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Amber Lights: Dufftown is a hidden gem for good Speyside whisky

Coopers at work at the Speyside Cooperage.

There’s a famous saying: “Rome was built on seven hills, Dufftown was built on seven stills.”

And, other than Campbeltown in its glory days, nowhere in Scotland could match Dufftown for so many distilleries in such a small area.

A few of the distilleries have disappeared over the years – Parkmore, Convalmore and Pittyvaich – but the town still possesses the world’s best-known malt distillery, Glenfiddich, plus its two sister distilleries, The Balvenie and Kininvie.

Add to them Dufftown-Glenlivet and Glendullan, plus a cluster of other distilleries nearby, not to mention Speyside Cooperage on the road to Craigellachie, and its pre-eminence in the malt whisky world is assured.

Glenfiddich Distillery in Moray.

It also has its town centre Whisky Heritage Centre and the Whisky Shop, a noted outlet brimming with great malts. The Whisky Shop has acres of timber wall racks laden with an almost unparalleled selection of the cratur matched by a vast array of opened bottles sitting on top of whisky casks to allow customers a wee nippy or two before they make their choice.

The nearby Whisky Heritage Centre is small but has acquired space to expand, although the pandemic and lockdowns have greatly hindered the task.

The centre has a fascinating selection of historical artefacts, including old illicit stills, received from donors as disparate as big distilleries, private individuals and even HM Customs and Excise.

Whisky writer Brian Townsend.

Yet Dufftown had a final surprise. Midway down the town’s Balvenie Street, I found a small Costcutter supermarket that looked very mundane but proved to be an Aladdin’s cave for the whisky enthusiast.

For a start, it puts the malt selection at the average supermarket in the shade. I noted at least two malts I had never heard of, several malts I hadn’t glimpsed on a shop shelf for years and a vast range of expressions from certain noted distilleries.

There were five different Glenallachies, nine versions of Tomintoul, 10 Arrans and 12 or more different bottlings of The Balvenie.

Prices ranged from £20 to £2,350.

So if you feel like a weekend jaunt with a difference, head for Dufftown, preferably with a co-driver who is teetotal.

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