Spirit of Speyside 2024: The Speyside distillers celebrating their 200th anniversary this year

Spirit of Speyside 2024: The Speyside distillers celebrating their 200th anniversary this year

We look at the five Speyside distilleries celebrating their 200th anniversaries this year

News | 18 Mar 2024 | By Bethany Brown

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The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is a celebratory occasion for the region at large — but for five distilleries in the region, 2024 will be particularly special as it marks their 200th anniversaries as licensed distillers. We take a closer look at the makers celebrating this milestone.

 

 

The Glenlivet

The stills at The Glenlivet

One of the best-known names in Scotch whisky, The Glenlivet has a place in the hearts — and drinks cabinets — of many a whisky drinker. Founded by George Smith, it was the first distillery in Glenlivet to obtain a distiller's licence following the introduction of the Excise Act (1823). His tall lantern-shaped stills turned out a light, fruity spirit that was soon sought after throughout Scotland. Many distillers appropriated the 'Glenlivet' moniker on their labels in an attempt to cash in on its popularity; George's son John Smith eventually took the matter to court and in 1884 his distillery was granted perpetual ownership of the trademark 'the Glenlivet'.

 

The distillery is continuing to claim new ground in whisky innovation, from the first whisky finished in Cognac casks to its pioneering work in ready-to-drink cocktails through The Glenlivet Capsule Collection and its Twist & Mix cocktail range.

 

It has marked its 200th anniversary with the release of a commemorative 12-year-old whisky, the pioneering The Glenlivet Rum and Bourbon Fusion Cask Selection using casks made from two wood types, and the release of the ultra-rare Twelve Elements collection, released through blockchain-backed marketplace the Whisky Exchange Cabinet.

 

Jayne Murphy, marketing director for malts at Chivas Brothers, said: “Since our founder George Smith introduced his Speyside single malt whisky to the world in 1824, we’ve been committed to continuously setting new standards of excellence and crafting the future of single malt whisky. During our bicentenary, as we reflect on the many incredible people across The Glenlivet’s storied history who have helped us reach this historic milestone, we extend a heartfelt invitation to everyone to join us in raising a dram.”

 

 

Macallan

Tales of the Macallan Volume I

Macallan is a recognised name across the world, not just in whisky but in the wider consumer consciousness, and a well-established presence in the whisky auction market, fetching some of the highest hammer prices for whisky to date. Its distinctively rich, oily spirit and predominant use of sherry casks have found favour with drinkers the world over, particularly in emerging whisky markets such as southeast Asia, where the company has worked hard to establish itself as a luxury lifestyle brand over the past three decades.

 

It was founded by teacher and barley farmer Alexander Reid on the Easter Elchies Estate as the Elchies distillery, which operated with just two stills. Macallan's most recent renovation project, completed in 2018, included the building of a brand-new distillery and a new visitor experience with brasserie, bar, and boutique.

 

The distillery is marking its 200th anniversary in style: announcements so far include a collaborative event with the Cirque du Soleil being held at the Macallan Estate in May, the release of Tales of the Macallan Volume II, a 73-year-old single malt celebrating its founder; and the Macallan Horizon, a single malt launched in collaboration with Bentley Motors which will be exclusively available through the distillery's network of domestic and travel-retail Macallan Boutiques.

 

 

Cardhu

The visitor experience at Cardhu

Cardhu was founded by Helen Cumming in 1811 and become licensed in 1824. Her daughter-in-law sold the distillery to Johnnie Walker and Sons in 1893, on the condition they would continue running it. Today, Cardhu is one of Diageo's 'four corners of Scotland' distilleries that contribute the bulk of whisky for Johnnie Walker (alongside Clynelish in the Highlands, Caol Ila on Islay, and Glenkinchie in the Lowlands). Recently, the distillery's visitor experience has been completely overhauled as part of Diageo's £185 million investment in its Scotch whisky tourism. It reopened in 2021, featuring a new tour programme focused on the distillery's origins and the 'flavour journey' of its single malt whiskies.

 

To celebrate its anniversary, Cardhu has released a limited-edition 12-year-old expression matured exclusively in ex-wine casks, a first for the distillery. Inspired by Helen and Elizabeth Cumming, the bottle's packaging features Helen with a red flag, which she allegedly waved to signal nearby distillers to hide their illicit stills from authorities. It also held a special event, A Celebration of Cardhu's Pioneering Women, on International Women's Day (8 March).

 

 

Balmenach

The Balmenach Distillery

The Balmenach distillery was established on a farm in Cromdale owned by the McGregor family, who owned and operated the distillery until it was sold to the Distillers Company (DCL) in 1922. It was bought in 1998 by Inver House Distillers, a subsidiary of International Beverage which owns fellow Scotch distilleries Balblair, Pulteney, and Speyburn. 

 

Balmenach is known as one of Speyside's most traditional distilleries: it runs long fermentations and uses small stills and worm tub condensers, producing a meatier spirit that can withstand longer maturations. Its heavier character makes it a prized component for blends, by International Beverage and others, so single malt releases are rare.

 

 

Miltonduff

The still room at Miltonduff Distillery

The Milton distillery, an illicit farm-based operation in the north of Speyside, became Miltonduff after it secured its distilling licence in 1824. The distillery near Elgin has been owned by Pernod Ricard since 2005, producing malt whisky for its portfolio of blends including Ballantine's and Chivas Regal.

 

Its relationship with Ballantine's dates back to the 1930s, when it was bought by Canadian spirits group Hiram Walker to supply malt spirit for the blend. Hiram Walker also oversaw the installation of two Lomond stills at Miltonduff, which were used to produce the now highly collectible Mosstowie single malt brand. (The brand was discontinued in 1981 and the Lomond stills have since been replaced by conventional pot stills.)

 

Due to its primary use as a blending whisky bottlings of Miltonduff single malt are not all that common, but its light, floral character has attracted the attention of independent bottlers including Berry Bros & Rudd, Duncan Taylor, and Gordon & MacPhail.

 

Despite being a relative unknown, Miltonduff is the second largest whisky distillery in the Chivas group — its output of about 5 million litres per year is second only to The Glenlivet. 

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