“Love makes the world go round? Not at all. Whisky makes it go round twice as fast.”

High Spirits - Ben Rinnes by Peter Van RijenOr so suggested Scottish writer, and author of Whisky Galore, Compton Mackenzie. In that case we must be spinning at a rate of knots in this part of the country. The Cairngorms National Park has no less than eight working distilleries producing malts with a range of individual flavours.

These distilleries are; Glenlivet,Tamnavulin , Braeval and Tomintoul in the north, Royal Lochnagar in the east and Dalwhinnie in the south, and more centrally located, Balmenach at Cromdale and Speyside at Kingussie.

Three of the eight distilleries, Dalwhinnie, Glenlivet and Royal Lochnagar have Visitor Centres and Tomintoul can be visited by appointment. See how whisky is made, take a ‘behind the scenes tour’ and, of course, sample and purchase your favourite single malt.

At 1164 ft above sea level Dalwhinnie is one of the highest distilleries in Scotland. Founded in 1897, its remote location was chosen for the profusion of local peat and being close to the Highland Railway Line. At the end of your tour, enjoy a taste of Dalwhinnie 15 year old complemented with specially selected handmade chocolate. www.discovering-distilleries.com/dalwhinnieGlenlivet3

The Glenlivet, the first licensed distillery in Scotland is located on the banks of the River Livet near Ballindalloch in the heart of Scotland’s malt whisky country. Explore the distillery’s history, hear tales of whisky smugglers and marvel at the classic range of 12, 15, 18 and 21 year old malts. http://uk.theglenlivet.com

Royal Lochnagar is named after the mountain Lochnagar which is over 3,000 ft high. The distillery is situated at Crathie, beside Balmoral Castle, halfway between the villages of Ballater and Braemar. The ‘Royal’ designation followed a visit by Queen Victoria in 1848 and like her, you are invited to enjoy a dram of their Highland single malt. www.discovering-distilleries.com/royallochnagar

Tomintoul Distillery is located on the banks of the River A’an on the picturesque Glenlivet Crown Estate in Speyside. The distillery is named after the nearby village of Tomintoul which is the highest village in the Highlands. Built in 1964, the distillery uses traditional techniques that stretch back hundreds of years, to make their award-winning single malt. www.tomintoulwhisky.com

On the cusp of the Park, some 15 miles north of Aviemore on the A9, you will find another distillery with a Visitor Centre. Established in 1897 Tomatin Distillery has a range of award winning whiskies. After enjoying a dram at the Tasting Bar why not fill your own bottle of cask strength distillery exclusive whisky to take home? www.tomatin.com/distillery/visitor-centre

Opening Night Dinner

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival

An ideal place to try single malts, either at an expert -led whisky tasting session or enjoyed by the fire at a renowned whisky bar, is at a whisky festival. One of the largest and most popular is the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival which runs from 30 April to 4 May.

The Festival is set around the River Spey which flows some 100 miles through the region from the Monadhliath Mountains near Aviemore to the fertile coastal plain of the Moray Firth. The five days are jam packed with themed events, tours and tastings. And, this year, for the first time, the Festival extends to Aviemore. The small charming Speyside Distillery will be opening its doors for exclusive tours of its distillery; offering tastings with light bites at the Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore and hosting tastings and afternoon tea on the vintage Strathspey Steam Railway. On 2 and 3 May, the Keith Dufftown Railway is the venue for a Nosing and Tasting Special; also taking place over the weekend is the popular Dufftown Whisky Fair with an opportunity to sample malts from a range of small distilleries and independent bottlers. The Festival has something for everyone including traditional music at venues throughout Speyside.

The Spirit of Speyside Sessions boasts an exciting line-up of traditional music, contemporary folk, laid back jazz and ceilidhs. The Sessions will be staged at whisky-themed venues across the region. With ticket prices starting at £5.00, there is sure to be something in the Festival for every taste and budget. Book online now. To check dates, availability and to buy tickets visit www.spiritofspeyside.com or call 00 (44) 7789 671 635.

Contact each of the distillery Visitor Centres for opening times or to book a tour.

Whatever malt is to your taste, it will share ingredients common with other brands; an unspoilt natural environment, clean fresh air and wonderfully pure water.

If you are unable to visit the Spirit of Speyside Festival, there is always the Autumn Speyside Whisky Festival from 24 to 28 September 2015. For details visit www.whisky.dufftown.co.uk

Tasting Tips

Perhaps you have never tried malt whisky before, or you may be an ardent fan but selecting a dram can be a difficult task.

Malt whisky has just 3 ingredients, water, malted barley and yeast. The same basic process is used to produce malt whisky across the country but subtle variations mean single malts from each region have unique characteristics and flavours.

By far the biggest region geographically is Highland. The Highland malts embrace wide and robust flavours. Generally heavier and drier in character compared to other regions, malt whiskies from here often have nutty, honey, heather or peaty notes. The biggest region in terms of production, is Speyside. Half of all Scottish distilleries can be found here. Speyside single malts are noted for their elegance and complexity, sometimes with a refined smokiness but more often a fruitiness.

Slàinte!

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