Speyside whiskies

Gavin D Smith reports on the rapid expansion of Speyside’s distilleries

WHISKY is now being produced by more distilleries in a greater number of locations around the world than ever before. But for all this increasing diversity, a small area of north east Scotland known as Speyside remains the global heartland of whisky production.

At the last count, Speyside was home to 46 operational malt distilleries out of a Scottish total of 101, and the region boasted a theoretical capacity of almost 212 million litres per annum, accounting for 62% of the industry’s total. 

Global Scotch whisky leader Diageo chose Roseisle, near Elgin, for its ‘super-distillery,’ which opened in 2009 and has a capacity of 12.5 million litres, putting it up there with fellow Speysider Glenfiddich as one of the two largest malt distilleries in Scotland. 

The ‘make’ of Roseisle is destined for Diageo’s leading blended Scotches, including Johnnie Walker, and at the present time Pernod Ricard’s Scotch whisky subsidiary Chivas Brothers is in the process of creating its own large-scale rival to Roseisle on the site of the old Imperial distillery, not far from Aberlour. 

This will increase the company’s malt capacity by 10% and provide spirit for Chivas’ principal blends, such as Chivas Regal and Ballantine’s, which are major rivals to the likes of Diageo’s Johnnie Walker and J&B. 

In April 2013, Diageo announced an additional £30 million investment in Speyside, including expansion at Mortlach and the construction of a new anaerobic digestion plant at Glendullan to process co-products from a number of distilleries and create bio-gas to power Glendullan itself.

A Diageo spokesperson notes: “These developments build on recent Diageo investments in Speyside totalling in excess of £40 million, including distillery expansion and upgrade projects at Linkwood, Mannochmore, Glendullan, Dailuaine, Benrinnes, Inchgower, Cragganmore, Glen Elgin and new bio-energy plants at Dailuaine and Glenlossie.”

Meanwhile, Chivas Brothers, having increased capacity at The Glenlivet by 75% in 2010 with the creation of a new distillation unit, went on to enhance potential output at Glenallachie, Longmorn, Glentauchers and Tormore distilleries in 2012, as well as reopening the silent Glen Keith plant during April 2013. Overall, Chivas has committed £40 million annual capital expenditure to its whisky operations, the bulk of which is being spent on Speyside.

Speyside may be playing a major part in fuelling the global growth of blended Scotch, but its role as home to many of the leading single malt brands is equally significant. No fewer than six of the top eight best selling single malts of 2012 are distilled on Speyside.

They are headed by Glenfiddich, which accounted for 13.5% of the world market for single malts during 2012, while chief rival The Glenlivet closed the gap over previous years, with 11.5%. The Macallan, Glen Grant, Aberlour and The Balvenie are the other leading Speyside malts globally, and in total these six brands boast 43.5% of the sector internationally.

The Glenlivet is a quintessentially Speyside whisky, both stylistically and in terms of its heritage. Nikki Burgess, international brand director for malts at Chivas Brothers, claims: “From our perspective, you can’t understand The Glenlivet without understanding Speyside, and similarly you need to know about The Glenlivet to fully understand Speyside as a whisky region.