Distillery Hopping in Pursuit of the Amber Elixir
Just as true Champagne can come only from the Champagne region in France, you must go to Scotland to find authentic Scotch whisky (spelled without the “e”) on its native soil. The country boasts more than one “Whisky Trail,” and a number of Lowland distilleries are an easy day trip southeast of Edinburgh. But the Highlands are the most celebrated home of Scotland’s legendary “spirits,” the malt whiskies (from the Gaelic uisge heatha, or water of life) that have been produced in this region for centuries.
A signposted route through the scenic eastern (Grampian) Highlands—the whisky-making capital of the Western world—leads the traveler to some of the most memorable spots at which to discover “the mystery of the malt.” Of the seven or eight world-famous distilleries located on this route, must-sees include Glenlivet (in Glenlivet) and Glenfiddich (in Dufftown), with Cardhu (in Archiestown) thrown in for good measure. Of the eighty-odd licensed singlemalt distilleries in Scotland, these are some of the premier.
Although the aforementioned all come from the secluded glens of the Spey Valley (where dozens of smaller and lesser-known distilleries make tempting detours), these world-acclaimed single malts all taste remarkably different, as a visit to a number of distilleries will prove.
Water is key, and so is the quality of grain (barley) and the amount of peat used in the fire. Blended Scotch whisky, on the other hand, is the marriage of up to sixty single malts, and promises an identical character bottle after bottle. After a few wee drams of this water of life, designated passengers might feel the distinction between one amber elixir of happiness and the next getting a little cloudy.