Ballindalloch, Scotland

Photo: Pernod Ricard (Pernod Ricard press materials) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Pernod Ricard (Pernod Ricard press materials) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
You just spent the morning at the Glenlivet, the single malt whiskey distillery that started it all in 1824. You toured the historic distillery, learned how grain becomes whiskey, and sampled a dram drawn straight from the cask. Then you moved to the Library to taste new and limited release expressions of the Glenlivet. They ranged from light and grassy to rich and sweet. You capped off your visit with a slice of whiskey cake in the cafe and a long pause in the gift shop, as you decided which bottle was worthy and rare enough to bring home. You felt like you’d died and gone to heaven. But that was only the beginning.

Though the Glenlivet was the inspiration for you to visit Scotland, it’s just the first stop on your whiskey-filled trip. When you started planning your Speyside itinerary, you stumbled upon the Malt Whisky Trail. It promised seven working distilleries, one historic distillery, and a cooperage over three days and 74 miles. It started near Ballindalloch Castle and ended in Forres. Plus it offered plenty of distractions—from hikes to art to food—along the way. Your little trip to the Glenlivet quickly blossomed.

Speyside is a region on Scotland’s northeast coast. To the south, glacial mountains, thick forests, and a national park surround the fast-moving River Spey. Dramatic dunes and white-sand beaches lie to the north. While the highest concentration of single malt whiskey distilleries in Scotland dot the little villages in between. It’s a whiskey lover’s paradise.

Photo: stu smith via flickr
Photo: stu smith via flickr

After finally making your purchase at the Glenlivet, head north toward Aberlour. Your destination is the Cardhu Distillery, but you’re distracted by the Knockando Woolmill along the way. The wool mill has been spinning and weaving tartan and tweed since 1784. You walk away with a lambswool throw, whose pattern dates back even earlier to 1730. You’re still admiring its detailed pattern when you arrive at the only malt distillery pioneered by a woman. You tour the working farm—cattle are grazing in the open fields—and then do a blind tasting of three whiskeys. The 12-year-old Cardhu, with a hint of pear, ends up being your favorite of the three.

You have one more tour this afternoon. But you won’t be drinking during this one. The Speyside Cooperage is the only place that crafts whiskey barrels in the United Kingdom. Though only founded in 1947, making it young compared to some of the nearby distilleries, the cooperage uses traditional tools and methods as it shapes, shaves, and chars oak into casks used to create the area’s famous single malts. After watching the coopers at work, you have the chance to make your own mini cask. It isn’t as easy as it looks.

With the end of your first day on the trail, it’s time to find your hotel. The historic Dowans Hotel was built in 1888 by the owner of the Cardhu Distillery, which you visited earlier. It features views over the Spey Valley and bespoke rooms with modern bathrooms, an extensive whiskey collection in the Still and a market menu based on seasonal produce at Spé. Just don’t get too comfortable. You have three more distilleries, including Glenfiddich, which makes the world’s best-selling single malt whiskey, to visit tomorrow. Your whiskey tour just keeps getting better and better.

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