The state of Speyside in 2022 — an update from the heart of Scotch whisky country

The state of Speyside in 2022 — an update from the heart of Scotch whisky country

An update on all the key happenings from the past 12 months

Regional Focus | 25 Mar 2022 | Issue 182 | By Felipe Schrieberg

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After the many disruptions caused by Covid throughout the last two years, tourists are beginning to return to one of Scotch whisky’s capitals as restrictions are finally lifted.

Though everything is not quite normal again – most distillery tours are still pretty restricted in scope – distilleries have begun thinking about how to move forward in 2022. Despite tour troubles, production largely continued as normal during the pandemic, and for many brands, sales of their products shot up as well.

The biggest sign of Speyside’s 2022 resurgence is that the region’s flagship whisky festival, the Spirit of Speyside, will be going ahead at the end of April with its plethora of tastings and events, after a delayed much smaller version was held in November of last year. Almost every Speyside distillery will showcase a variety of special tastings, events and unique whiskies for the return of this special occasion.

Since the last update on the state of Speyside in Whisky Magazine #178 (October 2021), here’s what’s been happening:

Aberlour


Unfortunately, the visitor centre’s shop for the Aberlour Distillery was broken into during the winter holidays, and thousands of pounds of whisky was stolen. It is similar to what happened at the Tullibardine Distillery during the summer of last year, amid a disturbing wider wave of Scotch whisky thefts that have been taking place around Scotland.
Beyond this, the distillery is not yet running distillery tours but is running tastings, and many of the Aberlours from owner Chivas Regal’s Reserve collection are available to try. In a few weeks, some new single-cask and small-batch whiskies will be released in the distillery shop in time for Spirit of Speyside as well.

Lastly, it is with some excitement that the distillery team have announced the acquisition of the largest known collection of Aberlour A’bunadh bottlings, sourced from a private seller via broker Mark Littler. The distillery team plan to put the bottles on display in the distillery visitor centre and also host special tastings that allow comparison of the different batches.

The Balvenie


The distillery isn’t running any tours, but will do so soon and is offering tastings. While tours have been on hold, some work was done on the maltings, adding automated turning equipment on the malting floor and the kiln in order to save the shoulders and time of the distillery’s staff.

As for new releases, The Balvenie has been busy. Its latest offering from the Stories range, the Tale of the Dog, features two single-cask bottlings: a 46-year-old expression for travel retail; and a 42-year-old for the UK market. Another Stories range whisky is The Second Red Rose, a 21-year-old finished in ex-Shiraz casks which pays homage to a popular distillery-exclusive release from 2008 (The Balvenie Rose). The eighth batch, which will also be the last, from the acclaimed Tun 1509 series was also released at the turn of winter last year.

Last but not least is the more budget-friendly Creation of a Classic. This whisky honours The Balvenie’s legendary malt master David Stewart’s efforts to create the The Balvenie Classic release in 1983, one of the first-ever whiskies featuring secondary maturation in a different cask.

The Balvenie has also explored the act of creativity in collaborations with artists and makers at the top of their game. Its successful Quest for Craft web video series features acclaimed drummer Questlove interviewing artists and performers about the creation process. Its Makers Project event series featured collaborations with designers and artists around the world, and in the UK, Balvenie put together a performance in the London Barbican featuring musician Michael Kiwanuka, artist Tishk Barzanji, and Stewart himself. More artistic collaborations are due later this year.
A selection of The Balvenie whiskies

Benriach


Though Benriach finished building a new visitor centre in April of last year, planned activities were severely hampered by Covid restrictions, and it was only at the end of January 2022 that the centre could really get going with a variety of tastings, including the wonderfully named ‘Barrels, Butts, and Barriques’ session offering a number of single-cask samples. New whiskies on the horizon include the latest edition of its Malting Season, due in the spring, which features barley malted on the distillery’s own malting floors, and the annual release of single-cask whiskies that will be distributed globally to retailers in the autumn.

Benromach


During the first UK lockdown, Benromach made the decision to shut down its visitor centre and only recently opened its doors again. Production hasn’t been affected, though, and the distillery continues to release new whiskies. This includes the first of its new annual Vintage series, a 40-year-old first distilled in 1981 that eschews Benromach’s typical white and red colour scheme for a sleeker black and gold.

February also saw the launch of a new addition to Benromach’s Contrasts range: Cara Gold. It is made with a malt this is typically used in beer, but provides rich caramel and vanilla notes. In this case, unpeated Cara Gold spirit is blended together with Benromach’s usual house spirit profile to create something rich, gentle, and unusual.

A new campaign, Handmade, celebrates collaborations with artisans of all stripes. The first of these is with Yorkshire leatherworkers HÔRD, which has made custom Benromach hip flasks using leather strips that normally would go to landfill.

Diageo


New whiskies from Diageo’s Speyside distilleries are mostly spread across the second edition of the ultra-premium Prima and Ultima series and Diageo’s annual Special Releases collection, which was released in autumn of last year to much acclaim and drew on the theme of myths and legends.

Prima and Ultima includes a 1995 Mortlach single cask, the first-ever cask to be filled at the Auchroisk Distillery (from 1974), a 1981 Linkwood blending four secondary maturation casks together, and a 1992 Singleton from Glendullan that features maturation in Madeira barriques.

In the slightly more budget-friendly Special Releases 2021 collection, there are a 13-year-old Mortlach, a 14-year-old Cardhu, and a 19-year-old Singleton of Glendullan to be found.

Outside of the collections, there’s one more limited luxury release deserving mention. The Singleton 39 Years Old, produced at Glen Ord, took 12-year-old whisky, reracked it in a combination of ex-port, red wine, and ex-oloroso and PX sherry casks, and then mixed it all together before further maturation in ex-Bordeaux barrels.

Beyond production, 11 Diageo distilleries (collectively known as the Diageo Spey Catchment Group, and including some Speyside operations) received certification from the Alliance for Water Stewardship for their work on improving sustainable water use and climate change resilience. And finally, the Cardhu Distillery visitor centre has been reopened following a complete renovation, bringing its experience in line with that of Glenkinchie Distillery and Johnnie Walker Princes Street, in Edinburgh city centre.
Diageo Special Releases

GlenAllachie


Another distillery with plenty of new bottles, GlenAllachie revealed the third batch of its Wood Series range which includes an 11-year-old PX finish, a 12-year-old ruby port finish, and a 13-year-old Madeira finish. A 14-year-old oloroso finish was released exclusively in the UK.

Its hugely popular 10 Years Old Cask Strength series continues with fifth and sixth batches, following on from the success of Batch 4, which won World's Best Single Malt at the 2021 World Whiskies Awards. However, there are also plenty of new and experimental single-cask releases regularly shipped all over the world. Billy Walker is currently enjoying the results of maturation experiments where odd oak species have been used: “We’re doing a lot of work with wood management, especially with virgin oak and the genus we source. We’re working with European, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Ozark, Chinkapin, and, if we can get our hands on it, Garryana oak. These are things that 10 years ago would have been unheard of, so watch this space.”

Glenfarclas


Within the distillery site itself, two newly constructed warehouses were built and will become operational in the summer.
Following the closure of the visitor centre from March to July last Glenfarclas then was offering a distillery tour, albeit covering only the still house and warehouse. However, there was a twist: the tours were free until the end of November, and guests were asked to make an optional charity donation that went to local food bank Moray Food Plus. The distillery raised more than £16,000 from the tours.

As for new whiskies, beyond the annual Christmas edition for the German market (2021’s was a 9-year-old), Glenfarclas has a whisky in the higher end of the age spectrum due for release at the end of April 2022.

Glenfiddich


Glenfiddich had to cut access to production areas with its tours, setting up a nifty exhibition-based alternative instead. Beyond this, Glenfiddich was the first Scotch whisky brand to step into the murky and controversial world of NFTs, tying both a new 46-year-old and the rum-finished 21 Years Old Gran Reserva to NFT purchases.

Glenfiddich has also collaborated with menswear retailer Mr. Porter to release a 20-year-old whisky with 1,500 bottles available.

Glen Moray


It’s exciting times at Glen Moray, as tours of the distillery started again at the end of January, and the company can start working on delayed 2021 plans. This includes the official launch during Spirit of Speyside of Glen Moray House, a formal tasting lounge completed in 2020 but not yet used.

On the whisky front, the core range 25 Years Old will be replaced by a 30-year-old, and the first whiskies created by new master blender Stephen Woodcock will be released globally as the three latest entries in the popular Curiosity series, respectively featuring maturation in rye whiskey, rhum agricole, and Chenin Blanc wine casks.

Glen Moray’s other successful maturation series, Warehouse 1, also recently added two cask strength products to the roster; the 1998 Barolo Finish and 2008 Manzanilla Finish.

As the official whisky partner of Edinburgh Rugby, there was also a new 15-year-old whisky released at the end of last year to commemorate the completion of the new Dam Health rugby stadium.

The Macallan


Macallan has released plenty of whiskies at both eye-wateringly expensive and affordable prices.

The most impressive of these, announced in February, is The Reach: the oldest Macallan ever bottled at 81 years of age. This whisky was originally distilled in 1940 and was stored in a single sherry-seasoned oak cask. Let’s also not forget the spry 71-year-old Tales of the Macallan Vol. 1, released last August. The latest edition of the Double Cask 30 Years Old also hit the shelves last September, featuring the work of photographer and artist Eric Madigan Heck on the packaging.
At more affordable levels, Macallan launched the first release in a limited-edition series, A Night On Earth In Scotland, for £75 a bottle. Another new series, the Harmony Collection, was also launched. Celebrating Macallan’s dedication to sustainability, the box for the first release, the Rich Cacao, is fully recyclable and biodegradable as it is made with discarded cacao husks. Naturally, the Macallan team recommends pairing this one with chocolate.
 
The Macallan The Reach

New distilleries


There are new names being added to the already considerable list of Speyside whisky distilleries. The operators of Speyside Distillery at Tromie Mills in Kingussie are to relocate to a new site for the distillation of their SPEY brand of whisky. Meanwhile, the Glasgow Whisky company has purchased the Tromie Mills site for its own uses. Further north, the team behind the acclaimed Bimber Distillery in London have begun construction work on a new distillery site, Dunphail, in Forres. And finally, whisky firm Gordon & Macphail is putting the finishing touches on its new Grantown-on-Spey distillery, The Cairn, before the grand opening later this year. Other projects still awaiting construction are also in the works.

Tamnavulin


Tamnavulin aims to create as much affordable, easy-drinking, delicious whisky as possible. To achieve this goal, the distillery matched its previous production record, producing 4.3 million litres of spirit in 2021.

The most recent new release is the Red Wine Cask Edition, which is finished in American oak casks that used to contain French Cabernet Sauvignon wine.

Tamdhu


Though Tamdhu matures all of its whisky in ex-oloroso sherry casks, it is far from a one-trick pony distillery. Its latest release, the Quercus Alba Distinction, was matured in American oak casks that have been seasoned with oloroso sherry for at least 18 months.

It also launched its deep and punchy Cigar Malt, created with cigar pairing in mind. To celebrate the launch, two cigar humidors were built that included staves from the sherry casks used for maturation in their construction, and one will be auctioned for charity this year. Most exciting of all for the distillery will be the addition of a new 18-year-old Tamdhu to the core range in April, featuring a mix of American and European oak casks.
Tamdhu pairings

The Dram Queen


Industry veteran Ann Miller, aka the Dram Queen (dramqueen.co.uk), worked in the industry for over 30 years before starting her own whisky experiences business based in Speyside. A Keeper of the Quaich and a lifetime ambassador for the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, she offers bespoke experiences including tutored tastings, events, plus a range of training courses and whisky experiences for novices and enthusiasts in the ‘Dram Room’ on her family farm in the heart of Speyside, and at other locations as requested. Ann is the only approved provider of courses for the Edinburgh Whisky Academy in Scotland, and she is always happy to share her passion, knowledge and behind-the-scenes expertise.
Ann Miller

Whisky & Wellness


Mitch Bechard, owner of CopperCairn (coppercairn.com) and co-host of Not Another Whisky Podcast, has created a new all-inclusive, four-day whisky experience: the No Sleep Till Speyside Whisky and Wellness Retreat. A Speyside experience like no other, this unique offering will combine whisky education and tutored tastings, bespoke culinary experiences using locally sourced ingredients prepared by a private chef, holistic therapies such as sound healing, massage and meditation, plus restorative yoga and more. The retreat will be hosted by CopperCairn, a company Bechard created to deliver whisky experiences with a twist, and is partnered with yoga instructor Claire Martin; Emma Hanley, head chef at Tattu, Edinburgh; and holistic therapist Jo Bechard. The retreat will run 17–20 June 2022 and will cost £995 per person based on two people sharing a room. [This will include all meals, yoga sessions, sound bath sessions, a distillery visit, a three-course paired whisky dinner and, of course, whisky.]

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival


The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, which was founded in 1999, is to return as an in-person event 27 April–2 May 2022. Led by new chairman George McNeil, managing director of Johnstons of Elgin retail division, the festival promises to reunite whisky lovers with the distilleries, bars and characters that can only be found in Speyside, the heart of the Scotch whisky industry. Tickets can be purchased online at spiritofspeyside.com.
Spirit of Speyside
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