Yes, the spiritual home is Scotland, an area called the whisky triangle, and it is in Speyside.
Running through the heart of Speyside is the River Spey. Her clean, clear, fast-running water is a vital part of the whisky business. It’s also home to thousands of salmon—they always know the best places—and it is lush and peaceful.
The glens here do not have the rugged characteristics of other parts of the Highlands. Speyside’s charms are subtle, not dramatic. Tourism doesn’t banter the towns or country, it simply blends into the local color rather than dominating it.
Duffside is a quiet market town at the center of Speyside. It is checkered with worker’s homes and nine distilleries. There are other tidy villages nearby. Any are terrific places to make your base of exploration, whether you’re on the official Malt Whisky Trail or exploring the area on your own and as you please.
Whisky, a word derived from the Gaelic ‘uisce beatha’, means “water of life.” It has been distilled here, legally and otherwise, for more than 600 years. (The first record of making whisky in Scotland was in 1494.) Whether the Scots took it to Ireland, or the Irish brought it with them to Scotland in the 6th or 7th century, isn’t clear.
We do know that whisky was first distilled by monks who brought the art home with them from their travels in Europe and Asia, and then they adapted it to their own environment in the monasteries of Scotland. Excavations on the island of Rum, off Scotland’s shores, suggest that some sort of alcoholic drink was distilled here 6,000 years ago. That is an awesome tidbit of information, but it doesn’t surprise us.
Speyside is a name that is associated with the area between Elgin, Keith and Grantown. A gentle area that feels more dreamlike than parts of everyday life. Signposts often read like a well-stocked bar. There are eight distilleries, mostly founded in the early 18th century, linked by the signposted Malt Whisky Trail. Glen Grant, Cardhu, Strathisia, Glenlivet, Benromach, Dallas Dhu, Glen Moray, and Glenfiddich. Each offers guided tours and whisky tastings, and opening times and admission fees vary.
But come to Speyside even if whisky is not on your agenda. Even if you tried the best Scotch Whisky at your uncle’s 60th birthday and it tasted like gym socks to you. This area is romantic. The river is gorgeous. The sunlight, dawnlight, and moonlight are perfect. The glens are soft and sweet.
And, yes, remember… Salmon always do know the best places.