is privately funded we work strategically between the sites and our partnering PR company to make the most of our promotions.

BD: If you only had three days to visit The Malt Whisky Trail®, what itinerary would you recommend to maximize one’s Moray Speyside experience?

JJ: For anyone looking to explore The Malt Whisky Trail® for a short break, we do recommend mapping out an itinerary prior to a visit using our website trip planner tool so as to get the ultimate experience that The Trail has to offer.

For a three day period I would highly recommend the following:

Day 1: Start your journey off with a tour of The Glenlivet distillery, and if time permits, an exploration of the Smugglers Trail. Next, head to Cardhu distillery and experience the home of Johnnie Walker with an in depth tour of the first distillery started by a woman. Make your way to Craigellachie for your last tour of the day at the Speyside Cooperage and explore the ancient craft of coopering. Spend the night at the famous Craigellachie Hotel and enjoy the finest of Speyside’s larder at the Copper Dog restaurant then pop up to their iconic whisky bar, The Quaich for a whisky cocktail

Day 2: Start the day with a trip to Glenfiddich distillery and enjoy a cup of coffee at the Malt Barn before heading on your tour. Before moving on to your next distillery, stop at the legendary 13th-century castle ruin, Balvenie Castle, in Dufftown. Continue onwards to Scotland’s oldest working distillery, Strathisla in Keith, to experience an insightful tour at the home of Chivas Regal. Lastly, make your way towards Rothes to complete your last tour of the day at Glen Grant distillery set amongst beautiful, Victorian gardens. Conclude your day with a nice dinner and a dram at the Toot’s Cafe Bar & Bistro located within The Station Hotel, just steps away from Glen Grant.

Day 3: Begin your last day on The Trail with a tour of Glen Moray’s ever growing site, and enjoy a quick brunch at their cafe before heading to Forres to tour Benromach. At Benromach enjoy a tour of the newly renovated grounds and afterwards take a quick trip to the seaside village of Findhorn to explore the harbour side shops, cafes and restaurants. Finally, make the brief journey to historic distillery Dallas Dhu and explore the distilleries history over the years.

BD: We imagine that you’ve had the opportunity to try many fine Speyside whiskies over the years. Is there one that really stood apart from the rest? We’d love to hear about it! Also, do you have a favorite dram that you revisit often? Please tell us about that too!

JJ: Perhaps the most “complete” malt whisky I have ever tasted was a 1963 Longmorn [Sherry Cask]; it hit all the right “buttons” for me from nose to taste. Most impressive was its lingering excitement of my palate – not just on the first sip but throughout the consumption of the bottle – but not in one sitting! My favourite “drinking malts” are A’Bunadh (cask strength) and Benromach 15 Year – difficult to decide between either as they are so different. But the quality, consistency and authenticity of the whisky speaks for itself, and the decanters are never empty!

BD: Aside from distilleries, what’s your favorite place in Speyside? Why should someone who’s not necessarily a whisky lover come to visit?

JJ: My favourite place in Speyside is on top of Barluack – a hill to the north of Rothes. From there I can see most of the Spey Valley to the south and west, and to the north the delights of the Moray Firth. And it reminds me of the privilege we have living her; our region takes us from alpine mountains to golden sand beaches, and in between is the widest range of activities and interests possible. And on that journey you have the finest collection of Malt Whisky Distilleries in the world. Can life and opportunity get any better?

BD: I would think not!  We love eating too! What’s your favorite place to eat in Speyside? And, more importantly, what’s your favorite pub?

JJ: My favourite place to eat in Moray is at the Station Hotel in Rothes; and better still, the pub is in the same building – Toots!

BD: How hard (or easy) is it to get to Speyside from Glasgow, Edinburgh, London? What’s the best way to get to Speyside?

JJ: Finding your way to The Trail is very easy. International airports Inverness and Aberdeen are based on either side of Speyside and have directs flights from locations such as London, Paris and even Amsterdam, to name a few. Likewise, Malt Whisky Trail towns Keith, Elgin and Forres lie on the main train lines providing easy access from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Travelling from London by train is simple and comfortable as well when traveling on the Caledonian Sleeper stopping in either Aviemore, Inverness or Aberdeen. If you do prefer driving however, it is a beautiful experience traveling via the A9 and A95. Our famous brown “pagoda’ signs lead the way to The Malt Whisky Trail® which lies amongst some of the most scenic views in Scotland.

BD: Our travel dollars could be spent on any number of tours (with the Highland Trail and the Islay Trail to name just two). What sets the Speyside Trail apart from the others? 

JJ: What sets The Malt Whisky Trail® apart from others is the quality, consistency and authenticity it can offer, alongside the most broad range of malt whisky offerings anywhere in the world. Indeed, Speyside hosts the greatest density of malt whisky distilleries on the face of the earth, and so much more. We call The Malt Whisky Trail® ‘The Ultimate Scotch Experience” – it is exactly that – there is something for everyone and fantastic memories to make and opportunities to enjoy – come and try it for yourself.

BD: If you were able to plan a side trip or two along the Trail, what “can’t miss” stops would you recommend?

JJ: For visitors interested in historic sites [they] can explore a number of locations throughout The Malt Whisky Trail® to step back in time including the Elgin Cathedral in Elgin, Balvenie Castle in Duffton and Spynie Palace, just outside of Elgin heading towards Lossiemouth. Take a relaxing seaside walk along the idyllic beaches of Lossiemouth, Hopeman, Burghead or Findhorn and maybe get a glimpse of the exciting wildlife that frequently visit our shores.

Similarly, a visit to The Malt Whisky Trail® isn’t complete without a meal at at least one of the local restaurants including the Copper Dog at Craigellachie Hotel, The Bothie in Burghead, The Bakehouse in Findhorn, or the Drouthy Cobbler in Elgin. There are number of sites to see and stops to experience along The Trail and we recommend utilising The Malt Whisky Trail® website’s itinerary tool to plan your visits to make the most of your trip.

cart and cask

A wander through Speyside – Billy Abbott

Billy Abbott is a writer for The Whisky Exchange, a blogger on his website Spirited Matters and an all-round drinks man. We invited him to visit our Malt Whisky Trail in early July and he kindly blogged his experience:

I like Scotland. Despite living in London and growing up on the south coast of England, I’ve been making the pilgrimage north of the wall pretty much every year for the last 35. One thing has been constant through all those years: brown signs telling me the way to the next distillery on the Malt Whisky Trail.

My first distillery visit was to Glenfiddich at the tender age of five, and it inspired me. Three decades later, I now write about drinks professionally and spend almost every waking hour investigating the wonderful world of whisky. As the Malt Whisky Trail started me on my journey all those years ago, I couldn’t turn down an invite to visit again.

On holiday in Scotland with only a couple of days free, I couldn’t fit in all nine stops of the trail. However, with the help of Malt Whisky Trail podcast host Samantha Staniforth as driver and guide, I managed to fit in most of them.

The Glenlivet

Glenlivet Warehouses
The Glenlivet warehouses

We started our journey at Glenlivet, a distillery that I have somehow never visited before. One of the biggest names in whisky around the world, the visitor centre is appropriately shiny. But for me, the most important thing is the tour, and it ticked all the boxes – despite the distillery being closed down for summer maintenance, it was still alive with activity. A mid-way pit stop in the warehouses for a dram pulled straight from the cask was a great interlude before a few drams back in the visitor centre, watched over by a portrait of distillery founder George Smith.

Cardhu

Next on the itinerary was Cardhu, a hidden gem that I’ve been meaning to visit for years. It’s a few minutes drive from the A95, the main road that snakes its way through Speyside from Aviemore to Keith. While distilleries pop up every few minutes as you barrel along, it’s worth taking a cross-country route to visit Cardhu.

Cardhu cow
They have cows at Cardhu – this is Hector

I first made it to Cardhu years ago, but having missed the last tour of the day, we just shared a dram with the visitor centre staff before heading back out into the snow. This time I got to see what happens inside, experiencing the sights and smells of the distillery as well as the taste of the finished whisky, including the new distillery-only release.

Behind the distillery is the externally unassuming Johnnie Walker House – Cardhu was the first distillery bought by Johnnie Walker and the connection to the world’s biggest selling Scotch whisky has been strong ever since. When it comes to locations for a whisky tasting, the lounge of the Johnnie Walker house was the most impressive of my trip, with leather sofas and an open fireplace, as well as a huge slate rendering of the Johnnie Walker Striding Man logo hanging above us as we tasted our way through the Cardhu range.

Strathisla

Strathisla

To start the second day of my tour, we headed out to Strathisla, sister distillery to Glenlivet. I’d heard that the distillery is picturesque, and it lived up to its reputation, despite the dark clouds overhead and constant drizzle – the definition of ‘dreich’.

It’s just as pretty inside the visitor centre, but as soon as you pass through the door into the distillery it’s a different world. Old fashioned and with every ounce of space used, Strathisla is the exact opposite of Glenlivet. To round off the tour, we tried a selection of drams that go into making Chivas Regal, the blend whisky which has Strathisla at its heart. As a grain whisky fan, the 12 year old grain whisky, rarely seen and even more rarely tasted, was the star of the line up – something unique to the tour.

Speyside Cooperage

With a busy afternoon ahead, we headed to the stop on the trip I’d most been looking forward to: a tour of the Speyside cooperage. I’m slightly obsesssive about casks and coopers, and have been meaning to visit since I first discovered that they were the only cooperage in the world with a visitor centre.

Watching coopers work is strangely mesmerising, and the tour lets you stare to your heart’s content. A viewing gallery stretches around the workshop and you can zone out and watch casks being disassembled and reassembled in a satisfyingly skilful manner. I had to be dragged away to make sure we made it to our final stop on time: Glen Moray.

Glen Moray

I’ve been a Glen Moray fan ever since I visited back in 2013. Since then, the distillery’s changed rather a lot. Of the tours during my couple of days on the Malt Whisky Trail, this was the most enlightening. Lots of new technology added to the more traditional distillery I visited before, creating a great mix of old and new.

Glen Moray old and new
Glen Moray: old and new stills

While you can find Glen Moray’s whiskies all over the world, the distillery holds a wealth of delights that aren’t quite as widespread as yet – interesting new releases as well as a few special editions that I’d not had a chance to try yet. Add to that a cask in the shop that I could fill my own bottle from – a very pink peated port cask – and it was the perfect tour to round out my trip.

More than just whisky

It may have only been a couple of days, but there was much more to my trip along The Trail than just whisky and distilleries. But tales of trading sandwich tips in the Aberlour church yard, my inspirational taxi ride with a cab driver turned author, and an evening of drinking with a Danish sailor (hi Lars!) will have to wait for another time.

It’s great to see the Malt Whisky Trail again and I’ll be stopping by next time I’m up in Speyside – I’ve still never been to Dallas Dhu, Benromach should have a new distillery exclusive bottling soon, and it’s a while since I’ve been to either Glenfiddich or Glen Grant. Any excuse to pop in and see whisky being made…

Glenfiddich: A Work of Art

Glenfiddich is a globally recognised whisky maker. Established by William Grant in 1876, with the first spirit running off the stills in 1887, today the company is still run by his descendants and was the first whisky to truly market itself as a single malt.

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Behind the scenes of the Speyside Cooperage

This week we are excited to present episode 2 of the Malt Whisky Trail podcast, where we go behind the scenes of the largest independent Cooperage in the UK and hear first hand from General Manager, Andrew Russell and Malcolm Munro, Cooperage Manager, about what it takes to be a whisky master craftsman and a cooper.

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Moray Firth

Malt Whisky Trail is the perfect getaway

 

This week’s blog comes to you from Laurie Piper, Tourism Operations Manager at Moray Speyside Tourism

If you still have a while to wait before your summer holiday but are in need of a short break, The Malt Whisky Trail is the perfect getaway.

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World’s only Malt Whisky Trail launches Podcast for Father’s Day

The world’s only Malt Whisky Trail®, based in Moray Speyside, has launched its very own podcast series debuting on 16 June, with its first episode dedicated to Father’s Day.

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Coming up this summer in Moray Speyside…

With summer right around the corner the Malt Whisky Trail team wanted to share with you the number great events planned throughout Moray Speyside.

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Glen Grant Gardens

A Summertime Garden Escape

The Glen Grant Distillery, based in Rothes and founded in 1840, is a significant Malt Whisky Trail® stop with its legendary history and scenic Victorian Woodland Garden.

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A chance to be inducted as the inaugural Malt Whisky Trail Master

Whisky lovers across the world are invited to complete the world’s only Malt Whisky Trail in Speyside, visiting all nine key distillery and whisky industry locations.

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Hurray, It’s Whisky Month!

While we’re always celebrating whisky along the Malt Whisky Trail, this month is an exciting time for people to come together from all over the world to celebrate Uisge Beatha.

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