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Issue 127 - The Rivers of Iron

Whisky Magazine Issue 127
April 2015


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The Rivers of Iron

Whisky and the railways on Speyside

Many parts of whisky history have vanished from the forests around the River Spey. From Aviemore to Dufftown and on to Elgin, there are paths that cut through the woods where rivers of iron once flowed. These lanes were once the domains of the whisky trains, and the network of railway lines that cut through the heart of Speyside for more than a century.

The 1860s saw something of a perfect storm for the whisky industry. Andrew Usher's pioneering work into the arts of blending led to a surge in popularity of Scotch whisky. The phylloxera disease hit the French grape harvest, meaning brandy and wine declined in supply. Whisky became the drink of choice across the nation, and more distilleries needed to be constructed to meet the demand. Although Speyside was already an established whisky region, this area had another factor for becoming the most obvious choice for the location of new distilleries: the railway was about to be extended through the region.

Prior to the railways, distilleries depended upon slow, horse-drawn carts to transport whisky. Now Aberdeen, Inverness and Perth could be reached easily. The distilleries had access to Glasgow and Edinburgh, where single malts could be blended with Lowland grain whiskies and distributed globally. It was the distilleries of Speyside that were well-positioned to meet that rising demand.

A notice in the Elgin Courant appeared in 1845 calling for promotion of a Morayshire Railway. It was signed by James Grant, co-founder of th...

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