Ask any whisky lover on what they would do if they ever visit Scotland, and there is a fat chance all their answers will revolve around distillery tours and sampling exclusive drams, performing the quintessential Scotch whisky pilgrimage.
Scotland is littered with hundreds of distilleries all across the Scottish mainland and the neighbouring islands. There are currently 133 operating distilleries in Scotland, and some of these distilleries have been around for centuries, distilling the ‘water of life’ for whisky lovers all over the world. Did you know, 41 bottles of Scotch whisky are exported worldwide every second?
Distillery tours are one of the major driving forces of tourism in Scotland, offering tourists and other enthusiasts explore, learn and taste some of the finest Scotch whiskies in the country. In fact, distillery visits have been clocked in at a whopping 2 million per year, and are only expected to rise as more and more distilleries offer some extraordinary services to their guests.
A distillery is more than just a place where whisky is produced, and if you are looking forward to an exciting trip to the land of Scotch whisky soon, we present a list of some must-visit Scotch distilleries.
Strathisla Distillery – Speyside
Not merely a distillery but the very institution that plays a pivotal role towards birthing one of Scotland’s beloved whiskies, the Chivas Regal. Described as the beating heart and soul of the Chivas Regal blend, the Strathisla single malt is distilled on these premises.
The Strathisla is also the oldest working distillery in the Scottish Highlands and Speyside region, and first opened its gates way back in 1786. Centuries have passed, but the magic of the Strathisla single malt has remained unfazed, unchanged and unmatched.
If the pursuit of basking in the glory of Scotch whisky and its rich history is your pilgrimage, this iconic distillery must be the first on your itinerary. A number of experiences await whisky lovers including an up close and personal brush with the Chivas Blending Experience. Five breath-taking, limited edition, reserve single malts from the Strathisla, and a chance to enter the very cradle of whisky brilliance, the Chivas Cellar and taste cask-strength whiskies drawn straight from the barrel.
The Glenlivet Distillery – Speyside
Whisky distilleries in Scotland have their own unique stories and bragging rights, but none come close to the story of The Glenlivet, and how it became ‘the single malt that started it all.’
Illicit distillation, the King George IV, threats and pistols are just some of the elements that make The Glenlivet one of the most definitive single malt Scotch whiskies that are accredited with shaping the identity of the spirit as we know it today. George Smith, founder of The Glenlivet Distillery, perfected his skills of distillation running an illicit operation. He managed to gain an astronomical infamy that even tempted King George IV to enquire about the whisky.
King George IV could not quite shake off the effect this whisky had on him, with distillation eventually being legalized in Scotland. The Glenlivet, courtesy to the efforts of George Smith, became the first legalized distillery in the Speyside, forever etching its name in the history books.
The Speyside is populated with distilleries aplenty, but none match the excellence and status of The Glenlivet Distillery. Visitors can take a number of tours at the distillery, including The Glenlivet Whisky Food Safari, a truly one of a kind experience. Guests get to check out the magnificent lantern-shaped stills at The Glenlivet Distillery in all their glory.
Aberlour Distillery – Speyside
Built in 1879 in the vicinity of the River Spey, the Aberlour Distillery is situated in one of the most picturesque landscapes Scotland has to offer. Founder James Fleming chose the bosom of the River Spey as the site for his labour of love, forever changing the history of the area.
Such was James Fleming’s love for the place that he even built the Penny Bridge over the Spey after the tragic demise of a child in the river. The Aberlour Distillery shares an intimate, irreplaceable bond with the Spey, even observing an annual tradition of pouring a bottle of their 12-year-old single malt during the beginning of the salmon fishing season in February.
This particular establishment is a small, cosy one, and guests can enjoy an invigorating tour of the distillery without the risk of overcrowding. The Aberlour Distillery tours are limited to parties of a small number of people per tour, ensuring every guest makes the most of their time.
Bowmore Distillery – Isle of Islay
Bowmore is believed to be the oldest functioning distillery on the Isle of Islay, dating back to the 18th century. Its establishment in 1779 paved the way for a number of other distilleries to pop up on Islay, the Scottish island region known for producing the most distinctly flavoured ‘medicinal’ single malts.
Islay single malts are ‘infamous’ for their maritime character, which are heavily peated, rich in iodine and have a pungent nose. They are considered to be an acquired taste since not many are fond of it Islay malts right off the bat.
The Bowmore single malt retains a delicate balance between the renowned Islay character, and some flavours considered to be Speyside staples.
Visitors can get their hands on some truly classic Bowmore tastings, touring the historic premises and even get a chance to take a special Bowmore glass home. A lot of different distillery touring options are on offer, ranging from the modest, to the adequately expensive.
The Macallan Distillery – Speyside
One of the world’s highest selling single malt Scotch whiskies are produced at this iconic Speyside distillery. A number of special releases, limited editions and vintage bottlings of The Macallan single malt command high prices in auctions worldwide.
The Macallan single malt is considered to be the holy grail of Scotch whisky alongside The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, powerhouses that have established the dominion of Scotch whisky worldwide.
The original Macallan Distillery was established in 1824, although it has since made way for the new multimillion pound distillery at the Easter Elchies. Their beautiful and odd onion-shaped stills are intriguing and help produce the flavourful Macallan single malt.
Distillery tours for the brand new Macallan Distillery are offer a variety of tours, with additional enhancements in the form of meals at the Elchies Brasserie and The Macallan Bar. You can find more information on The Macallan Distillery tour on their company website.
Old Pulteney Distillery – Highlands
Built at what was once known as the Herring capital of the world, the Old Pulteney Distillery was once only accessible by sea. Its proximity to the sea lends the Pulteney single malt a distinct maritime character more often associated with Islay whiskies.
These aren’t the only defining attributes of the Old Pulteney Distillery, as it was once also known far and wide as the northernmost distillery on Scottish mainland. Although that title has since been taken away by another recently built distillery, the Wolfburn Distillery.
Getting to the Old Pulteney is no longer a laboursome affair, and visitors can explore this memorable distillery through a number of booked distillery tours. Here, guests can sample some exceptional award-winning single malts from the Old Pulteney inventory, including a few select expressions.
Interestingly, Pulteneytown, the town where the distillery is located, in Wick, Caithness witnessed Prohibition for several years, causing the distillery to shut its doors. The Old Pulteney Distillery reopened in 1951, and has since recaptured the fascination of the Scotch whisky world with their single malts.
Bring back a wealth of knowledge, cherish-worthy memories and of course, an exclusive bottle of your favourite Scotch the next time you’re in Scotland.