Playing host to over half the distilleries in Scotland, Speyside has the greatest concentration of malt whisky producers compared to every other whisky-producing region. Because of this, there is great variation in the number of fantastic whiskies distilled in the region, which is awesome as it means there is sure to be a dram for you in the sublime Speyside.
Broadly speaking, Speyside whiskies can be classified as falling into one of three camps. At one end of the spectrum there are the light, grassy, ‘lunchtime whiskies’ such as Glenlivet; at the other end lie the rich, sweet, sherried qualities of Glenrothes and Macallan. Then there are they inbetweeners that use a combination of both lighter whiskies and sherried whiskies together as one single malt.
Geographically, Speyside is a region in Morayshire within the Highlands of Scotland. For whisky purposes, it is distinguished as a sub-region of the Highlands due to the concentration of distilleries in the area and some stylistic similarities between them.
Following the Excise Act of 1823, the first licence to legally distil whisky in the Highlands was granted in 1824 to George Smith and his son John Gordon Smith of the Glenlivet distillery in Speyside. For many years afterwards, George carried a pair of hair-trigger pistols to protect himself and his family from reprisals by illicit distillers. John made do with a cutlass.
Glenlivet’s popularity was such that in the early days of whisky, dozens of distilleries had a ‘Glenlivet’ suffix appended to their names by owners or bottlers at some point. Notable culprits included Macallan-Glenlivet, Glenfarclas-Glenlivet and Aberlour-Glenlivet.
Historically, there was some debate over which Highland distilleries qualified as being in Speyside. Many famous distilleries, including Dalwhinnie and Macallan, still label themselves as Highland on their packaging, leading to some confusion among whisky fans.
To clear the matter up, the Speyside region was defined in The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009. Under the new regulations, distilleries including Glendronach, Ardmore, Tomatin, Macduff, anCnoc and Royal Brackla, previously considered by many to be Speyside distilleries, became officially classed as Highland.
Glenfiddich is the world’s best-selling single malt. Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Macallan make up one-third of the entire single malt market.
As of 2018, the largest distillery in Speyside in terms of production capacity is the new Macallan distillery with 16 million LPA’s. It replaces Diageo’s Roseisle distillery, which opened in 2009, with a capacity of 12.5 million litres per year.
Between them, the active Speyside distilleries account for more than 60% of Scotland’s single malt whisky production.