That’s me just back from a 2 day Speyside whisky tour where I showed 5 guys from Liverpool and Manchester (and 1 from Israel) the very best that this famous whisky region has to offer.
The intrepid whisky travellers were met at Inverness airport where they were welcomed with a not so wee dram of liquid gold (16 year old Jura Superstition to be exact). It was then off to our first stop of the day – Benromach distillery. Although it is the smallest distillery on Speyside it boasts one of the best guides in the business, Sandy. Unlike so many other guides you come across Sandy has years of experience working in distilleries so is one of the most knowledgeable (and friendly) guides you’ll ever come across.
During the tour you get a great insight into the whisky production and after there is a chance to sample and buy some of Benromach’s fantastic whiskies. The guys enjoyed the sampling so much that by the time we were finished it was clear we had to go and get some lunch.
Our lunch stop for the day was the wonderful Chimes in Forres, a favourite stop of mine in whisky country due to their wonderful home baking. We enjoyed some fantastic locally made pie and chips (no horse meat in these pies!) followed by some delicious home baking which set us up nicely for the next whisky tasting session at Glen Moray.
Glen Moray are old friends of WOW Scotland and they always look after us well when we come in. As usual we got to taste a selection of their whiskies although the head and shoulders winner for the group was their new ‘peated spirit’. They can’t call it whisky as it’s only been matured for 2 years and 6 months but it is absolutely wonderful (although being the driver I was unfortunately only able to smell how nice it was – the one and only downside to my job!).
Next in line for our Speyside whisky extravaganza was the Gordon and MacPhail shop in Elgin. This is a piece of whisky heaven for enthusiasts with over 1000 malt whiskies in stock. The most expensive whisky for sale is £15,000 (seemingly a group flew over especially last year from Sweden on a specially chartered jet, bought a bottle and drank it before they left!) and there are some shelves where every bottle is around the £2000 mark – don’t go here if you are worse for wear after a few drams as a little slip could end up costing you very dearly!
After leaving Gordon and MacPhail we headed towards Craigellachie, passing various distilleries en-route as well as the village of Rothes. Rothes may not be as famous as its neighbours Dufftown and Aberlour but it boasts an incredible 5 whisky distilleries (Glen Rothes, Glen Spey, Speyburn, Caperdonich and Glen Grant) plus has a an animal feed factory that processes the waste from distilleries which then goes to feed some very lucky cows
After a hard day’s touring it was definitely time for a dram so we picked one of the best pubs around – the Fiddichside. The Fiddichside is a relic of a bygone time before Sky Sports, fruit machines and pub food, when a pub was a place to come and enjoy a wee dram and a pint. Run by Joseph Brandy, an Octogenarian who is an ex-cooper and ex-ghillie on the River Spey, this is one of my favourite pubs in Scotland. The Fiddichside is probably one of the smallest pubs in the world, with 6 people inside the bar is almost full and the coziness of the place is magnified by the wonderful open fireplace. There are a couple of ales on tap and an absolutely fantastic selection of single malts and prices from a bygone era too (£3 for a cask strength Aberlour A’Bunadh – you can’t say fairer than that!). We could of easily have stayed here all night but after sampling 4 or 5 of his finest drams it was time for dinner.
Our selected restaurant for the night was another well known whisky establishment, the Mash Tun in the village of Aberlour. Like most places in these parts it has an incredible whisky menu although unlike Mr Brandy’s pub you could easily leave hear with a very empty wallet with some of the whiskies costing £100s per shot! Sensing that enough whisky had been drunk for one day we just settled down to a hearty meal before returning the guys to their hotel.
Day 2 started at 9am with a refreshing walk along the River Fiddich to blow away the cobwebs before heading to the Speyside cooperage where ex-cooper Ronnie told us all about the art of barrel making. His passion and knowledge impressed the group and everyone enjoyed finding out about this important part of the whisky making process.
Next in line was Macallan where the group has signed up for the distillery’s ‘Precious Tour’, an in-depth two hour whisky experience with the arbitrary tasting at the end. Again the group were really impressed by the passion and knowledge of the tour guide, so much so that when I suggested visiting another distillery to round off the day they jumped at the opportunity.
The last distillery on the tour, Glen Fiddich, has one of the two most commercial visitor centres on Speyside (the other being Glen Livet). However, that is
not to say it is not worth visiting, the opposite is true. Glen Fiddich has a fascinating history which you learn about in a video presentation at the start. The tour is well worth going on (and even better it is free!) but we only had to time to sample their wares – a generous samply of their 12 year old, 15 year old and 18 year old single malts.
Last on the agenda was a lightening quick visit to the Dufftown whisky shop, a wee gem of place with a huge selection of single malts on offer. The best thing about the Dufftown whisky shop is that you can try before you buy and their expert staff can help you find the perfect whisky for your palette.
The remainder of our journey took us through some wonderful Highland scenery before heading into Forres for a quick stop at a World Champion Pie Shop before getting the group back to Inverness airport for the flight home.
So did the group enjoy it? Well I certainly think so. One of the group wants to bring 5 of his friends over from Israel for a tour of the distilleries in Islay and best of all he wants me to be their guide. However, he has insisted that I am not the driver so I can join them in drinking all the wonderful whisky the island has to offer – now that sounds like my sort of tour!
The 2 day Speyside whisky tour costs from £680 for 2 people (then £20 per person). Many of the distilleries offer free tours and tastings although some do have a small charge. Accommodation and food is not included in the price although we can recommend some great places to eat and stay! Please contact us for more details.