When it comes to whisky, there’s good whisky and then there’s great whisky. Creating the beloved amber tonic is an art form (practically sacred in some parts) and one that only a handful of makers have mastered. Tradition, location and water, all play a role in giving each its unique characteristics. And where better to watch these all-important elements collide than with a distillery tour in the holy land of whisky—Scotland.
Distilleries in Scotland come with the bonus of scenic countrysides, traditional architecture and stories many hundreds of years old. It’s in these ancient laboratories that you’ll be best placed to snag yourself some rare whiskies or to learn more about the nuances in each one.
Imagine yourself taking a virtual whisky distillery tour (double old fashioned in hand) with our top 10 Scottish whisky distilleries to visit this winter. And fair warning for any American visitors—the whiskey v whisky debate doesn’t exist in Scotland. It’s whisky. Always whisky.
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Image Credit: Glenfiddich
Founded in 1886, Glenfiddich is experienced in the art of turning water to whisky. The distillery is located in picturesque Speyside and is one of the largest in Scotland, with its own cooperage (where the barrels are made) and bottling plant on site. Of course, you'd expect nothing less from the world’s most-awarded and best-selling single malt whisky brand.
The Glenfiddich distillery is one of the best places for a whisky lover to visit because tours take visitors through the entire distillation process. Choose from four different whisky tour options to see how the spirit is distilled in the copper stills, aged in the casks and then bottled. Fans of the brand will particularly enjoy the Solera Deconstructed Tour where you can make your very own blend of 15-year-old Glenfiddich. The Pioneer’s Tour is one for foodies as much as it is for whisky enthusiasts. You’ll get to sample five of Glenfiddich’s best whiskies with canapés in a masterclass by the head chef.
Image Credit: Macallan
Macallan is a well-known name with the distinction of having sold some of the world's most expensive whiskies. In 2019, Macallan unveiled its new distillery in Craigellachie, Moray with a design that is as unique as many of their collections.
The modern building is a far cry from the more traditional distilleries around the country and is a treat to whisky and architecture lovers alike. The distillery and visitor centre sit on sloped land with half the structure concealed under an undulating roof that mimics the rolling hills of the region. Inside, a large open-plan layout lets you view the entirety of the space in all its glory. From the brand’s characteristic copper stills, to an area that shows the barrel designs, to an interactive display room, guests of the Macallan distillery tour get to learn everything there is to know about whisky here. The visitor centre also contains a wall of whisky (including rare and vintage ones) and multiple bars and tasting areas.
Image Credit: Glenlivet
Established in 1824, Glenlivet has a storied history and was one of the very few distilleries to have continued production even during the Great Depression (because priorities). Keeping with its roots, Glenlivet’s new distillery opted for a classic look centred around its whisky.
The distillery’s design, by London-based specialist food & beverage design studio Blacksheep, is a reimagination of everything that brings Glenlivet to life; clad in deep-toned woods with bronze and brass finishes, the interiors complement the trademark golden glow of the whisky. Choose from two tasting experiences, one of which offers exclusive Glenlivet whiskies matured for 30 to 40 years. Don’t forget to book in advance for ‘The Archives’ distillery tour, which takes you through the cask selection process and includes a tasting of some of Glenlivet’s rarest and finest whiskies in a private tasting room.
Image Credit: Glenmorangie
Known for its mellow and fruity notes, the Glenmorangie is a classic whisky that tastes great neat or in a cocktail. The characteristic lightness of the whisky is achieved using tall stills, which you can see during the Glenmorangie distillery tour. In fact, Glenmorangie’s stills are the tallest in Scotland, the brand affectionately comparing them to giraffes.
The only way to enjoy the beautiful coastal landscape against which this distillery is set would, of course, be with a glass of its finest. Book a tasting session to try some of the brand’s exclusive whiskies or spend a few days in Glenmorangie House to experience the beauty of the area in a cosy setting, complete with amazing food. And more whisky!
Image Credit: Highland Park
Highland Park Distillery
Head to the Orkney Islands for some gorgeous views, Skara Brae—the island’s Unesco World Heritage Site—and to visit Highland Park, the northernmost single malt distillery in Scotland. The sweet and peaty flavour of this whisky can be attributed to the geography and climate of the Orkney Islands.
Highland Park honours Orkney’s Norse heritage with Viking-inspired names and bottle designs. Take part in a whisky tour and tasting experience to learn more about the brand or make the most of your visit with the premium Viking Legends and Orcadian Vintages Experience. The Viking Legends tour includes an expert guide and a sampling of four whiskies from the Valhalla collection, while the Orcadian Vintages lets you sample straight from the cask and includes a tutored tasting session of four vintage whiskies in a private tasting room.
Image Credit: Ardbeg
Islay whiskies are known for their peatiness and, for many Islay connoisseurs, there’s no whisky that does it better than Ardbeg. The whisky is known for its perfectly balanced flavours and strong smokiness, making the distillery a must-visit in the Islay region.
Ardbeg distillery is located on the southern coast of the island, its white-washed walls standing out against the rugged coastline, and though it’s relatively small, there are plans to expand its facilities in the near future. The distillery offers three different tasting sessions with rare whiskies and samples from the cask. Visitors can also enjoy a meal at the Old Kiln Cafe (or ARDstream Trailer) and purchase their favourite whiskies at the visitor centre.
Image Credit: Laphroaig
Located near Port Ellen in Islay, Laphroaig is one of the best known producers of Islay single malt whisky. Laphroaig also has the distinction of being one of a select number of whiskies to be granted the Royal Warrant and is a favourite of Prince Charles himself.
Laphroaig achieves its strong smokiness with fruity, medicinal flavours by continuing production the traditional way. The distillery malts its own barley and hand-cuts the peat, resulting in its unique taste. You can go on a tasting tour to sample three of the brand’s whiskies from the cask and leave with a small bottle of your favourite.
Image Credit: Dalmore
Head to the town of Alness to visit the distillery of Dalmore, one of the finest single malt whiskies from the Highland region of Scotland. Dalmore ascribes the rich taste of its whisky to the process of cask selection. The brand sources rare casks from bodegas and wineries around the world, hand-selected by the Master Distiller. Find out all about their cask selection process by being part of a select group of visitors allowed to tour the distillery.
Image Credit: Chivas Regal
Chivas Regal Distillery
Strathisla distillery is the oldest working whisky distillery in the Scottish Highlands and the home of Chivas Regal. One of the most popular attractions in Speyside, the distillery is a sight to behold. The traditional architecture with a double pagoda and a beautiful landscape all around makes it one of the most picturesque distilleries to visit in Scotland.
Try your hand at making your own blend or sample drams from the Chivas Regal Cellar as part of the tour. If you’re looking for a truly exceptional experience, the Reserve Collection tasting—where visitors get to try five limited edition Strathisla single malts from the reserve collection—might be more your style.
Image Credit: Kingsbarn
One of Scotland's newer distilleries, Kingsbarns has already established a name for itself. The distillery in Fife is one of the few that produces single malt whisky in the lowlands region. It is housed in a historic farmstead that was restored and converted for the purpose. The restored architecture includes a traditional dovecot, which was used to house nesting boxes for doves.
At Kingsbarns, visitors get to tour the distillery and try out the award-winning ‘Dream to Dram’ single malt whisky along with a selection of other single malts. As the maker of Darnley’s Gin, Kingsbarns also offers gin tours. Take part in a tasting session, make your own G&T or opt for a full day experience where you distil your own gin!