Speyside distillery is certainly off the tourist radar and I’ve met enthusiasts who’ve tried and failed to find it. GPRS will get you within a few miles of the place but there are no clues or signs of it’s existence or whereabouts until you’re at the main gate – but even then you may not know it. Once there, you are faced with a small round [b&w] sign to the right saying ‘Speyside’ underneath a coat of arms, a sign on the left saying ‘Please no parking’ and another sign further on stating ‘Private road’.
I felt rather sheepish driving down the track to ask a group of maintenance men where the Speyside distillery was. They were smiling as one said “Just drive to the main office and go up the stairs. You’re looking for Mr McDonough”.
Speyside distillery is in fact open for tours but only for a few weeks of the year. The distillery wasn’t currently in operation when i was there in July and tours weren’t available until August, but Mr [John Harvey] McDonough [SW] said I was free to look around – and wow, what a beautiful distillery! Really, and in the most exquisite spot set right on the banks of the fast flowing river Tromie? – I’d imagined it would be the Spey.
Their water source came in through a small channel from the right bank of the river to power a small water mill. An Archimedes pump took the grain from the outside stainless steel hopper up into the brew house and straight into the milling machine.
The milled grain fell straight into the mash tun or so it seemed. On the other side of the double roomed stone barn were five stainless steel washbacks and two stills.
There didn’t seem to be a warehouse [or houses] although long out-pipes coming out from the [modern] worm tubs disappeared up the farm track to ‘somewhere’. My bet is their spirit is stored in aluminium vatting tanks and tankered away directly for maturation elsewhere, but that’s a total guess.
From previous reading all i knew about Speyside distillery was that virtually all of the 500,000 litres of whisky produced annually goes into numerous blended brands for the international markets, that there is minimal single malt market exposure and even less regard for it. People aren’t even fond of the distillery’s generic name, although its fast becoming one of only a few Speyside distilleries without a ‘The’ prefix. ‘The’ Macallan, ‘The’ Balvenie, ‘The’ Glenfiddich for example – oh, the band ‘The The‘ were streets ahead [Jooles Holland on piano].
Yet, even on a gloomy, rainy day, the place had a really quaint and mystical feel to it – helped by a quiet stillness from the small & silent farm distillery yet off-set by the rapid rush of the nearby ravishing river. Add to that the puzzling fact that the distillery and grounds were immaculately kept, groomed and manicured despite the minimal/unwanted public attention. Contrary to this distillery being all about business [the present company ARE registered in the Cayman islands], it was clear to me there was considerable pride connected with this distillery. It felt personal and i was inquisitive.
The information i’ve since gleaned on my return certainly tells of a personal and passionate endeavour, and the more i find out about this distillery and the people involved in it, the more amazing a story that unfolds. It tells of a man, George Christie who built the distillery by hand. George was a submarine captain who’s dream it was to start a distillery [citation: MM]. Meticulous planning and consequent building of the Speyside distillery began in 1962 despite Christie having already established a grain distillery only a few years before in Clackmannan. That grain distillery was North of Scotland, one of if not my favourite grain distillery with Caledonian and Carsebridge right alongside. Speyside distillery in Drumguish [on the sight of a former croft] was finished in 1987 with whisky production subsequently starting in 1990.
George Christie passed away in 2000. After his death, the distillery was taken over by an International drinks group and then acquired by Harvey’s of Edinburgh in 2013 [with considerable International backing]. John Harvey McDonough and his family have quite a story to tell also. It’s well worth taking a look at the short video regarding the Harvey McDonough family and their connection to whisky on the Speyside website [under history]. It’s refreshingly thin on flannel and rich in content. Further reading: SW
Furthermore, Harvey’s of Edinburgh will play it’s part in the remake of the film ‘Whisky Galore’ this year as they did in the original back in 1949. Further reading: LINK
And there’s more. Robert Scott, master distiller at the Speyside distillery [dates unknown] selected single malt & single grain cask strength bottlings under the name ‘Scott’s Selection’ – again one of my favourite bottlers and series. In fact let’s review a Scott’s bottling next LINK.