Even if you are new to the whisky world, you would certainly recognize some of the iconic brands of Speyside. Glenfiddich, McCallan, Glenlivet, Mortlach, Glenfarclas. Quite a lineup, indeed. About 50% of all Scottish Whisky is produced in the fifty or so distilleries located in the watershed of the Spey River. Why here? Well, it’s a major barley producing region in Scotland. Also, the water supply has the lowest level of dissolved minerals in Scotland, making it ideal for whisky production. And, the railway played an important role in getting whisky to market.
Let’s take a peek behind the scenes at some Speyside whisky stories. We’ll start in the village of Knockando, located on the banks of, you guessed it, the Spey River. Since 1896, the Tamdhu Distillery has been creating whisky for the likes of Cutty Sark, Famous Grouse, and J&B. In 1949, they installed two Saladin Boxes to turn the drying barley. These boxes, which measure about 150 feet in length, are the only ones still in use today in Scotland. So why did Tamdhu make such a revolutionary and expensive purchase? Well, to prevent the dreaded monkey shoulder, a ligament injury that plagued many a distillery worker when manually flipping the barley with shovels. Tamdhu, incidently, now markets several single malt whiskies that are superb. And you can sip them with the assurance that no monkey shoulder occurred during the making of this whisky.
The Miltonduff Distillery was founded in 1824 on the original site of the Pluscarden Abbey, a Benedictine Monk site, established by King Alexander II in 1236. A regular ingredient of Chivas Regal blends, Miltonduff whisky had the distinction of being partially owned by the Catholic Church, when, in 1900, a bequethment of shares was made to the church. Perhaps that’s why many consider a dram of Chivas to be nothing less than a religious experience….
If you are looking for classic Scottish architecture, look no further than the Strathisla Distillery in Keith, on the banks of the Isla River. Built in 1786, it is the oldest continuously running distillery in Scotland, and the main producer of Chivas products. It’s also home to the Kelpies, mythological spirits who live in the spring that feeds water to the distillery. Legend has it that, if you’re not careful, the Kelpies can pull unsuspecting visitors into the spring. Not sure if that adds flavor to the Chivas or not.
Next is one of my favorite Speyside stories – the Pattison brothers and the ‘Pattison Crisis” at Glenfarclas. In 1888, the Pattison Brothers were part owners of the Glenfarclas Distillery. They also had a marketing company where they set up an aggressive sales campaign for their whisky. This included, at one point, the distribution of 500 parrots into various stores throughout the U.K. These parrots had been trained to shout “Buy Pattisons” whenever someone walked by. While initially successful, this and other questionable business practices eventually caused their bankruptcy and demise, with both brothers ending up in prison and the distillery ownership going back to the Grant family.
Lastly we head over to Forres and the Glenburgie Distillery, where Ballentine’s Whisky is made. Nothing unusual about this place. Unless you are a fan of Shakespeare and MacBeth. It’s near Forres, perhaps even on the same hill where the distillery stands, that MacBeth has his famous meeting with the Three Witches, aka the Weird Sisters, which set him on the path to his demise. “Fire, Burn, and Cauldron Bubble!”. Could have been part of the original Ballentine’s recipe. Imagine!
OK. Maybe we’re getting a little off-topic. Next time, we’ll wander down to the Lowlands to see what mysteries and intrigue we can uncover in the world of whisky. Until then, cheers!