More than half the world's scotch distilleries can be found in Speyside, just about three hours' drive from Scotland's capital of Edinburgh.
The hillsides along the region's Malt Whisky Trail may still be dotted with white sheep and vibrant yellow shrubs, but, thanks to increased demand for fine malts around the globe, more imbibers are visiting than ever before, and local booze producers are eager to show the world their modern sides.
Consequently, the small Highland region is more visitor-friendly than ever, with new, refined lodging options and more ways to taste the region's famous whiskys. New direct flights on American and Delta-Virgin from New York City to Edinburgh are making it faster and easier to get to single malt country. So, what are you waiting for?
Two Must-Visit Distilleries
Opt for a stop at a small distillery that operates like the large-batch distilleries used to 20 years ago, such as Knockdhu Distillery, which just opened to the public this year. Tastings of anCnoc, the distillery's flagship whisky, can be arranged, and ask to add partner brands like Old Pulteney and Balblair. Distillery manager Gordon Bruce lives across the street and can be your flavor guide for the afternoon. Make sure to take a peek at the washback room, where six fermenters emanate candied smells thanks to a special yeast.
Take a break from the dark stuff with a new gin tasting and sensory deconstruction experience at Balmenach Distillery, which offers private tours of the facility where Caorunn gin is made, a lesson in aromatics, and gin and tonics in a renovated tasting room filled with local art. For an extra memorable visit, arrange a time to forage for botanicals with gin master Simon Buley.
The Best Hotel Bars
Before calling it a day, have a proper cocktail at MBar in the recently renovated Dowans Hotel in Aberlour. The once-mansion is now a 16-room boutique hotel with modern amenities like flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi. The Still is the hotel's love letter to whisky—the room features a collection of 500 rare whiskys behind floor-to-ceiling glass and locked storage for your own prized, recently acquired bottles.
The Station Hotel also has a bar worth staying in for. The Spirit Safe was named for the custom safe created by copperworks company Forsyths, which holds the bar's hundreds of rare bottles. Plus, the property's 14 modern rooms and suites are some of the most comfortable in the region, and its location in downtown Rothes makes it a convenient base for touring.
The charming Craigellachie Hotel may be replicating its iconic Copper Dog restaurant in the Disneyland-like setting of Dubai, but the real deal is found just a stone's throw from the Spey River. Call ahead and reserve a private dinner including the “piping in of the haggis,” where a bagpiper plays at your table while your traditional haggis meal is prepared to be served.