If you are a whisky aficionado who likes stocking the best of fine aged whisky with assorted flavours, then a whisky tour is something you must do this lifetime. And where else to experience this incredible “whisky touring” experience other than in Scotland? For whisky rarely tastes better than at the distillery where it is made and aged. What’s more, the drive-through tours offer you the opportunity to get up-close and personal with all things remotely connected with this whisky country.
Scotland woos you with its myths, legends and folklore. And when it meshes with the history of its natural larder, the Scottish whisky, you can expect some powerful story telling!
Before you embark on your whisky journey, just make sure to have it right. While in Scotland, it is not right to spell it as “whiskey”, but “whisky” as the Scottish will tell you. “Whisky” is derived from the Gaelic word uisgebeatha, meaning “water of life”. The Irish spell it whiskey, with an extra ‘e’. This ‘e’ was taken to the United States by the Irish immigrants in the 1700s and has been used ever since. “Whisky” is generally used for whiskies distilled in Scotland, Canada, Australia, Japan and Europe, while “whiskey” is used for the spirits distilled in Ireland and America.
Here’s to Scottish whisky! Whisky is the thing.
It makes you feel so frisky; it makes you laugh and sing.
So let’s all have a ceilidh, and have a lot of fun.
[A Stewart Ross song – rendition by The Alexander Brothers]
More Whisky facts
Scotland, Ireland and America, have a rich heritage in the whisky industry. But what is so unique about Scottish whisky?
Scottish whiskies are distilled twice, unlike the Irish whiskeys. The pot stills of Scottish distilleries are in various shapes and sizes which give diversity of characters and flavours. The Scots use malted barley in most of its whiskies, while other world whiskeys use different grain mixtures. In Scotland it is common to use peat to dry the malted barley to make it ready for milling and mashing. This gives Scottish whisky its fullness and traditional smokiness. Scotland has over 80 distilleries in production with the 1775 Glenturret the oldest distillery in operation. For more on Scottish Whisky trivia check this out – Whisky for Everyone.
Whisky tours across Scotland
Whether you are a first time visitor to Scotland or a whisky enthusiast who wants to dive into the antecedents of Glenfiddich, a whisky tour of the distilleries is a truly unforgettable experience. Taking a self-drive whisky tour is the best way to get the best of both, Scotland’s rolling scenery and its distilleries. Most distilleries are located close to one another, and can be done in a day before checking-in at one of the fine hotels in the region. You can also opt for a bespoke whisky tour for an end-to-end whisky making and tasting encounter, with castle and site visits thrown-in. Breath-taking scenery, spectacular coastlines, historical landmarks, whisky festivals and memorable hotel stays, are the highlights of Scottish whisky tours.
The Scottish Malt Whisky Trail – Highlands and Islands
The most popular tour is the Scottish Whisky Trail that takes you to distilleries in the Speyside region of Scottish Highlands. This area is home to some of the world’s finest distilleries, like the Glenlivet, Cardhu, Glenfarclas , Dallas Dhu and Glenfiddich. If these names are exciting you, most likely you also know that Highland malts embrace wide and robust flavour variations. All the distilleries organise in-house tours, with some even offering on-site bed-and-breakfast. Treat yourself to a few drams. Buy whisky souvenirs, and hike through the rolling hills of the legendary Scottish Highlands, soaking-in the smells of fermentation spiced up with salty wafts of sea-breeze.
Strathisla Distillery, Keith, Banffshire
This is the oldest working distillery in the Highlands, located on the banks of the Isla River. It has hour-long standard tours every 30 minutes, with a tasting included.
Glenfiddich, Dufftown, Banffshire
Home to the world famous brand Glenfiddich, this is the only distillery where you can see the whole process of whisky production from barley to bar. You will be surprised to know this is a purely family-run outfit. Ninety-minute tours are conducted, including a tasting session. However, you need to book beforehand.
The Speyside – nerve-centre of the Scottish malt whisky industry
Taking a Speyside tour can be a rewarding experience as it has more than half of all the Scottish distilleries. Speyside single malts are known for their elegance and complexity, sometimes with a fruitiness ranging from ripe pears to sultanas.
Plan to make a summer visit to Speyside when this region celebrates the four-day Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival to coincide with World Whisky Day on May 20th. Visitors can enjoy whisky in a myriad ways, like hang gliding!
Islay whisky tour
While the Whisky Trail is the best-known distillery tour in Scotland, the distilleries along the islands of Islay and Jura are also worth visiting. These west coast islands are home to distilleries such as Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ile, Jura, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Kilchoman. Islay is the greatest of whisky-producing islands. Although a mere 25-miles long, it has eight distilleries. It is covered in peat and exposed to rain and sea spray. This peat gives the single malts of this place a characteristic smoky flavour with salty, seaweed notes.
What makes the Scotch whiskies of Islay different from their Highland counterparts is the abundance of peat bogs, resulting in a very peaty, strong taste. This island-hopping whisky tour combines incredible scenery with wonderful single malt whisky for a magical holiday. Islay too hosts a week-long whisky festival every summer, that includes ceilidhs (traditional Scottish storytelling evenings), Celtic music concerts, distillery tours, cooking-with-whisky and “barrel push” events across Islay. The festival wraps-up with a not-to-miss carnival.
Enrol in a short whisky course
If you are looking at sprucing up your whisky knowledge, to perhaps show-off at your next school reunion or office party, take the whisky schooling course. The Whisky School at Bladnoch Distillery in the south of Scotland, conducts a three-day hands-on course, on Scotch whisky production, besides the sampling perks! The owners walk you through the steps involved – milling, brewing, fermenting and distilling. With small class sizes of 12 people, and costing £295 per person, or £520 for two, make sure to do this as-a-couple-thing the next time you are in Scotland.
Take a Classic Malt Cruise
If you are looking for a whisky tour with-a-difference, take a summer Malt Cruise. Scores of boats sail the Classic Malts Cruise, a 200-mile sailing tour through the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, with daily stops to distilleries. From Oban to Skye, and back south to Islay, the ships sail with ports-of-call near the distilleries of Oban, Talisker and Lagavulin. Barbecues, bagpiper entertainment, on-board music and dance, tastings and distillery tours set the cruising agenda.
How to plan your trip
When you plan your Scottish whisky tour, you need to ask yourself, would you like a cruise trip, a bespoke tour package or a self-drive tour? All of these include distillery stops, on-site tour of the facilities, shopping for whisky memorabilia and incredible countryside views on-the-go. Some packages have extras with golfing and castles visits, to make it a more inclusive holiday memory. However, if you are looking for a true “whisky tour experience”, then opting for a self-drive tour is the best. You can linger at your favourite distilleries; pick up crates of Scotch, indulge in whisky tastings at your leisure and stay at the cosy countryside inns to suit your needs
The whisky tours of Scotland are not your run-of-the-mill tasting events. There is so much to choose from, besides whisky tastings and close encounters with the whisky production of your favourite brands. From festivals to bespoke holidays, self-drive tours to cruising, nowhere else will you find such a exciting whisky tour.