If Scotland's whisky distilleries were a class of school children, Strathisla would be the teacher's pet. It is situated in Keith, at the very heart of Speyside, Scotland's capital whisky region. It claims to be the oldest of the Highland distilleries, and, with twin pagodas, mottled granite walls and a water wheel, it is certainly one of the prettiest. You can stand under the trees at the front in spring or summer, breathe in the distinctive whisky notes that mix in the air with the aroma of fresh flora and fauna, and let Speyside wash over you. Can there be a more peaceful place?And Strathisla, a principal ingredient in two of the world's greatest core blends, Chivas Regal and Royal Salute, is top of the class as a whisky, too.
With luck, the folks there will show you their rarest casks, stored under double lock and key alongside special stock reserved for queens and future kings. Its unavailability would be enough to make a grown whisky fan weep were it not for the fact that back in the distillery you can taste the richly colored and beautifully weighted twelve-year-old from Strathisla ($54, parkaveliquor.com), which scores full marks when it comes to classic Speyside: lots of fruit and honey, some sweet nut tones and a gentle trace of spice. Once you taste it at the distillery it's certain to become a favorite. And with every sip from your glass, no matter where you are, those pagodas will come immediately back into view.
The Strathisla Distillery (011-44/1542-783-044) is located in Keith, Banffshire. Tours are available every half hour Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.; admission is about $10 per person. Golf can be found nearby at the Royal Tarlair Golf Club (011-44/1261-832-897, royaltarlair.co.uk) in Macduff or at Ballindalloch Castle Golf Course (011-44/1807-500-205, ballindallochcastle.co.uk) on the River Avon's bank. On the coast just north of Keith is the Seafield Arms Hotel (011-44/1542-840-791, theseafieldarms.co.uk) at Cullen, a fine example of a Scottish inn, with 175 whisky choices.