Dreaming of a wee dram of Scotch in Scotland? It is a great experience to tour one of the world’s great drinks in a beautiful Scottish country setting, too, as these distilleries offer insight into a favorite drink of many.
Some Of Our Favorite Scottish Distilleries Worth Visiting
The journey to Nc’nean on Scotland’s west coast, a remote and free-spirited whisky startup located 12 (slow) miles down a single-track road, is an adventure in and of itself. When you do make it, you’ll get more from a tour (with coffee and organic cake) than stats about this exciting, sustainable company. Currently, the team here is experimenting with yeast strains, stills of varying shapes, and longer mashes. It is like Craft Brewing for distilleries. Observe wildlife as you walk in any direction along the coast, such as otters, pine martens, and sea eagles. Tour prices are £15 per person and under 18’s are welcome.
Stay Achnacriche, doubles from £95 B&B
Tours from £15pp, Lochaline, ncnean.com
Despite their relative ease of drinking, Lowland whiskies have a hard time competing with the potent demons of Islay or the ethereal Highland whiskies, and there were only a few distilleries left ten years ago. However, there are many new producers in Fife. Kingbarns’ new visitor center and restaurant are housed in meticulously restored farmsteads and a 200-year-old dovecot. It is surrounded by golden fields of barley: the same stuff that your mash tun froths up with. The distillery’s first release, Dream to Dram, is a perfect distillation of Fife’s farming heritage, one that’s even enticed golfers away from St Andrews’ Old Course, just eight miles away. They have 3 types of whisky distillery tours suitable for all levels of whisky interest.
Stay The Old Station, doubles from £90 B&B
Tours from £10pp, Kingsbarns, kingsbarnsdistillery.com
Springbank, Argyll and Bute
More than 30 distilleries pumped waste back into Campbeltown Loch in Campbeltown (a distinct whisky region unique to the Kintyre peninsula) in its prime – hence the Andy Stewart song, “Campbeltown Loch/ I wish you were whisky”. As the oldest distillery remaining in the city, Springbank produces its maritime dram at the same site in the center of town since 1828. It might not be the most scenic distillery on our list but it is old school and original. There is more to see at Springbank than most tours, since the entire production line is here, from the malting floor to the bottling plant.
Stay Grammar Lodge, doubles from £90 B&B
Tours from £10pp, Campbeltown, springbank.scot
Ardbeg, Argyll and Bute
Infused with seaweed and sea salt, the peat of Islay is used as fuel to dry barley to make the island’s signature whisky. In addition to a trek over Islay’s peat-cloaked hills (perhaps by way of Kildalton Cross, one of the landmark early Christian crosses in Scotland), Ardbeg tours include an outdoor tasting and a picnic lunch prepared by the distillery’s restaurant staff. Visit the distillery and stay at Seaview Cottage, the former home of the distillery manager. Could Islay whisky’s ultimate experience be sitting in the background of Atlantic breakers, sipping Ardbeg Supernova while a peat fire roars in the stove? Ardberg is also a very popular Scotch Whisky in Germany.
Stay Seaview Cottage, sleeps six, from £200 a night (minimum two-night stay)
Tours from £8pp, Ardbeg, Port Ellen, Islay, ardbeg.com
Do you think you have what it takes to be a master blender? Strathisla, the oldest continuously operating distillery in the Highlands, offers the Chivas Blending Experience (£60). Now owned by Pernod Ricard, which also owns Chivas Regal, the distillery’s cobbled courtyard seems to lead to a mad professor-style blending lab, replete with bulbous burettes filled with fine malt whisky. It is described as the heart and soul of Chivas. By taking a tour, you can create (and keep) your very own blend. The distillery features stones plucked from Milton Castle, which is adjacent to the distillery.
Stay Isla Bank House, doubles from £130 B&B
Tours from £15pp, Keith, maltwhiskydistilleries.com
HOW TO SERVE YOUR WHISKY
You should sip your whisky out of a bowl-shaped glass that has a narrow rim, such as a tulip glass or a Glencairn glass if you have one. These allow you to swirl the whisky around to release the smells, and channel the aroma to your nose so you can sniff and sip the whisky instead of slurping it down.
Whisky should be served at room temperature. You won’t get the full flavor if it’s too cold. (The same applies to beer by the way). In order to release volatile oils and other aromas, you can even warm the glass in your hands. Enjoy your whisky neat, or add a splash of water like I prefer to do to bring out additional flavors.
Swirl your whisky around your glass and hold it up to the light. Color can give you some clues about its origin, such as how old it is or what type of cask it’s been aged in (more below).
Now, sniff and drink! Let the whisky linger on your tongue after exploring the nose.
FLAVOR PROFILES TO LOOK FOR
As everyone’s sense of smell is different, their reactions to whisky aromas will be different as well. To provide accessible tasting notes, many whisky tasting wheels have been created.
The first six aromas to look out for will occur during the fermentation and distillation processes, and the last two during maturation.
The eight flavors are:
- Cereal: These are aromas derived from malted barley, which are modified by fermentation and distillation.
- Fruity: Also known as esters, these are the sweet, fragrant, fruity, solvent-like odors formed by yeast as it converts glucose into ethanol.
- Floral: Aromatic flavors, or aldehydic ones, are leafy, grassy, or hay-like, like the Parma Violet.
- Peaty: Generally associated with Islay malts, peaty or phenolic flavors develop during the kilning process. The smells range from wood smoke to tar.
- Feinty: Feints usually come in midway through the spirit run, beginning as biscuity or toasted scents, and developing into tobacco and honeyed scents. Cask maturation can transform and mellow them.
- Sulphury: Sulphur compounds are produced during distillation and maturation. Since these aromas can be considered unpleasant, copper is an important component of whisky stills in order to remove them.
- Woody: Scotch whisky must be matured in oak barrels, the most common types of which are American oak and European oak. The age of the whisky can influence the taste, and oak can add complexity, flavor, and color, as well as developing the roundness of the spirit.
- Winey: It is common to find casks that were previously filled with wine – such as sherry, red wine, Madeira or Marsala. As such, the wood would have absorbed wine residues, which the spirit extracts and adds to the flavor of the spirit.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society
While not a distillery the Scotch Malt Whisky Society works with numerous distilleries. You can even visit one of their locations in Edinburgh as a non-member for dinner but I would join to get the full benefit. If you want to learn more about Scotch Whisky and pick up some incredible bottles I suggest you take a look at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Even if you are not in Scotland they have partner bars all over the world. The bottles they have of Whisky, Gin, Rum, Cognac, Bourbon, and Armagnac from numerous distilleries where the cask did not match the distiller’s flavor profile. I’m a member and have enjoyed numerous bottles from there.
Here are some of their latest releases which they call outturns.
If you enjoyed our content, we'd really appreciate some "love" with a share or two.
And ... Don't forget to have fun!