The traverse between the highland courses of Royal Dornoch, Nairn and Castle Stuart, towards the high dunes of the links of Aberdeenshire, inevitably sees us needing to cross the River Spey at some point. The name of this river largely means just one thing. Whisky. As we head east towards Cruden Bay, the highland town of Keith naturally bars our progress and invites us to take a sample. Well it would be impolite not to wouldn’t it? Luckily the Strathisla distillery obliges.
The argument as to which is the ‘oldest’ distillery in Scotland rages and it isn’t an easy one to arbitrate given the history of illicit production. The Strathisla distillery, founded as the Milltown Distillery by George Taylor and Alexander Milne in 1786 and claims the title, and in truth, it’s about as compelling as any aspirants to the crown. By 1830, the distillery was owned by William Longmore, later William Longmore Ltd, but in 1879 suffered a terrible fire. It was eventually rebuilt with a bottling plant, and purchased in 1940 by Jay Pomeroy, a fraudulent financier, before completing its transition in 1950 when James Barclay of Chivas Bros acquired it
As with many of the Speyside distilleries, Strathisla also has it’s own unique and engaging history. Growing up on a remote Scottish farm, James and John Chivas were acutely aware that the world around them was changing and the idyllic backdrop they called home was no longer big enough to support their desire to make a difference. Following a three-day journey on foot, the brothers found themselves in Aberdeen. A city that perfectly matched their ambition. Finding gainful employment at an Aberdeen emporium James was quickly captivated by a whole new world of tastes, smells and exquisite flavours. Anything seemed possible and James quickly garnered a reputation for obtaining the unobtainable. If they didn’t stock it, they’d find it. If they couldn’t find it, they’d make it. When John joined the business Chivas Brothers was born.
The brothers’ eye for an astute business opportunity brought them hard earned success in Aberdeen and beyond, but for James & John, success always tasted better shared. From the cellar beneath their emporium, the brothers began a tradition of ageing whiskies. As their clientele began demanding a smoother, richer whisky experience, they began to blend together these aged Scotch whiskies. Humble early experiments developed to solidify their position as true pioneers in the art of blending.
Chivas Brothers became famous for their fine luxury products with orders coming in from across the globe. James Chivas received his first Royal Warrant in 1843, serving Queen Victoria at her Balmoral countryside retreat. This Royal approval ensured that Chivas Brothers had the perfect foundation to realise their ambition. Whisky
It wasn’t really until 1909 however, when the Master Blenders Charles Howard and Alexander Smith create a 25-year-old blend that would become the world’s first luxury whisky, that Chivas really broke through and hit the big time. Chivas Regal burst onto the world stage, enchanting New York on its way and becoming seen as something of a ‘must have’ social status symbol.
With it’s twin pagodas and manicured lawns, the Strathisla Distillery is often considered to be the most beautiful in Scotland. In all honesty, it probably is. The buildings have changed little, from the old cobbled courtyard to the distinctive double pagodas, making it one of the most picturesque distilleries in Scotland. Today it’s best known for being home to Chivas Regal.
The Strathsila distillery tour is a perfect introduction to whisky making. Join a tasting of four whiskies and learn about the complex relationship between our single malt the world-famous Chivas Regal blends. Your guide will explain the distillation process from start to finish and give you a behind-the-scenes look at the production methods.