G-LO: AK BABY! Remember that Single Cask Nation Scotland trip you went on a couple years ago? I’m sure there was oodles of tippling fine spirits going on, so I completely get it if you don’t. Plus, you’re really old and your memory ain’t what it used to be. So do you remember it at all?
AK: I barely remember my name on a good day, Dave. Scotland I do remember. It was right after the end of the war. I was stationed in Glasgow ridding the town of Jerrys and Bens.
AK: Oh, you and your desserts. Speaking of which, I had delectable thing in Speyside when I was there. Glen Moray bottles a cream liqueur with their single malt that is…to…die…for. Put that on your ice cream, baby!
G-LO: I would totally do that. If I had a bottle. Pity I don’t know anyone that could bring me back a bottle. Oh wait. I do know somebody and that somebody is YOU! But did you bring me any back? Noooooooo. You didn’t. Bastard. Tell us more of the wondrous delights to be found in Speyside! I dare you.
AK: I’ll take that as a double dog dare and tell you that I can’t wait to get back to Speyside. One, it’s picturesque. Two, there are lots of whisky making places there. Think they call them distilleries. Three…I’ll get back to you on that since #1 and #2 are pretty complete.
G-LO: That sounds like two damn fine reasons to pay Speyside (and Scotland in general) a visit. It’s a top 5 destination for me! My other top spots (in no particular order) are Ireland, Kentucky, Japan, and Belgium. Guess what they all have in common?
AK: Uh, McDonalds?
G-LO: They have that fo’sho, but that’s not what I’m after. Fine beverages (whisky and beer) that just happen to contain a substance called alcohol! That’s the common thread in my Top 5 destination wish list which I refuse to call a “bucket list” since I don’t plan on kicking any buckets anytime soon. Unless of course you know something I don’t know.
AK: Uh, don’t listen to the voicemail that your doctor just left you. And with that in mind, you need to scratch one location off the list ASAP. Scotland, my Lad! And a great place to start is Speyside!
G-LO: Deleting. Voicemail. NOW. Enough about my looming demise. While visiting idyllic Speyside, did you realize that you were on a whisky trail? To be more specific, did you realize that you were on THE Malt Whisky Trail®?
AK: Who am I? Lewis & Clark? What Malt Whisky Trail? I saw no signs. I saw no billboards. I saw no bus stop ads.
G-LO: You’re more like Sybil. I guess you missed the brown pagoda signs that tell you you’re on The Malt Whisky Trail®. They look EXACTLY like this…
Some tour guide you turned out to be! You really should pay closer attention.
AK: D’oh! Sorry! I can’t afford to pay attention, rich boy. I was holding on for dear life in the back of the van praying Jason Johnstone-Yellin wouldn’t hit a sheep or wandering soul. No time for looking for trailheads. But Speyside is a lovely corner of the world with much to see and…drink!
G-LO: My in-laws hit a sheep during a recent trip to Ireland. It was either that or a rock. Thankfully, the sheep lived which is probably a testament to the durability of its wool. Takata could learn a thing or two about automotive safety from those sheep! Sheep and bad driving aside, you’re still a lousy tour guide! Let me tell you what I know about The Malt Whisky Trail®. It’s located in the Moray Speyside region of Scotland and includes 9 official sites: Benromach, The Glenlivet, Cardhu, Dallas Dhu, Glenfiddich Glen Grant, Glen Moray, Strathisla, and Speyside Cooperage. Does that help your memory at all?
AK: I’ve been to Glen Moray!!! Guess I need to go back to get on the trail. The folks at Glen Moray are wonderful. Graham Coull, the master distiller, and his wife Faye are top notch people. And they live in a house right on the distillery property! And Glen Moray is weirdly right on the edge of a tract housing development. My kind of neighbors and neighbours.
G-LO: When do we leave?
AK: Not soon enough. I remember stopping in a cute little delicatessen – The Spey Larder – along the River Spey for an ox tongue sandwich and… ice cream made with Aberlour. Delish! Reason enough to go back. Damn, it’s hot out and I NEED ice cream! They had a whole bunch of whisky cheese too. Jeez, I really need to go back. With crackers. I need to fire up some money!
G-LO: You’re making me hungry AND thirsty! I’ll pack a bag. But before we go, remember that email I shared with you from the fine folks that run The Malt Whisky Trail®?
AK: I do, indeed. They seemed to be making a big “get the word” out campaign to get people on The Trail. Not a bad idea. Lots to explore and see there.
G-LO: Indeed they do! AND they were kind enough to answer many of the incredibly brilliant and insightful questions that we sent them a few weeks ago. Could this be our Sally Field moment???
AK: Sybil says YES!
G-LO: They like us! They really really like us! Ok. I feel better now! Anyway. We sent them 15 questions and they answered 12.
AK: We’re batting .800!
G-LO: And if we would have left out Limpd’s shameless request for a Dallas Dhu sample, we’d be batting .857! Now that we have our little “inside baseball” chat out of the way, shall we get on with our little Q&A with James C McG Johnston, Chairman, The Malt Whisky Trail®?
AK: Yes, but only if I get ice cream and whisky at the end.
G-LO: We can definitely make that happen! But first, let’s get on with the show…
Boozedancing: The press kit that you sent us about The Malt Whisky Trail® mentions that it dates back to the 1950s. How has your organization evolved since its inception, i.e. (a) has it always been just 9 whisky industry locations that are part of The Trail, (b) has the organizational structure changed in any way over the years, and (c) has the Trail always been exclusive to Moray Speyside, and if so, is there any talk of expanding The Malt Whisky Trail® to other neighboring regions?
James Johnston: The Malt Whisky Trail® has always had a presence in this iconic whisky producing region since the mid-50s but it is only recently that it has ‘awoken’ as a brand and looked to fully maximise the potential it has. There is no doubting that collaboration between the Partner Members and within the Industry has always been strong; the idea of the “awakening” of The Malt Whisky Trail® has been to provide support to the notion of a better integrated region and a truer reflection of the holistic experience that Moray can offer.
BD: There are 50+ distilleries in Speyside. How did you choose the distilleries that are currently part of the Trail? Are you working towards ultimately include them all?
JJ: You will be aware that there are few truly independent Distilleries in the Region; most are captured within larger organisations, such as Pernod-Ricard or Diageo. The Articles Of Association determine that Partner Members are required to have a Visitor Centre of a high standard and that immediately reduces the physical number of distilleries that can look to be part of The Trail. In terms of capture, we work with and between all the distilleries, and it is our enduring ambition that all the distilleries with visitor centres within the region are part of it.
BD: A recent article in The Press and Journal stated that tourism revenue in the Moray Speyside region has risen by over 50% since 2009. How much of an economic impact has The Malt Whisky Trail® had on this rise in tourism activity? What are the other areas that you see benefiting from this in Speyside, i.e. parks, outdoor activities, cultural spots, the arts?
JJ: We are currently taking time to understand how we can best identify how The Trails many and varied businesses and activities contribute to the Regional Tourism revenue. And when we can do that…no doubt that we will celebrate the difference that we make and the value that we add!
BD: Of the 9 whisky industry locations, we’re guessing that Glenlivet and Glenfiddich are the most well known. Is it safe to assume that these two distilleries draw the most visitors? Assuming we’re correct about the popularity of Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, which of your other locations is most visited by tourists?
JJ: The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich both receive a high volume of visitors from around the world that contributes largely to the overall number of visitors to The Malt Whisky Trail®. However, each Malt Whisky Trail site focuses on providing premium level experiences by offering more intimate tours with smaller group numbers. Each site continues to increase the number of visitors per annum and surpasses yearly goals set by their parent companies.
BD: Touch on the response you’re getting from the distillieries to this marketing push. What kind of budget do you have to promote the area and support the goal? Is the Malt Whisky Trail® funded privately or publicly?
JJ: The overall response from the partner members and sites has been very positive. Collaboration between the sites is integral to promoting The Malt Whisky Trail®, and partner members are pleased with the direction we aim to move towards. We have a number of plans and ideas in discussion and are looking forward to what the future will bring for The Malt Whisky Trail®. Because The Malt Whisky Trail® is privately funded we work strategically between the sites and our partnering PR company to make the most of our promotions.
BD: If you only had three days to visit The Malt Whisky Trail®, what itinerary would you recommend to maximize one’s Moray Speyside experience?
JJ: For anyone looking to explore The Malt Whisky Trail® for a short break, we do recommend mapping out an itinerary prior to a visit using our website trip planner tool so as to get the ultimate experience that The Trail has to offer.
For a three day period I would highly recommend the following:
Day 1: Start your journey off with a tour of The Glenlivet distillery, and if time permits, an exploration of the Smugglers Trail. Next, head to Cardhu distillery and experience the home of Johnnie Walker with an in depth tour of the first distillery started by a woman. Make your way to Craigellachie for your last tour of the day at the Speyside Cooperage and explore the ancient craft of coopering. Spend the night at the famous Craigellachie Hotel and enjoy the finest of Speyside’s larder at the Copper Dog restaurant then pop up to their iconic whisky bar, The Quaich for a whisky cocktail
Day 2: Start the day with a trip to Glenfiddich distillery and enjoy a cup of coffee at the Malt Barn before heading on your tour. Before moving on to your next distillery, stop at the legendary 13th-century castle ruin, Balvenie Castle, in Dufftown. Continue onwards to Scotland’s oldest working distillery, Strathisla in Keith, to experience an insightful tour at the home of Chivas Regal. Lastly, make your way towards Rothes to complete your last tour of the day at Glen Grant distillery set amongst beautiful, Victorian gardens. Conclude your day with a nice dinner and a dram at the Toot’s Cafe Bar & Bistro located within The Station Hotel, just steps away from Glen Grant.
Day 3: Begin your last day on The Trail with a tour of Glen Moray’s ever growing site, and enjoy a quick brunch at their cafe before heading to Forres to tour Benromach. At Benromach enjoy a tour of the newly renovated grounds and afterwards take a quick trip to the seaside village of Findhorn to explore the harbour side shops, cafes and restaurants. Finally, make the brief journey to historic distillery Dallas Dhu and explore the distilleries history over the years.
BD: We imagine that you’ve had the opportunity to try many fine Speyside whiskies over the years. Is there one that really stood apart from the rest? We’d love to hear about it! Also, do you have a favorite dram that you revisit often? Please tell us about that too!
JJ: Perhaps the most “complete” malt whisky I have ever tasted was a 1963 Longmorn [Sherry Cask]; it hit all the right “buttons” for me from nose to taste. Most impressive was its lingering excitement of my palate – not just on the first sip but throughout the consumption of the bottle – but not in one sitting! My favourite “drinking malts” are A’Bunadh (cask strength) and Benromach 15 Year – difficult to decide between either as they are so different. But the quality, consistency and authenticity of the whisky speaks for itself, and the decanters are never empty!
BD: Aside from distilleries, what’s your favorite place in Speyside? Why should someone who’s not necessarily a whisky lover come to visit?
JJ: My favourite place in Speyside is on top of Barluack – a hill to the north of Rothes. From there I can see most of the Spey Valley to the south and west, and to the north the delights of the Moray Firth. And it reminds me of the privilege we have living her; our region takes us from alpine mountains to golden sand beaches, and in between is the widest range of activities and interests possible. And on that journey you have the finest collection of Malt Whisky Distilleries in the world. Can life and opportunity get any better?
BD: I would think not! We love eating too! What’s your favorite place to eat in Speyside? And, more importantly, what’s your favorite pub?
JJ: My favourite place to eat in Moray is at the Station Hotel in Rothes; and better still, the pub is in the same building – Toots!
BD: How hard (or easy) is it to get to Speyside from Glasgow, Edinburgh, London? What’s the best way to get to Speyside?
JJ: Finding your way to The Trail is very easy. International airports Inverness and Aberdeen are based on either side of Speyside and have directs flights from locations such as London, Paris and even Amsterdam, to name a few. Likewise, Malt Whisky Trail towns Keith, Elgin and Forres lie on the main train lines providing easy access from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Travelling from London by train is simple and comfortable as well when traveling on the Caledonian Sleeper stopping in either Aviemore, Inverness or Aberdeen. If you do prefer driving however, it is a beautiful experience traveling via the A9 and A95. Our famous brown “pagoda’ signs lead the way to The Malt Whisky Trail® which lies amongst some of the most scenic views in Scotland.
BD: Our travel dollars could be spent on any number of tours (with the Highland Trail and the Islay Trail to name just two). What sets the Speyside Trail apart from the others?
JJ: What sets The Malt Whisky Trail® apart from others is the quality, consistency and authenticity it can offer, alongside the most broad range of malt whisky offerings anywhere in the world. Indeed, Speyside hosts the greatest density of malt whisky distilleries on the face of the earth, and so much more. We call The Malt Whisky Trail® ‘The Ultimate Scotch Experience” – it is exactly that – there is something for everyone and fantastic memories to make and opportunities to enjoy – come and try it for yourself.
BD: If you were able to plan a side trip or two along the Trail, what “can’t miss” stops would you recommend?
JJ: For visitors interested in historic sites [they] can explore a number of locations throughout The Malt Whisky Trail® to step back in time including the Elgin Cathedral in Elgin, Balvenie Castle in Duffton and Spynie Palace, just outside of Elgin heading towards Lossiemouth. Take a relaxing seaside walk along the idyllic beaches of Lossiemouth, Hopeman, Burghead or Findhorn and maybe get a glimpse of the exciting wildlife that frequently visit our shores.
Similarly, a visit to The Malt Whisky Trail® isn’t complete without a meal at at least one of the local restaurants including the Copper Dog at Craigellachie Hotel, The Bothie in Burghead, The Bakehouse in Findhorn, or the Drouthy Cobbler in Elgin. There are number of sites to see and stops to experience along The Trail and we recommend utilising The Malt Whisky Trail® website’s itinerary tool to plan your visits to make the most of your trip.