One of the best things about traveling for food and drink is finding new destinations that are still slightly undiscovered. Scotland is most known for its stunning scenery as well as scotch whisky. All of the best of Scotland can be found in the region of Moray Speyside in Northeastern Scotland. The region is most known for being home to the Malt Whisky Trail, a collection of whisky distillers dedicated to tourism. But, there is more to Moray Speyside than whisky. It’s home to some of the best Scottish food and drink. In this post, we will share our tips on how to explore Speyside while traveling on your stomach.
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What Is Moray Speyside
Moray Speyside is a region in Northeastern Scotland. It’s a little more than a three hour drive north from both Edinburgh and Glasgow. It’s located just to the east of Inverness and to the west of Aberdeenshire. The political region of Moray is actually pronounced closer to “Murray” in the Scottish accent.
Travelers more know the region as Speyside, though, due to it being home to more than half of the 100 or so whisky distilleries in Scotland, along the River Spey. What many food and drink travelers don’t know, though, is that the region is home to an incredible array of quality food and drink producers beyond the world of whisky.
Towns And Villages In Moray Speyside
Elgin is the largest town in the region and sits relatively at the center geographically. The region spreads in all directions, with varying landscapes. To the north is the Moray Coast, with towns like Cullen, Lossiemouth, Burghead, and Findhorn. This area is home to rugged beaches, seafood restaurants, and fisheries. To the west is Forres and to the east is Fochabers, areas containing wide swaths of farmland, with cows grazing and pigs rolling happily in the mud.
Some of the most well-known towns and villages are to the south of Elgin, predominantly because of the importance of the Speyside whisky region. Towns include Dufftown, Keith, and Aberlour and the landscape is dotted with whisky distilleries and old, stone manor houses. Further south is Grantown on Spey and the Cairngorms National Park.
Why Visit Moray Speyside
We spent about 10 days in Moray Speyside, certainly more than the average visitor. Many travelers just pop through for a day trip to a distillery. Travelers who stay longer are often there for fishing, golfing, or even a castle holiday. There are a handful of impressive castles dotted throughout the region.
For us, though, we wanted to learn about the food and drink in Moray. In addition to whisky, there are craft breweries and artisan gin distillers. There is a dedication to local produce and food products. And, the region is home to some of the most traditional Scottish dishes as well. There’s so much to do and to eat in Moray Speyside.
The Malt Whisky Trail
Moray Speyside is most known for being home to the highest concentration of whisky distilleries in Scotland. Although there are around 60 operating distilleries in Speyside, only about a dozen have visitor centers that are open for tours and tastings. A handful of these distilleries are located on the Malt Whisky Trail. In reality, though, this is Malt Whisky Country, regardless of the list of distilleries on the current “trail.”
There are a total of nine stops on the official Malt Whisky Trail, which include working distilleries, a historic distillery, and the Speyside Cooperage. Sure it is possible for visitors to pop into one or more distilleries on a quick trip to Moray Speyside. The real treat, though, is looking beyond the whisky distillers to learn about the food and drink of the region.
Food On The Malt Whisky Trail
There is a dedication to using local ingredients that underscores all of the food in Moray. One of the must-eat dishes is haggis, which is probably Scotland’s national dish. Don’t be afraid of trying haggis. Many of the pubs and restaurants in Moray Speyside have done a great job of preparing haggis in a variety of ways.
The same goes for black pudding. We ate some of the best black pudding ever in Moray. One of the best ways to eat black pudding in Moray is with seared scallops from the nearby Shetland Islands.
Shortbread And Oatcakes
When it comes to asking what is Scotland famous for, there is one thing that many people might associate with England that is quintessentially Scottish. Shortbread is a super-buttery cookie that has been around since the 1700s. One of the most famous shortbread companies is Walkers, based out of Aberlour. Another family-owned company is Maclean’s Highland Bakery, which is also known for artisan shortbread cookies.
They also both produce Scottish oatcakes. Oatcakes are simple crackers made with a base of oats. They are not all that crunchy. They are softer, almost crumbly, with a little bit of sweetness to them.
In addition to shortbread and oatcakes, one of the most famous Scottish dishes is also from Moray – Cullen Skink. Cullen Skink is a creamy Scottish soup made with smoked haddock (white fish), potatoes, and leeks. Cullen Skin originated in Cullen, Scotland, along the Moray coastline. Visit Lily’s Kitchen Cafe or the Cullen Bay Hotel for award-winning Cullen Skink. They’ve each been voted best Cullen Skink in the past.
Our favorite, though, was the Bothy Bistro in Burghead. Burghead is a little farther west than Cullen along the Moray Coast. It’s a lovely little cafe with some darn flavorful Cullen Skink.
Meat, Fish, And Seafood in Moray
Much of the coastline of Moray is home to lobster and langoustine fishermen. For salmon-lovers, there is no better place to eat than Scotland. At one point Scottish salmon was the UK’s number one export. Normally it is served smoked, sliced, and served with capers.
For land lovers, Scotland is known for beef, pork, lamb, and venison too. It’s impossible to miss all of the farm animals in Moray. From pig farms along the side of the road, to herds of deer in places like the Glenrinnes Estate. We visited Byres Farm in Fochabers to learn about how they grow barley for the Glenlivet Distillery. They also have cows, sheep, and pigs to support the local industry.
Recommended Speyside Restaurants and Eateries
Here are just a few recommendations on where to eat in Speyside. This runs the gamut from butchers with takeaway meat pies to fine dining restaurants with tasting menus and traditional Scottish pub grub.
Cafes And Casual Restaurants
Starting with cafes and casual restaurants, check out one of our favorite places to eat in Moray, the Bothy Bistro in the seaside town of Burghead. They serve fresh seafood, sandwiches, and traditional Scottish dishes like Cullen Skink. The owners of the Bothy Bistro also opened Dory, a double decker bus restaurant in the West Beach Caravan Park in Hopeman, just down the road. Dory is not a typical takeaway with dishes like black pudding and scallops, all with a view of the sea just in front.
Inside the Walled Garden of Gordon Castle in Fochabers, the Gordon Castle Cafe cooks up seasonal Scottish dishes using fresh produce and herbs from their very own garden. Their Plant, Pick, Plate approach to cooking takes Zero km food to a new level. Lily’s Kitchen Cafe in Cullen offers a wide range of hot and cold drinks, meals and snacks including breakfast, sandwiches, and its award winning Cullen Skink.
Square Roots Cafe is located in Keith near the historic Strathisla Distillery. Using local ingredients and family recipes Square Roots serves up delicious sandwiches, hamburgers, and traditional Scottish flare. Try the haggis toasted sandwich. For a classic fish supper, check out Fochabers Fish Bar in Fochabers. It was ranked Scotland’s number one fish and chip shop in 2017. For meat lovers, check out SA Mackie Butcher in Aberlour during the day to pick up a freshly baked meat pie or sausage roll.
Scottish Pubs And Fine Dining
For more traditional Scottish pubs, we really enjoyed the Copper Dog Pub in Craigellachie. Located in the Craigellachie Hotel, the Copper Dog Pub focuses on farm to fork traditional and contemporary Scottish food from with in Speyside. They also offer local craft beers, gins, and whisky cocktails including their own Copper Dog Whisky.
The Seven Stills is a small, family-run Pub, Lounge and Bistro with a French twist in the heart of whisky country in Dufftown. Serving homemade soups, mains and delicious desserts, the French chef at the Seven Stills uses the finest local Scottish ingredients.
Knockomie Inn in Forres offers traditional and contemporary Scottish dishes including local game and venison. Staying local, Knockomie has over 70 whiskies available as well as a wide range of locally distilled gins. Crown and Anchor in Findhorn is right on the Moray Coast and is one of the best spots for seafood in the region.
For slightly more elevated dining, check out the two restaurants located in the Dowans Hotel in Aberlour. Spé offers a nightly four course tasting menu featuring locally sourced produce and proteins. Along with wine or whisky pairings. Or, for everyday dining, their restaurant 57 prepares a seasonal and locally sourced menu showcases the diverse range of food products from the Moray Speyside region. Not to be left out are traditional Scottish dishes such as haggis with neeps and tatties.
Drink On The Malt Whisky Trail
Sure, enjoy a dram or two or more while visiting Moray Speyside, but there are other options for drink travelers. Most notable are the craft beer and artisan gin producers.
There are a handful of craft beer producers in Moray. Look for these beers on tap and some of the local restaurants and pubs. Some of the local brewers include Speyside Brewery, Spey Valley Brewery, Brewmeister Keith Brewery, and Windswept Brewing Company.
To dive into the beer scene a little more, Speyside Brewery offers tours during the week or Spey Valley Brewery offers tours on request. Or, Windswept offers tours, tastings, flights, and more in their tap room. Or, check out Against The Grain, a taproom in Elgin that serves both local and international beers on tap, or in bottle or can.
Speyside Gin Experience
We visited Moray Speyside during the first annual Speyside Gin Experience. Hosted by the same folks behind the Speyside Whisky Festival, a collection of 12 local gin producers participated. I couldn’t believe how much great gin there is alongside the whisky distillers at the Malt Whisky Trail.
Most notable are Caorunn, which is probably the most well-known Scottish gin distillers. We started drinking Caorunn when living in Bangkok. We also visited Eight Lands Distillery on Glenrinnes Estate. They are an organic gin and vodka distillery run by women. They offer tours as well. Even Gordon Castle is producing its own artisan gin with botanicals pulled from the Gordon Castle Walled Garden.
Accommodations In Speyside
Unfortunately, many travelers to Moray tend to only pop in on a day trip on the way to or from somewhere else. This is a mistake. There are loads of great things to do, see, eat, and drink and it’s easy to spend a long weekend, or even longer, in Moray Speyside. For travelers looking to spend a few nights, here are some recommended hotels and accommodations in Moray. All of these options are located close to some of the sights on the Malt Whisky Trail too.
Built in 1893, the Craigellachie Hotel and its 26 rooms feels more like a luxury, countryside family-home than a hotel. The Craigellachie Hotel features the Quaich bar with over 900 whiskies lining its walls. Their Copper Dog Pub serves locally sourced traditional and contemporary Scottish dishes seven days a week.
Originally a Victorian mansion, the Dowans Hotel was reborn in 2012 by the Murray family. With 16 contemporary en-suite rooms, the Dowans Hotel maintains its historic past while providing modern comfort and hospitality. Both of their restaurants, Spé and 57, feature locally sourced Scottish meat, fish, and produce.
Beginning life in 1812 as a country villa, Knockomie Inn has transformed over the years into a 15 room hotel and gastro destination. Knockomie Inn is ideally located to explore the Speyside region. Dining at Knockomie allows guests to enjoy delicious traditional and contemporary Scottish dishes. With its focus on all things local, Knockomie has over 70 whiskies available as well as a wide range of locally distilled gins.
Ardgye House B&B is a cosy and comfortable bed and breakfast a five minutes drive from the center of Elgin. Originally built in 1904, this Edwardian mansion sits on 150 acres of land.
Dating back to the 1770s Gordon Castle has been a fixture on the landscape of Speyside. Available all year round the five charming cottages sleep between two and eight guests. All cottages are self catering and equipped with all the comforts of home.
Gordon Castle Cottages, Gordon Castle Gordon Castle Estate, Fochabers, with rates from £135 with no breakfast (self catering). Book on Airbnb but save €30 if you’re trying Airbnb for the first time with this link.Find the Best Rates on Hotels on The Malt Whisky Trail Here
Food And Drink Shops In Speyside
To learn even more about the local Moray Speyside food and drink, check out one of the unique and sometimes historic shops sprinkled through the region. These are perfect shops to stop for culinary souvenirs, or to purchase whisky and gin to take home.
Most notable of the shops is Gordon & MacPhail in Elgin. Since 1895, the Gordon & MacPhail shop has been provided high quality grocery products, cheeses, chocolates, wines and of course whisky. The shop is owned and operated by the same family who distills Benromach whisky. The shop features the Whisky Room, which contains over 1000 single malt whiskies including several old and rare bottles. In store tastings are available.
In Aberlour, check out the Spey Larder and the Speyside Whisky Shop. The Spey Larder first opened in 1864 and is currently a food speciality shop featuring a wide range of specialist foods, fine wines, malt whiskies and country style gifts. The Speyside Whisky Shop specializes in fine and rare collectible single malts with a large variety of gin, tonics, whisky, and merchandise. The two shops are located only a few doors away from each other. Or, in Dufftown, check out The Whisky Shop, which offers over 600 whiskies with a super knowledgeable staff. They offer tastings in the evenings.
For shortbread lovers, check out Maclean’s Highland Bakery in Forres or Walkers Shortbread in Aberlour. Maclean’s runs a bakery shop with fresh-baked breads and cakes as well as shortbread and Scottish oatcakes. Walkers Shortbread Factory Shop sells various styles of shortbread cookies and other treats.
**We were hosted by the Moray Speyside Tourism Board but all of our views are our own.
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Food And Drink On The Malt Whisky Trail – Moray Speyside Scotland
We thoroughly enjoyed our time eating and drinking on the Malt Whisky Trail. Yes, we loved the whisky, but there was something more to the area. Everyone we met showed a passion and a pride for the region. And every meal we ate was a fabulous reputation of traditional and contemporary cuisine using local ingredients. Moray Speyside is a must-visit destination for any food and drink traveler in Scotland.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.