Whisky Myths Busted #3 – what is and isn’t a Speyside whisky.
In an effort to further cleanse my soul, we’ll start with a bit of a confession. I often confess on here, as it’s almost anonymous due to the fact I’m sadly not going to meet the vast majority of whoever reads this. However, as my readership slowly seems to go up and up, it can’t be a bad thing, can it? Perhaps people are just waiting to see what’s next. Sorry to disappoint the personality vultures, this time it isn’t salacious.
Confessing that I can be a bit of a pedant won’t come as a surprise for many, as some of you may already have guessed, but it’s not always the case. I haven’t been pedantic now for three weeks, 2 days, 17 hours, 22 minutes and 30 seconds. However there is one bit of pedantry that will not leave me alone; it’s the blurring of Speyside and Highland whisky regions, especially misidentifying Highland whisky as Speysides.
Those of you who have plenty of time to spend on whisky social media may be aware of a YouTube Channel called Aqvavitae. Run by Roy Duff, he runs a live stream mostly every week on his channel that is known as a v-Pub, where all sorts of people can drop in and listen to guests and get involved via live chat to discuss many various whisky topics. I often download the stream and listen to it in the car, as the fact I spend half the year at sea and the other half too busy to take part means I miss out. However, I do enjoy the quiz at the end (even if Menno is doing one of the impossible ones), and also the new(ish) section called “Is it a Speyside”.
The premise of ‘Is it a Speyside?’ is that a guest has to guess what Roy has in his glass. It’s always an available to buy core expression. The contestant then has 10 questions to find out what Roy is drinking. Sometimes they are against the clock. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but I have managed once to be the winner of this competition in the chat, but it was a Tobermory 12 Roy had, definitely not a Speyside. The prize is a channel Sniper Coin, which many use to top their Glencairn glasses.
One thing that I have noticed that during the chat, many people when thinking of Speyside whiskies suggest whiskies that are often not even near Speyside. It isn’t limited to this particular situation, there are plenty of examples of people calling whiskies from Speyside on websites, even bottlers get it wrong – my bottle of Ardlair (unpeated Ardmore) is labelled as a Speyside by German independent bottler Liquid Sun. Recently I’ve seen websites or social media posts describe GlenDronach, Ardmore, Glenglassaugh and Royal Brackla as Speyside, and Macallan and Dalwhinnie being called Highland whiskies and not Speyside. It is time to clear up the confusion.
The Speyside Whisky Region was according to my research not legally recognised as a whisky producing area until the advent of the Scotch Whisky Regulations (SWR) 2009. Anything north of the Lowland area is classed as Highland, but the enclave of Speyside has been recognised due to the high density of distilleries in that area. The regulations are very clear on what is and isn’t a Speyside. Regulation 10.6c outlines the confines of what is classed as the Speyside whisky region, namely which are the 8 council wards of Morayshire Council, plus the Badenoch and Strathspey area of Highland Council.
It’s not practical to publish maps here, as I don’t want to fall foul of copyright, but you can find access to PDF maps of Morayshire and Badenoch and Strathspey by clicking on the area title below.
To make it easier, here are where the distilleries are located. (brackets denote silent distilleries with surviving buildings or bottlings)
Aberlour, Allt a Bhainne, Auchroisk, Ballindalloch, Balvenie, Benrinnes, Braeval, (Caperdonich), Cardhu, (Convalmore), Cragganmore, Craigellachie, Dailuaine, Dalmunach, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glentauchers, Glen Grant, Glen Spey, (Imperial), Kininvie, Knockando, Macallan, Mortlach, (Parkmore), (Pittyvaich), Speyburn, Tamdhu, Tamnavulin, Tomintoul, (Towiemore).
Aultmore, Glen Keith, Knockdhu / An Cnoc, Strathisla, Strathmill
Benriach, (Coleburn), Glenlossie, Glen Elgin, Longmorn, Mannochmore.
Linkwood, Glen Moray
Benromach, (Dallas Dhu), Dunphail (Bimber, currently in planning application), Glenburgie
Balmenach, Cairn Distillery (under construction), Dalwhinnie, Speyside, (Speyside – Kingussie)
So why the Confusion?
Because prior to the creation of the Speyside whisky sub-region, all distilleries would have been known as Highland whiskies, or in its older, less definitive form, the Glenlivet suffix would be applied. Therefore the saying that all Speysiders are Highlanders yet all Highlanders aren’t Speysiders couldn’t be more true. Yet there are some Speyside distilleries do still describe themselves as Highland whiskies – Dalwhinnie, Glenfarclas Knockdhu (An Cnoc) and Macallan are four that spring to mind. While it is quite obvious that Macallan and Glenfarclas are in the heart of Speyside, Dalwhinnie is located in the southern part of Badenoch. It’s location at the start of a mountain pass makes you think that it could only be a Highland distillery, yet it is closer to the River Spey than many of the distilleries often thought to be quintessential Speyside.
Even Knockdhu / An Cnoc is just within the Keith and Cullen ward of Morayshire. The boundary kinks out east just to the north of the distillery. I have been in this area many times to use my preferred Honda dealer which is close by and is in Aberdeenshire, so I just assumed Knockdhu was too. Proves we can’t always be right. Better still, my inner pedant got some satisfaction, the mental equivalent of having a hobnob with a cup of coffee. Ahhhh!
Finally however, the SWR forbid the mentioning of two regions on a label, so distilleries in Speyside have to choose one or another. Just to mix it up, Aberlour once labelled itself as a Highland whisky, but now identifies as a Speyside on some bottlings. That’s ok, as long as it’s not both on the same label at the same time.
I hope this is useful, perhaps check out Roy’s channel on YouTube and take part in ‘Is It A Speyside?’ I’m sure he will be glad to welcome you, and now you are armed with some more knowledge, perhaps you can win ‘Is it a Speyside’!
Your In Spirits
Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.
Glenglassaugh Distillery – J Thomas (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Dalwhinnie Distillery – eatnorth.co.uk
Aberlour bottles – Twitter /@robertfifoot
Tellytubby Land – dailymail.co.uk
Royal Brackla Distillery – nairnbairn (CC BY-SA 2.0)
All Other Photos – Authors Own