Speyside Distillery Visits: Glenfarclas, The Macallan & Glen Grant
Updated: Nov 4, 2020
Speyside Distillery Visits
Almost a year after I'd started trying whisky, on the way to what would become the start of Swedish Whisky Girl, me and some friends decided to roadtrip up to Speyside. Speyside is home to almost half of all the single malt distilleries in Scotland so if you like whisky - this is a good place to visit! I don't know if I have one specific Speyside Distillery that is my favourite but there sure is plenty of them to discover. We visited Glenfarclas, The Macallan & Glen Grant and I already can't wait to come back and see more.
Speyside Distillery Visits: Glenfarclas, The Macallan & Glen Grant
Our adventure started in the evening after work when we all got in a car, drove past McDonalds for some food and then continued up north. We had found a cute little cottage on AirBNB close to Benrinnes Distillery and Aberlour. I was already feeling a bit weird but thought it was just some travel sickness. Primarily I was so excited to see Speyside, since everyone was always saying such nice things about it!
We went up to Speyside in November which is a lovely month to go up north. The cold air makes it even more appealing to enjoy some whisky.
We started by visiting Glenfarclas Distillery. It's one of the few distilleries that are still family owned and we got shown around by a lady who's father had also been working at the distillery all his life.
We all recognised the red warehouse doors instantly and got excited!
This definitely is a very classic Speyside Distillery.
I always think it's a lot of fun seeing what the stills look like. Glenfarclas is one of the few distilleries that still have directly fired stills. Most stills nowadays are heated like a kettle and there's only a few that use the traditional method like Glenfarclas. Directly firing a still can tear more on the copper. Only certain distilleries choose to keep this method since changing it could affect the character of the whisky.
During the tour we got to see all different parts of production. And the absolute highlight of the tour was seeing the warehouses.
This is where I first fell in love with dunnage warehouses. They are chilly stone buildings with an earth floor. The smell and the feeling of being in this cold building surrounded by maturing spirit is truly fantastic.
It's a great tour for anyone who wishes to see a proper traditional working distillery. At the end we also got to try their 12yo and 15yo expressions in their beautiful tasting room.
We then continued our distillery journey by heading to The Macallan. There's been a lot of hype surrounding the distillery since they've rebuilt it recently for incredible amounts of money. The distillery is built in to a hill and almost looks like a space ship. We were gonna have something to eat beforehand but the café was a bit weird and didn't have anything that seemed appealing so I ended up eating half of a quite dry scone. I would probably recommend eating before visiting The Macallan.
Just opposite the distillery there's also some lovely highland coos that just ignored us when we tried to say hi.
It was definitely a really good tour. They had good visual aids - like lighting up the stills and different parts of production whilst talking about it. And also a film about maturation that explained further about oak casks and their importance. Without doubt a good show that will catch your attention. The scale of the distillery is also very impressive.
The thing that I missed the most on the tour was the scents. It almost felt too clean and organised. Whilst the tour was a good show, it almost didn't feel like a working distillery but instead more like just a model. However it is a great tour for understanding different parts of the production, where what things happen and learning about the casks that they use.
A good example of a more modern Speyside Distillery Tour.
They also had a part where you got to nose different aromas to see if you could pick them out. It's a lot of fun since it often shows you how difficult it can be.
The tasting at the end was really good as well. You got to try 4 different whiskys, plus their new make.
Unfortunately the tour doesn't let you have a look at any warehouses. Which is quite understandable considering the size of their operations. But they do explain maturation through a little film and there's a room with casks behind glass where you can have a look around after the tour.
If I'm completely honest I can't really remember what they tasted like. By this point I was starting to feel worse due to the ongoing appendicitis. But I'm very tempted to go back and re-do the tour at some point.
Our last stop for the day was Glen Grant. We got here when it started getting dark so we didn't have much time to explore the famous gardens which are supposed to be very beautiful. There's a story about the gardens and the Major Grant which is quite fun. If the major asked you to come for a walk in the gardens, it actually meant going in ot the gardens and having a dram from the bottle he had hidden there.
Even though we didn't see the gardens, we could tell it was a pretty distillery.
It was just us there, which is one of the major benefits of going up in fall when it's a bit more quiet. I would however recommend booking your tours in advance just to make sure you get a space. And to check that they are open.
Since our tour guide found out we had been to two other distilleries that same day, she said she would only tell us about differences and not go through the entire production process again. I love doing distillery tours but production is basically the same at every single malt distillery. You do reach a point where you've heard about malting, milling and mashing so many times you could recite it in your sleep, so it was very much appreciated and interesting to only focus on what makes Glen Grant special.
Glen Grant is owned by Campari and is the bestselling single malt in Italy. They are known for a very fruity Speyside-style whisky which we definitely got to experience during the tasting at the end of the tour.
We got to try a few different expressions of Glen Grant and we actually also drove in to a nearby whisky bar which had the Glen Grant 18yo that some people in our group wanted to try since it had gotten such good reviews it had gotten recently. They were all very fruity, so if that's something you like then Glen Grant is a good whisky for you!
I also picked up some whisky honey from the shop as a souvenir. It's currently my favourite honey. Really yummy!
And then it got dramatic.
During the night I started feeling really really awful. I'm usually quite good at just ignoring pain and waiting until it passes but this time it was different. Eventually we called NHS and I spoke to them whilst laying on the floor and I then got driven to the closest hospital which was in Elgin - Dr Grays. I can't say I remember much, but I was very happy that they could see me within just a few hours and they got me some morphine for the pain.
Unfortunately this meant that we couldn't go to Strathisla and Aberlour which we had planned for the following day, but instead we just drove back home. Of course the car broke down slightly so the journey back took twice as long. But I'm very happy my friends were so understanding and helpful throughout it all. When we got back I had to go to the hospital once more and ended up staying for a week.
Let's just say I will never forget my first time in Speyside.
I have now managed to visit Aberlour however and you can read more about that Speyside Distillery and also some others through the link !
Want to explore another Speyside Distillery? See my other distillery guides!
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What's your favourite Speyside Distillery?