What gives whisky the right to call itself a ‘Speyside’

Forres is the start of the Malt Whisky Trail and home to the first ‘Speyside’ distillery you’ll come across if travelling east – Benromach. But it’s nearer to the Findhorn than the Spey, so what actually makes any whisky a Speyside whisky?

By Vic Cameron

Speyside is one of the five whisky regions as recognised by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA); the others being Highland, Lowland, Islay and Campbeltown.

It used to be said that each region had unique characteristics which impact the flavour of the whisky, with Speyside being known for a rich, deep and fruity style.

Geography and tourism

I don’t believe this is the case anymore. It is now purely a geographical (and tourism) classification for Scotch whisky distilleries in my opinion, and irrelevant with regards to style and flavour. For example you can now buy peated whisky from every region, and not just from Islay and the islands in the Highlands. Rich, deep, and fruity drams can also be found all over this wee country.

With 51 active distilleries (at the time of writing) Speyside is the ‘biggest’ whisky region in Scotland having the most sites within its borders; Highland comes a close second and is catching up!

It is also the most famous whisky area, known the world over for iconic brands such as The Macallan, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. It also contains some of my personal favourites including Benromach, Glen Moray, Tamdhu and Tormore.

What actually determines ‘Speyside’

So, how is Speyside defined? Is it those distilleries on or near the River Spey? Or even the distilleries that use water from the River Spey? Well, no, it is not that simple.

I remember having been told that we are talking about distilleries within the catchment area of the rivers Findhorn, Lossie, Spey, and Deveron. This is also not 100% correct. If the Scotch Whisky Regulations are examined, we see something slightly different.

As defined in the Scotch Whisky Regulations,

(c) “Speyside”, comprising—

(i) the wards of Buckie, Elgin City North, Elgin City South, Fochabers Lhanbryde, Forres, Heldon and Laich, Keith and Cullen and Speyside Glenlivet of the Moray Council as those wards are constituted in the Moray (Electoral Arrangements) Order 2006 (2); and

(ii) the Badenoch and Strathspey ward of the Highland Council as that ward is constituted in the Highland (Electoral Arrangements) Order 2006(3).


If you don’t live in or around Speyside (and maybe even if you do) this may sound a touch confusing. So, go and grab a map, and let me try and make this a bit clearer.

The Speyside region covers from Benromach (near Forres) in the west, to Knockdhu (between Huntly and Portsoy in the east), to Speyside (near Kingussie in the south) and all the distilleries in between.

We also have the confusion of the regulations allowing distilleries in Speyside calling themselves a Highland distillery, for example The Macallan; but that’s another story.

But don’t worry, just keep enjoying your whisky, from whoever and wherever you purchase it.

Slainte Mhath.

About the author

Vic Cameron is a whisky consultant and regular contributor to Visit Forres, and can be contacted on 07738 260550 or [email protected]

Websites: www.vcconsultant.co.uk or www.whiskyminister.co.uk

Or you can follow Vic on his social networks
Instagram: @thewhiskyminister
Facebook: @The Whisky Minister
Twitter: @WhiskyNoser

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