There are many beautifully situated distilleries in Scotland but few can surpass the sight of Speyburn sitting majestically in a corner of the Spey valley at the foot of the densely wooded hills on the outskirts of the quiet Highland town of Rothes. Designed by the famous distillery architect, Charles Doig of Elgin, Speyburn is reputed to be the most photographed distillery in Scotland.
The most distinctive feature of Speyburn is its two and three storey buildings which use the sloping three acre site to best effect. With its impressive elevations and traditional pagoda stretching skywards, to this day Speyburn still commands an imposing aspect in the Glen of Rothes. The most distinctive feature of Speyburn is its two and three storey buildings which use the sloping three acre site to best effect. Indeed the architect stated, "that the buildings have been made very compact ... because of the hilly nature of the ground" which required the substitution of height for breadth. With its impressive elevations and traditional pagoda stretching skywards, Speyburn to this day still commands an imposing aspect in the Glen of Rothes.
In 1997 Speyburn celebrated its centenary but, in its time, it was considered an extremely modern distillery with "all the latest and most approved appliances of plant and machinery, no expense being spared and every care taken in construction to ensure smoothness of working". This fact was made evident by the installation of the first ever steam powered mechanical maltings in Scotland which ran for ninety years. Even after the maltings were converted to electricity in the 1940's, the boiler was maintained by the "mashman" in case of a power failure. The manager at that time was heard to comment that the boiler "was polished to high heaven, not with oil, but with fine emery paper: you could use it as a shaving mirror".
The Speyburn-Glenlivet Distillery was founded in 1897 by John Hopkins & Company for the sum of 17,000. The site was chosen by John Hopkins himself for its unpolluted water supply from the Granty Burn, one of the major tributaries to the famous Spey River. Indeed, it is said that the stones for the distillery buildings were "extracted by man and beast" from the bed of the fast flowing Spey River. Today, 100 years after its founding, Speyburn remains the only distillery to use the pure crystal, clear water of the Granty Burn.
The proprietors, keen to have production started to ensure that the first fillings could bear the date 1897 - Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee - had scheduled production to begin on 1st November 1897; however due to delays, the stills did not run until 15th December. When production finally began, the still house was without doors and windows. Under the watchful eye of the distillery's manager, John Smith, the first spirit was run off in a violent snow storm with the distillery men working in overcoats and mufflers to protect them from the elements. However, the proprietors succeeded in achieving their ambition and one butt was produced and bonded bearing the date 1897.