Just like the Speyside region, whisky is a pretty big deal in our household. We hold regular whisky nights, it’s become the de facto gift people give us for holidays, and our table has become so overrun with whisky bottles that one of my writing desks drawers has become a mini whisky cabinet. So the opportunity to see how one of our favourite drinks is made, and explore it in the gorgeous landscape of Scotland no less, gave us the impetus to rise early and make our first stop of the day: the Macallan Distillery.
Set amidst rolling fields in the Scottish countryside, the Macallan Distillery does a good job of blending in to the natural landscape, particularly given how enormous the warehouses are! Our guide, Laura, taught us all about the initial creation of whisky and the distillation process. Unfortunately the Macallan Distillery prohibits photos inside the warehouses, so we went snap-happy when it came to the main event: whisky tasting!
Macallan primarily uses sherry and bourbon casks, which give the whisky most of their taste. The ones in the oak bourbon casks are usually lighter and sweeter in colour, whereas the sherry ones had a richer taste, like berries and cinnamon. Forced to choose I would prefer the sherry cask blends, but to be honest they all tasted good!
The original house on the logo of the Macallan bottle can still be seen at the distillery, although entry is prohibited. Still, we had a look and whilst there noticed that Macallan had something else – Highland cattle!
After only ever seeing these cattle in photos or on TV, it was amazing, and slightly disconcerting, to see how enormous and powerful they look in real life. Also, I felt some affinity for them, as my hair has often looked like theirs in the morning.
After a few hours nosing around Macallan we left to hike through the backroads towards our next stop: the Aberlour Distillery. We laughed and trotted over the hilly landscape with a spring in our step that was definitely not caused by the numerous shots of whisky we had just consumed earlier. We breezed past fields of downy wildflowers, muddy-hued mountains patched with green, and quiet villages that all seemed as though they were stuck in time.
Just on the edge of Aberlour town’s main high street sits the Aberlour whisky distillery. They have been distilling whisky there since 1826 despite a series of disasters, and they continue to source water for the whisky from the burn (Scottish word for small river or large stream) that flows next to the distillery.
Aberlour is a fairly smaller compared to other distilleries in the area, but the upside is visitors get a closer look at the distillery and more Q&A time with our host. The distillery warehouse in particular had a gorgeous getup, but nothing beats Aberlour’s drinking lodge. The room was cosy with thick wooden tables, furnishings reminiscent of a hunting lodge, and of course the obligatory bottles of whisky lining the tables.
Aberlour too uses sherry and oak bourbon casks, but a couple of their offerings, in particular the A’Bunadh and Sherry Cask versions, had a rich, fruity and even peaty flavour that gave the back of your throat a hard kick. We couldn’t leave without buying a bottle of the sherry cask, and they even let us sign and label our own bottle!
There is a path alongside the burn that Aberlour uses, which leads through the woods and up to a waterfall. Away from the bustle of traffic and people to-ing and fro-ing between the distillery, it is a perfect place to relax and appreciate the stunning scenery of Speyside.
Our guide at Aberlour, Emma, told us how whisky was called aqua vitae, or ‘water of life’ in Latin. Given how integral whisky is to the economy of the Speyside region, and how water is essential in the production of whisky, I started to think she was on to something.