Speyside Distillery – A History with Al Capone

Everyone knows that Speyside is part of the Highlands in Scotland. The region boasts of many beautiful distilleries and whiskies that many would pay an arm and a leg (or maybe a kidney) to buy them. However, there is one distillery, which despite its name, is often overlooked.

The Speyside Distillery is an underrated distillery located at Speyside, cuddling the magnificent Cairngorm Mountains. For those who know the land, it is probably one of the most picturesque distilleries in Scotland. The site that the distillery stands on today was once a barley mill and croft in the 1700s. It closed in 1965.

The beginning of the Speyside Distillery

The story began in 1770 when John and Robert Harvey founded Yorker Distillery. After which, they also built Dundashill and Bruichladdich Distillery over the years. Their experiences over the years led to the birth of the Harvey’s Codex in 1856. It was a family-only secret which detailed the art of malting and distilling, as well as the methods in choosing the source of Highland water and the type of casks. The family called their whisky “Harvey’s”.

Lord Byron was a supporter of the Harvey brothers, and in 1815, he gifted a cask of Harvey’s single malt whisky to King George III when he married the daughter of Seaham Hall’s owner, Lady Annabelle Milbanke. A recent tracing of this cask to Kew Palace puts new evidence that Speyside Distillery had a royal connection in the past under its old brand name.

The glorious history, however, came to a sad ending. The Harvey brothers were forced to relinquish their distillery in 1906 and focused on trading whisky made by their friends using the Harvey’s Codex. The industrial brothers did not give up. Instead, the focus on trading whisky helped them to control the quality of their whisky as well as creating a luxurious packaging. The whisky became well-known as Spey. These paid off during the Prohibition Years.

The Harvey Brothers during the Prohibition Years

Spey as a brand was sought after in the US black market during the Prohibition Years. Famous underground names approached the Harveys to export their whiskies from Seaham Hall (where they stored the whisky) into the US black market. Alec Harvey (son of John Harvey), worked with criminal minds such as Al Capone and George Remus during those dark years and reaped a lot of rewards financially. Belle Livingstone of Country Club and Owey Madden of Cotton Club were their esteemed customers too.

The Spey brand became the illegal secret that could not be named. Cotton Club and Country Club both ran membership-only clubs offering luxurious evenings of pleasure that included Spey.

When Prohibition ended, whisky became legal. The legend of Spey lost its illegal secret status but continued to be popular among the rich and powerful. However, the whisky supply dwindled and eventually ran out.

The Turning Wheels of the Modern Era

Alec Harvey’s daughter, Doreen, married John McDonough in 1955. Their first child, also named John, was born in 1956. As a child, John learned about his grandfather’s entrepreneurial journey and took an interest in both business and whisky trading. John Jnr. began a long career with Grand Metropolitan-International Distillers and Vintners and even relocated to Taiwan.

He worked hard to restore his family legacy as a distiller and brand master of Spey. His work in Taiwan inspired many industry players within the country, and they rallied behind him when he sought to relaunch the Spey brand.

The Relaunching of Spey and the Beginning of the Speyside Distillery

John Jnr. relaunched the Spey brand in Taiwan in 1990, with the support and help of his Taiwanese friends and colleagues. The group build the brand successfully into the No. three malt brand in Taiwan within a few short years. Finally, in 2012, John Jnr. revived his family legacy as distillers with his purchase of the Speyside Distillery Company Limited (SDCL) to operate the Speyside Distillery. The acquisition allows Spey whisky to go home finally and also helps to safeguard the supply of Spey for generations to come.

The Spey Whisky Range

The Spey is known as one of the smoothest and most approachable malts amongst the Speyside region due to its light and delicate character. The variety within the range offers drinkers a choice between ages and styles. You can find the range of whiskies from the Speyside Distillery here.

 

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