Ten Top Whisky Distillery Tours In Scotland
Sooner or later, most of us who appreciate a wee dram or two will muse with the idea of visiting a distillery. What finer way could there be to see the production process for oneself and discover more about the amber spirit’s fascinating heritage?
We invite you to read on. Below, we describe ten of the best whisky distillery tours that Scotland has to offer.
In terms of beautiful settings, this newcomer to the ranks of Scottish distilleries is hard to beat. The Mc’nean is in the Drimnin Estate on the Morvern peninsula, at the mouth of a sea loch and opposite Tobermory, Mull. Here, to complement the organic whisky from this young distillery, one can admire the breathtaking west coast and Highland views.
Drivers have ample opportunity to decompress from city traffic during the final twelve-mile stretch of single track road to complete their journey. Worth the effort and distance, Mc’nean has sustainability at its heart. Its founders have taken a progressive and investigative approach to whisky making: experiments with longer mash times, various strains of yeast and different shapes of stills. The first scotch is yet to be released, so visitors can enjoy a hint of anticipation and excitement too.
Dewar’s, Aberfeldy, Perthshire
Founded in 1896 and officially opened in 1898 by John Dewar and Sons, Aberfeldy distillery is on the Upper Tay’s south bank. You’ll find this exemplary operation just five miles from Loch Tay itself and the nearby town of Kenmore. This distillery is the only one to use fresh water from the waterfalls of Pitilie Burn.
In the early 1900s, globetrotter Tommy Dewar enlisted Thomas Edison’s help to direct a film commercial for the White Label blend. Their pioneering use of marketing assured the liquor’s early popularity in the United States, along with ongoing prosperity for this distillery.
During the 1970s, improvements to the Aberfeldy saw the introduction of heated stills. Later, during the 1990s, the company introduced a 12-year-old single malt scotch. Nowadays, Dewar’s World of Whisky Centre is a favourite attraction for visitors to central Scotland.
Deanston Mill. Perthshire
Initially a cotton mill, Deanston closed in 1965 and re-opened less than a decade later in 1974. A notable destination in itself, the distillery is near Doune Castle and on the bank of the River Teith. Apart from producing single malt scotch, this distillery provided a setting for the 2012 comedy-drama film Angels’ Share. It also doubled as a wine warehouse in an episode of the television series Not In Scotland Anymore.
Unsurprisingly, the neighbouring river means that Deanston Mill can generate its own power, as it did when it spun cotton. At the time, a now ghostly-looking waterwheel harnessed the force of the river’s current. Although previously claimed to be the largest in Europe, the defunct waterwheel remains are now entirely ornamental. Nowadays, replacement turbines provide efficient and environmentally-friendly power.
A thrilling setting with an intriguing past, GlenDronach is now the property of US-based whiskey producer Jack Daniel’s. In the early 1800s, this stone-built distillery provided jobs for more than fifty workers who lived in a row of workers houses. The site also has a mansion for the master distiller.
GlenDronach occupies a prime place in lush farming countryside; its name comes from the Gaelic for Valley of the Brambles. As one might infer, it is possible to pick a few blackberries in the grounds for a delightful amuse-bouche before taking a tour of this veritable Victorian village. Finally, why not treat the palate to an altogether different experience in the darkly themed yet indisputably inviting whisky tasting bar?
Built in the 1960s, the new Clynelish distillery is next to the original building – which dates back to 1819 – and the coastal village of Brora. The smokey bottlings here come from the same stills as Brora whisky, widely revered as the Holy Grail of lost malts. Its new owners Diageo plan to re-commission that coveted label. Historically too, this producer also has links with the highly respected Johnnie Walker Gold Label blend.
Drivers heading northwards from Inverness could well mistake the site for a hydroelectric power station. After all, pagoda-style roofs are no longer necessary in distilleries that opt for off-site malting. Also, there is little other visible indication of the installation’s production capacity. Nonetheless, the Clynelish can bottle nearly five million litres of whisky a year; it boasts three washes and the same number of spirit stills.
Owned by the producers of Chivas Regal whisky, Pernod Ricard, this visit offers a unique blending experience. In a captivating laboratory, replete with test tubes, burettes and plenty of fine malts, it is possible to mix a unique blend and take it home to enjoy.
Strathisla is the oldest distillery in operation in the Highlands. It features two pagodas for the malting roofs. Many of its wall stones come from nearby Milton Castle, a fifteenth-century landmark.
Ardbeg Distillery, Argyll and Bute
Boasting postcard-style panoramic views of ocean meeting sky – especially on fine days – it’s clear where the Ardbeg gets enough seaweed to fuel its malt driers. On the south coast of the remote Isle of Islay, this distillery is as unmissable as its signature whiskies.
Other local attractions on this small island include a hike up the peaty hill to Dalton Cross, quite an intact relic and more than 1,300 years old. On the other hand, the distillery specialises in picnic lunches and outdoor tastings of whisky. What better setting could there be to sip one of the finest whiskies from the area and watch the breakers of the Atlantic?
Oban, Argyll and Bute
Known as the gateway to the Isles, the port town of Oban is home to a compact eighteenth-century distillery. From modest beginnings in buildings not unlike herring stores, this producer grew steadily. Today, the tightly packed grey granite buildings house a lively dramming or tasting bar, too.
Oban’s west coast whisky combines elements of a sweet Speyside malt with the characteristic smoky peat overtones typical of the adjacent islands. And on that note, the town’s port offers a frequent ferry service to the Isle of Mull. There, the re-opened Tobermory Distillery will also be of interest to enthusiasts and connoisseurs.
Springbank, Argyll and Bute
Nowadays, only three distilleries remain in the Campbelltown area – a mere tenth of the previous total that pumped waste into the nearby loch. Springbank is the oldest of the survivors, somewhat photogenic and conveniently located in the centre of town.
The well-kept buildings and yard replete with stacks of spare casks date back to 1828. Here, visitors to the family-owned distillery can witness the complete production process from initial malting to final bottling – all on one site. Afterwards, there’s a miniature bottle with a commemorative glass to take home.
A bunched group of new whisky-producing ventures in Fife indicates that distilleries are enjoying a resurgence in the Scottish lowlands. Kingsbarns’ visitor centre and restaurant are on landscaped grounds, near restored farmstead and golden fields of the same barley that goes into their malt. The first bottling bears the name Dream to Dram.
Conveniently, Kingsbarns is less than nine miles along the coast road from St. Andrew’s iconic old golf course – and not far from the beach, either, for those who want to walk along the shore. Its location in southern Scotland shortens the journey northwards from Edinburgh for most visitors – or adds extra options when planning an itinerary.