Almost 50% of all Scottish malt distilleries can be found on Speyside. This wig shaped region stretches from the town of Elgin in the north to Dufftown in the south and from Keithin the east to Grantown-on-Spey in the west and this region owes its name to the river Spey.
Speyside grants is success and economic growth more or less to this river, although the distilleries are not using the water from this river anymore for their whisky production. Beside it’s water, a better argument for Speyside’s growth, is its soil, which is perfect for growing barley: rich and fertile, with many hours of sunlight during the summer months and a mild climate in winter.
In 1820 it was estimated that there were 200 illicit stills in the town of Glenlivit alone. The district’s remoteness which attracted smugglers and the broader region’s success was founded on the skills of these early distillers and the fame of their malts.
The Speyside whiskies are generally sweeter than other malts and tend to fall into 3 styles: light and floral (Glenfiddich, Cardhu and Aultmore), medium-bodied (The Glenlivet, Aberlour and Benriach) and robust (The Macallan, Mortlach and Balvenie). All are complex, fruity and elegant. The last group, robust, benefits from maturation in ex-sherry casks, becoming rich and tannic with hints of dried fruit and spice.
It was a case of ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ when illegal distiller George Smith obtained his first license to distil whisky at The Glenlivit Distillery in 1824.