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A celebration of Speyside history on World Whisky Day

Posted on 13th May 2021

This Saturday, 15th May, marks World Whisky Day 2021. And that’s a celebration that we, at The Malt Whisky Trail, can get on board with. Our nine partner sites in the heart of malt whisky country showcase the best of what the biggest whisky producing region in Scotland has to offer.

Whisky is integral to Speyside and Scottish history. The word ‘whisky’ comes from the Gaelic uisge-beatha meaning water of life, and records of distilling in Scotland date back to the late 15th century. But it was with the government suppression of the Highland way of life in the wake of the Jacobite uprising of 1745/46 that whisky making helped to shape the character of the Speyside region. ‘Sma’ stills were the lifeblood of many farmers and crofters, and this distillation was driven underground. The fertile valleys of the River Spey and the low minerality of abundant water supplies made whisky-making an obvious source of income, albeit illicitly, and the relative inaccessibility of the Speyside region meant it was the perfect place for smuggling and hiding operations.

By the 1820s, over half of all Scotch whisky being drunk was illicit and had escaped the payment of duty, so in 1823 the Excise Act was passed making the distillation of whisky above the Highland line legal once again – provided the correct taxes were paid.

The history of The Malt Whisky Trail is bound up with the history of illicit distilling. Strathisla is the oldest continuously operating distillery in Speyside, and Cardhu, Glen Grant and The Glenlivet were all founded by former illicit distillers and smugglers, with many distilleries being built on the site of older illicit stills the remains of which are still scattered across the landscape. And without a strong heritage of whisky-making in these parts, we wouldn’t have our other sites Glen Moray, Glenfiddich, Benromach, Dallas Dhu or Speyside Cooperage either.

Today, Speyside whisky is enjoyed the world over and we hope to welcome visitors back to our sites when restrictions are lifted and it is safe to travel. But until that day, we want to connect with whisky lovers, wherever you are on the planet, through the medium of Scotch whisky.

So, pour yourself a dram and taste centuries of Scottish history travelling through time and across oceans to reach you at home. And when we’re able to, we will welcome you back with open arms to meet the masters on The Malt Whisky Trail.