Mike was in between jobs in December and we decided to drive north to Scotland to enjoy a few days in Speyside. Speyside gets its name from the River Spey and is home to the highest concentration of all single malt whisky distilleries. We decided to stay in Craigellachie based solely on its central geographic location. Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and MacCallan are all within 3 miles of Craigellachie along with many others. This was a long weekend trip and we made arrangements at the last minute. We were lucky to find a B&B that allowed dogs, so we set off with Shep in the back of the car.
It turns out that our B&B was under new ownership and had a large whisky bar, fantastic food and very friendly staff; we highly recommend it. If you are interested in spending some time in Speyside, we give Duncan Elphick, Tatsuya Minagawa, and the team at the Highlander Inn our highest recommendation.
We spent our first day driving to Forres with a stop in Elgin for visits at Benromach and the infamous independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail. Benromach is owned and operated by Gordon & MacPhail and has only recently been re-opened. Some of their older bottlings (+18 yrs) are from spirit that's distilled under previous ownership and their current bottlings are still fairly young (under 7 years). Since we were visiting during the off season, we lucked into a private tour of Benromach, which was fantastic. As we left Benromach, we stopped in Elgin at the Gordon & MacPhail shop where you will find rare independent bottlings. On the way back to the Highlander, we stopped by Longmorn Distillery, one of Mike's favorites. Although the distillery is not open to the public, the people are very friendly and did not mind Mike getting out of the car and walking around to take some pictures. There was still a little daylight left so we stopped at MacCallan before returning to the Highlander. We missed the last tour, but Mike got to enjoy a complimentary dram in their gift shop.
The next morning we nursed our hangovers from a crazy whisky drinking night in the Highlander bar. It turns out that many of the locals employed in the whisky industry are regulars at the Highlander. Mike got to know Mark Watt from Duncan Taylor and was invited by their shop for a tasting. It also turns out that the bartender at the Highlander, Tatsuya Minagawa, is a much respected whisky taster and was a judge for this years Scottish Field best whisky competition. To make a long story short, the hands down winner was a Duncan Taylor bottling of Strathisla from 1967. Mike just had to have a bottle and was able to buy the second bottle of only 112 that came from this cask! We also enjoyed a tour of Glenfiddich and Mike was able to hand bottle a select single barrel whisky. We took our time and drove around the Glenlivet estate although the distillery was closed for tours. On the estate there is the packhorse bridge as well as many castle and village ruins. We also drove by Glenfarclas and Cragganmore. We managed to get a nice picture outside Strathisla at sunset before we headed back to the Highlander for another night of whisky tasting!?!
The next day we spent touring the NE coast of Speyside visiting many of the famous seaside towns along the coast including: Cullen, Crovie and Penan. Cullen is one of the largest on this coast of Scotland. It is famous for a smoked fish and potato soup called Cullen Skink. Crovie is a remote fishing village set right against the shore, where the only access used to be from the sea. Penan is similar but is famous as the filming location for the movie Local Hero.
On our way back to Hartlepool, we stopped by Aberlour and Edradour distilleries. Aberlour is just outside Craigellachie and was perhaps the best tour Mike went on while in Speyside. The tasting was fantastic as you were able to drink the new spirit before it was placed in a barrel along with a full range of Aberlour bottlings, including two single barrel varieties that you can only get at the distillery. One was aged in a Sherry butt, the other in a bourbon barrel. Both are fantastic and only available at the distillery. Edradour is much farther South and is not in Speyside but is a must visit for any Whisky lover as it is the smallest distillery in Scotland. It doesn't hurt that the whisky is also darn good.
All in all we had a great time and vowed to return. The people in this area of Scotland are fantastic hosts and will go out of their way to make you comfortable as a guest. We can't wait to go back to the Highlander and visit Speyside again. Check out this link for information on the history of Scottish Whisky.
Following the Malt Whisky Trail:
Mike outside Benromach:
Mike outside Longmorn:
Mike outside MacCallan:
The oak barrel train outside the Speyside Cooperage:
Mike outside Cragganmore:
Pack Horse Bridge:
Driving through the Glenlivet estate:
Mike and Shep outside Glenfiddich:
One of Glenfiddich's still houses:
Mike bottling his Glenfiddich:
Sunset at Strathisla:
View over the River Spey and Thomas Telfords bridge (background), Craigellachie:
Gabi and Shep on the coast at Cullen:
Shep at Penan:
Tatsuya's VW outside the Highlander:
The tasting at Aberlour, note the new spirit on left:
Mike enjoying the tasting and bottling at Aberlour:
I think you can figure it out:
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