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The hidden gems of the Malt Whisky Trail

The Malt Whisky Trail is the perfect way to discover Scotland's national drink. Here are some the highlights to check out along the way.

Published: November 19, 2018
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What is the Malt Whisky Trail?

The Malt Whisky Trail links nine iconic whisky locations in Moray Speyside, an area with the largest concentration of whisky distilleries in the world. In the picturesque countryside around the River Spey you will find many of the world’s most famous brands of single malt Scotch whisky but also the UK’s only cooperage, amazing whisky-bars and stunning scenery.

As well as offering a fascinating glimpse into the history of Scottish whisky, the region has lovely beaches, atmospheric pine forests, abundant wildlife and snow-capped hills.

The distilleries

whisky trail

Picture: Strathisla Distillery

Although there are nine distilleries on the Malt Whisky Trail (and all are worth a visit for whisky fans), there's a couple that will appeal not just for a dram or two.

There's art displays and a magazine-worthy renovation - to name a few - visitors will find more than just whisky available at these distilleries.

The Glenfiddich Distillery

malt whisky trail

Picture: Glenfiddich

A famous brand whose history is shrouded in legend, The Glenlivet is a valley in Scotland which housed many illicit stills and later expanded to become the Speyside whisky region.

Founded by a gutsy farmer, the Glenlivet distillery flourished as whisky production was legalised.

The Glenfiddich distillery is also home to a well-established artist in residence programme, which was set up in 2002.

The simple idea behind the programme was to welcome creative minds from around the world to be inspired by the unique and special environment that Glenfiddich provides.

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In 2005, the programme was extended from European to global artists to reflect Glenfiddich’s status as a global brand leader – artists now come from as far away as Argentina, Taiwan, Canada, USA and India.

whisky trail

Picture: the angels share sculpture by Lois Carson, 2003

Each year, Glenfiddich invites artists from around the world to take up residency at The Glenfiddich Distillery for a three month period and produce art inspired by its history, heritage, people, craftsmanship and surroundings.

The result is a range of artworks - from paintings to sculpture (and, at one point an aeroplane) - shown throughout the distillery and in the on-site gallery.

In 2011, Glenfiddich hosted its first ever major public showing of works from the Artists in Residence collection – these works had previously only been exhibited at The Glenfiddich Distillery.

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As well as this, Glenfiddich's tours are some of the most diverse, which makes sense given the distillery was the first to open to visitors more than 50 years ago.

Strathisla Distillery

Outside, not much appears to have changed since the Keith-based distillery was built in 1786 but inside, the modern rooms including the tasting room and newly added blending room, are contemporary additions to the oldest working distillery in Scotland.

Home to the namesake single malt, the distillery also produces the Chivas Regal range, and is without a doubt one of the prettiest distilleries you’ll come across on the Malt Whisky Trail.

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Strathisla was founded in 1786 and was originally called Milltown. Its towering pagodas, cobbled courtyard and wooden waterwheel make it the perfect distillery to visit for those who love aesthetically pleasing places, and it also just so happens to be one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, which will appeal to whisky geeks too.

After an extensive refurbishment, which was completed this year, Strathisla has once again opened its doors to tours, tastings and a new blending room - home to the Chivas blending experience.

During this unique experience you will discover the world of Chivas Regal, the world’s first luxury whisky which has always been pioneering and generous at heart.

Attendees will begin by touring the distillery  to discover how the single malt at the heart of Chivas Regal is made.

You will then have the opportunity to taste some special drams and the opportunity to create your own blend in the style of Chivas Regal, a small bottle of which is available to take home.

If tasting is more your thing, sit back, relax and enjoy finding out more over a dram or two in the beautiful tasting room.

Featuring a spectacular light display - designed by Florian Dussopt - the tasting room, with its stylish seating and tables and moody colour palette is like a modern-day gentlemen's club.


One of the world’s best-selling whiskies, the distillery in Rothes was founded in 1840 by two brothers who marked the importance of the distillery’s water source by constructing a large Victorian garden, which has been recently restored and makes for a wonderful day out.

Before a tour, take a leisurely walk around the beautiful garden, and spend some time relaxing in the dram pavilion.

Home to a variety of fruit trees and with a winding path, the garden is at the end of the river walk and is a wonderful place to spend a sunny afternoon.

Inside the distillery, visitors can enjoy a range of tours and tastings in the visitor centre or al fresco (weather permitting) at the funky barrel seating.

How to get about

Vintage train

whisky trail

Picture: Rosalind Erskine

If you're going to be sampling whiskies, it is best to know how to get around without the car and the Keith and Dufftown railway offers a handy solution.

Step back in time on the vintage train, which travels at leisurely pace between Keith and Dufftown stations.

Originally opened in 1862, this line was an important part of the whisky trade as it ensured safe transport of grain to the distilleries.

But due to the decline in its use from the 50s onward (and the increase in roads for transport), the railway relied on tourists and offered leisure trips between Aberdeen and Dufftown during the summer. But these stopped in the early 90s.

whisky trail

Two years later, the Keith and Duffotwn Railway Association was established by volunteers keen to keep the railway alive.

Undertaking everything from manning the station to driving the train and collecting the tickets, these dedicated individuals have ensured that visitors can experience part of whisky country in old-school comfort.

Although the team would love a steam train, the journey just now is on vintage 50/60s carriages, takes about an hour and is dog-friendly (for those taking their four-legged friends on a whisky tour).

Where to eat

Glenfiddich Malt Barn

If you're touring the Glenfiddich Distillery - either for the artwork or otherwise - be sure to include a pit stop in the Malt Barn restaurant, which is headed up by  award-winning chef Addy Daggert.

Serving hot and cold food, including a delicious maple glazed Speyside pork sandwich served in a brioche bun with fried onions and homemade apple chutney, and the traditional haggis, neeps and tatties served with a Glenfiddich whisky sauce, the Malt Barn is ideal for a late lunch or early dinner.

Also worth sampling is the side of venison pie - not your average side dish but delicious all the same!

Diners can also enjoy a range of coffees or something stronger from the bar.

The Malt Barn is also home to some of the artwork from the artist in residence programme, so keep an eye out.

Copper Dog

Picture: Rosalind Erskine

Located within the Craigellachie hotel, booking is essential if you want a meal in Copper Dog, but it's well worth it.

Serving pub grub favourites using Scottish ingredients (such as Shetland mussels and Strathdon blue cheese), it's hard to go wrong no matter what you choose.

We opted for starters of Copper Dog smoked salmon and Scottish oysters served with a whisky and apple vinaigrette, followed by a flat iron steak and the copper dog burger.

A shared dessert of heather honey cranachan served with whisky mousse, oat praline and Scottish raspberries was a sweet ending to a comforting meal.

Knockomie Inn

Tuck into seasonal Scottish fare at the Knockomie Inn's restaurant, which also serves up weekly deals such as fish and fizz Fridays and a traditional Sunday roast.

Moray has a wealth of produce, from fish and shellfish to game including duck, pheasant and vension - all of which can be found on the menu as the seasons change. As well as this, there's also 28 day dry hung Aberdeen Angus beef.

Veggies need not despair though as there are seasonal vegetarian dishes, including the delicious butternut squash and spinach strudel served with puy lentils and a mango yoghurt dressing.

Mosset Tavern

whisky trail

Picture: Mosset Tavern Facebook

For a spot of lunch by the river, try the lovely Mosset Tavern in Forres.

Serving modern interpretations of classic pub food, the menu includes a popular Sunday carvery as well as pub classics such as fish and chips, steak pie and macaroni cheese.

There's also a range of starters - ideal for sharing - and dishes from the grill, which include burgers and steak.

If you're after something more substantial the mains range from a vegetarian curry to Irn Bru glazed rack of pork ribs.

No weekend lunch would be complete without a drink and thankfully the bar is well stocked with, unsurprisingly, whisky, as well as an excellent range of gin.

The Station Hotel

Guests can look forward to seasonal Scottish fare in the hotel's three eateries – Toots Cafe Bar and Bistro, Pagodas and The Spirit Safe Bar. Pagodas, named for the distinctive distillery roofs that can be seen dotted around the whisky trail, is now a stripped-back, casual restaurant that serves a range of Scottish produce in an intimate setting.

Toots is named after Ernest Forsyth, an ancestor of the hotel’s owners and prominent figure within the whisky world, who was known almost universally as Toot.

Toots is where guests can enjoy a relaxing breakfast of Scottish favourites such as porridge, kippers or a full cooked affair served alongside a cold buffet.

Local produce, such as jams and the marvellous malt whisky marmalade by Carol's Been Cooking are lovely additions to the table.

The Spirit Safe Bar is the place to enjoy a dram or two with appetisers thanks to its wall of whisky. If you're not so sure about what dram to try, staff are on hand to give friendly and helpful advice.

Where to stay

The Craigellachie Hotel

whisky trail

Picture: the Craigellachie hotel

This well-established hotel is the heart of the popular Spirit of Speyside festival (held in May), and a treat to visit no matter when you're planning on touring whisky country.

Refurbished by owner, Piers Adams (he of Whisky Mist and Mahiki fame), the hotel was re-opened with much fanfare and famous faces.

With just 26 rooms, the distinctive mustard coloured building will become familiar site for those touring the increasing popular malt whisky trail.

The hotel is also home to the lively Copper Dog bar (a namesake whisky has been developed by the hotel) and the fabled Quaich Bar, which boasts over 900 single malt whiskies, and style-wise, wouldn't look out of place in a Wes Anderson film.

Guests can enjoy live music in copper dog to enjoy the live music, or retreat to the Quaich bar for a late night dram or two.

Boasting a wonderful art deco meets Hollywood look, the walls are all but hidden by bottle upon bottle of whisky. Deep red velvet curtains, matching red leather chairs and soft table lighting add to the luxurious look and feel.

There's also an open fire - ideal for a winter's night. If you're not a whisky buff, the bar staff were extremely helpful and happy to offer suggestions as well as well as making up cocktails.

Breakfast is served in Copper Dog and offers hearty Scottish fair, such as a full Scottish breakfast or porridge, or a light buffet of fruits, cereal and juices all of which is ideal for setting up guests for another day exploring the malt whisky trail.

Knockomie Inn

If roaring fires, good food and a wide, award-winning range of Scottish whisky (and gin) is your idea of an ideal break then the Knockomie Inn is the place to book. Located in Forres, the lodge only has 15 rooms giving it a real boutique feel.

Guests arrive up a long driveway to the family-run country home, and check in in the informal setting of the front lounge.

All  rooms are named after distilleries, and some have recently been modernised. Ours was The Glenlivet, a spacious double room decorated in a traditional style with canopied bed, comfy sofa and chairs and a modern ensuite complete with Green and Spring toiletries.

The hotel is dog-friendly and four legged friends can look forward to some complementary biscuits on arrival in the room, whereas guests can tuck into the complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits.

Whisky lovers can enjoy a wee dram or two in the cosy Malt Library Bar - a member of the prestigious Whisky Bars of the World, which has over 80 single malts to choose from.

If you'd rather something else, the bar is also well stocked with Scottish gin and the wine list is extensive and well put together.

We relaxed in front of a roaring fire with a G&T before dinner - an excellent way to end a tiring day.

With comfortable accommodation, welcoming staff and a restaurant specialising in delicious local and seasonal produce, Knockomie is a great place to spend a weekend or longer, while exploring the Malt Whisky Trail.

The Station Hotel

Originally opened over 100 years ago on the site of a shop, two houses, a free church and free church school, The Station Hotel was a frequented by wealthy guests who visited to fish salmon on the Spey.

After finding huge success in the 50s and 60s, when it was not unusual to see a Rolls Royce or two parked outside, the hotel (then known as Ben Aigen Hotel) went into decline and eventually closed in 2006.

Ten years later, after an extensive refurbishment courtesy of local couple Richard and Heather Forsyth, the hotel re-opened as the luxury digs it is now.

A study in contemporary décor with a hint of Scotland – but without any twee tartan touches – The Station Hotel offers guests a homely and cosy place to spend a night or two.

With an understated colour scheme in muted navy, grey, green and maroon that’s reminiscent of the surrounding landscape, guests may also notice hints of copper within the décor – a nod to the stills used in whisky production (one of which can be seen in the hotel's car park).

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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