Scotland is world famous for both its golf courses and for its whisky distilleries. But where do you begin? Well, just as a golfer will prefer to play a beautiful and renowned course like Carnoustie or St. Andrew’s, so too the whisky lover should seek out the distilleries that blend solid tours, great whisky, a dose of history and scenic settings into one memorable visit.
Here are twelve of the best, in strictly alphabetical order:
In the heart of whisky country, Speyside, is Cardhu. The name comes from the Scottish Gaelic for ‘Black Rock’, and this small distillery was founded by a reformed whisky smuggler but mainly run by his wife – the only woman to pioneer a malt distillery. Cardhu was later sold to Johnnie Walker and, as well as providing them with whisky for their blends, they have their own highly-rated single malt.
Visitors to Dalwhinnie get an unusual opportunity to do tastings not only of the distillery’s own single malt but of other whiskies that are paired with chocolate from the Scottish Highlands. Being in the Highlands it’s one of the highest distilleries in Scotland, though the water comes from a branch of the River Spey: the whisky river.
Based in Perthshire, Edradour only produces twelve casks a week and is the smallest traditional distillery in Scotland. For that reason its tours (from April to October) are unique and very personal. It opened in 1825 as a farm distillery and still operates on that basis.
In the Speyside village of Ballindalloch, where distilleries abound, is the fiercely independent family-run Glenfarclas. Established in 1805 it was bought in 1865 by the great-great-grandfather of the present owner, John L.S. Grant. It was one of the first Scottish distilleries to open a visitor center back in 1973.
In the royal burg of Tain, overlooking the Dornoch Firth in the Scottish Highlands, Glenmorangie has a distinguished history and a scenic setting. It also has the tallest stills in Scotland – as tall as the average giraffe – and a range of tours including the chance to visit the water source at nearby Tarlogie Springs.
Also in Ballindalloch on Speyside, the Glenlivet has been distilling legally since 1824, but was unofficially in business long before that. As well as distillery tours visitors can also enjoy three self-guided smuggler’s hiking trails in the Glenlivet Valley.
On the island of Orkney, this is the most northerly distillery in Scotland. It also has some of the best tours, which range from a regular tour with a single tasting to more expensive options with tastings of up to seven whiskies.
This island in the Firth of Clyde is easily reached from Glasgow, and is noted for its fine food and drink – not just whisky. The distillery has several different tours and is in a picturesque setting in the tiny village of Lochranza.
One of several distilleries on the island of Islay, Lagavulin dates back legally to 1816 and illegally till… well, who knows? It’s distinguished by its unusual pear-shaped stills, its slow distillation process and the lengthy time their whiskies spend in the barrels.
Also on Islay and a year older than its rival and near-neighbor, Lagavulin, Laphroaig is the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, who favors their 15-year-old.
One of the world’s best-selling whiskies comes from the little village of Craigellachie, where the River Fiddich (of Glenfiddich fame) meets the River Spey. It has one of the most modern and hi-tech visitor centers, and its tours are limited to ten people at a time.
Founded in 1830 this is the only remaining distillery on the Isle of Skye. Its tours range from 45 minutes to two hours, and it’s in a peaceful spot overlooking Loch Harport, the perfect place to enjoy a wee dram.