When I think of Scotland, I first think of its Scotch whisky, for which I’s justifiably famous. For centuries Scottish distilleries have produced what are arguably the finest single malt whiskies in the world. Distillery tours are a top tourist draw, combining days of sightseeing in the picturesque Scottish countryside with tours of various distilleries.
On more than one occasion, I’ve had someone ask me, “What’s the point in touring more than one? After all, if you’ve seen one distillery, haven’t you seen them all?” While I can understand how the uninitiated might make that assumption, those of us who have ever experienced a Scottish distillery tour must strongly disagree!
Taking tours of Scottish distilleries has been a great experience for me, and I’ve never found the experience repetitive in any way. So allow me to share some of the reasons that it is worthwhile to visit more than one distillery in Scotland. Each offers its own unique charms, from the taste of its prime whisky to its facilities and grounds. No two distilleries create spirits in quite the same way, and each has its own fascinating history. Finally, each distillery’s locale provides opportunities for side tours and diverse views of the Scottish countryside.
Distilleries’ History and Character
A tour of my favorite distilleries finds distinctions at every turn.
- The Oban Distillery, in the West Coast Region, is located below a steep cliff overlooking the sea.
- Then there’s the Scottish Lowland’s Glengoyne Distillery, described as the country’s most beautiful. The first time I spotted it, I knew why. Perched in the Campsie Hills, the distillery’s whitewashed buildings and manicured grounds are postcard perfect.
- The Scottish Lowlands is home also to Glenkinchie Distillery, set in pastoral farmlands just miles from Edinburgh. A visit features a tour of its museum of malt whisky.
- And what about Dalwhinnie Distillery, in the Central Highlands? It sits over 1000 feet high in a splendid mountain setting. A bit eccentric as distilleries go, it features pagoda building roofs and serves as an official Scottish weather station!
- Also in the Central Highlands, Glenturret Distillery stakes its claim to being the country’s oldest distillery, but provides a technological tour de force with its multi-sensory interactive program– scent pods, challenge games, DVDs, and a virtual bird’s-eye tour of the Scottish countryside.
- Blair Athol Distillery, in the Scottish Highlands, is not only one of the oldest distilleries, but ironically one of the most energy-efficient in the industry.
Oldest, highest, most beautiful, most eccentric – how can you possibly choose just one?
Classic Single Malt Scotch Whiskies
Once you soak up the ambiance of a distillery, it’s time to soak up just a bit of its product! Each of my favorite distilleries has its own special ingredients or unique production methods that create diverse tastes.
- I’ve never tasted a more unusual (and delicious) whisky than Oban’s 14-year-old single malt whisky made with crystallized ginger. It’s offered as a sample on each tour.
- At Glengoyne Distillery, a 50-foot waterfall in a natural sandstone hollow provides the pure rainwater used in the making of its whiskies. Glengoyne whisky is known for its delicate flavor, due in part to the mild climate of the area. Try the “Master Blender” experience – create your own whisky blend and receive a small bottle as a token of your visit!
- Glenkinchie’s whisky is known as the “Edinburgh malt” due to its proximity to the Scottish capitol. Glenkinchie produces one of the three remaining Lowland single malts being made today. I’m partial to its 14-year-old Distiller’s edition, double-matured in Amontillado sherry casks.
- The Dalwhinnie locale was chosen for access to nearby clear spring water and peat bogs. They help create a whisky that is very smooth and full-bodied, using the time-honored method of aging in wooden worm tubs.
- At the Glenturret Distillery, they’re most noted for production of The Famous Grouse blended whisky. I prefer the Glenturret Single Highland Malt Scotch Whiskey, an award-winning single malt known for its natural golden hue and delightful bouquet.
- Finally, at the Blair Athol Distillery you’ll fine smooth whiskies with a strong fruity flavor. The production process draws from the clear waters of the Allt Dour burn, which runs through the distillery grounds.
Wherever you’re heading, consider it another opportunity to pass through the wild and beautiful Scottish countryside and its panoramic views of mountains, rugged coasts, farmland, and parks. Lochs and waterfalls abound, and the scenery is green and lush. A bonus feature: each distillery is located near must-see attractions, so you’re not getting just a distillery tour by any means. In touring my favorite distilleries, I’ve made side trips to:
- Loch Lomond, Scotland’s most famous lake
- A Victorian architectural tour of Glasgow
- Garnethills, Scotland’s oldest and most distinctive synagogue
- Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, homes of the Scottish Crown Jewels and Scotland’s first exhibition space for the Royal Collections
- Cairngorms National Park, largest in the British Isles, featuring gorgeous scenery, diverse wildlife, and even several castles on its grounds
- Blair Castle, with magnificent artwork and 32 rooms open to the public.
- Edinburgh’s famous and scenic golf courses.
With such a variety of attractions, how can you choose just one? Recalling some of my favorite experiences with Scottish distillery tours, I can reaffirm that, yes, you must visit more than one distillery when you go. I’m ready to go back today!