Summer this year was all about our trip to England and Scotland. We planned to spend a few days in Edinburgh and then spend the rest of the time driving through Scotland. One of the things on the agenda was doing a Scotch Whiskey distillery visit. Neither my husband nor I are whiskey connoisseurs, but you can’t go to Scotland and not try their liquid gold – a drink which has become an identity of Scotland! A visit to a distillery not only gives you a chance to understand the centuries old tradition of making whisky, but also gives you a glimpse into the life of the local people and their surroundings.
We were going to be in Inverness for a night and hoped to go to visit a couple of Scotland’s famous Speyside distilleries at that time.
Know your whisky
All whiskies can be classified under 3 heads – malt whisky, grain whisky and blended whisky. Malt whisky is made using barley, malt and yeast. Huge copper stills are used to distill the liquid and then the liquid is stored in oak casks to mature over a minimum period of 3 years. Grain whisky is made by combining malted barley with unmalted barley and other cereals. To this mixture then water and yeast are added. Blended whiskies are made by mixing single malt whiskies with grain whiskies. Each whisky has their own unique characteristic and blending them is a serious art. Most blends are closely guarded recipes that a few are privy too.
I would highly recommend that you visit the website of the distillery you plan to visit and check the timings of their tours. If possible give them a call and check that they plan on having the tour that you are hoping to make it for. The water used to make the whisky plays an important part in imparting special and distinguishable characteristics to the end product. Further, the shape of the still and the wood that the casks are made from all add to the taste and color of the whisky that is produced.
Whisky producing regions of Scotland
There are 5 whisky producing regions in Scotland – Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown, Highland and Lowland. Each region produces their own distinct whisky which is largely influenced by the water that is available there and the levels of peat in the surrounding soil.
Did you know?
Whisky production began as a way of turning rain soaked barley into a drink that can be consumed!
To find out more about each of the regions and the distilleries there click here. Scroll down to see a Whisky Map of Scotland and check out their fabulous distillery guide!
Plan your visit
If whisky is your focus you can plan an entire trip to Scotland visiting distilleries across the country. Drive through the beautiful countryside of Scotland visiting far flung castles while sampling whisky that is made in the different regions of the country.
If you prefer to focus on a particular kind of whisky, tour the region of your choice and visit a few distilleries that produce your preferred kind of whisky.
Like us if you are no connoisseurs of whisky but would like to get a feel of how its made and visit one or two of the notable distilleries, then Inverness (if you plan to be that side) is a good base to explore surrounding Speyside which is home to more than half of Scotland’s distilleries. Explore the charming city of Inverness, cruise down the Lochness in search of Nessie and do some whisky tasting!
We drove from Edinburgh to Inverness and along the way visited Blair Atholl Castle & Gardens. We stopped for lunch at the gorgeous Blair Atholl Watermill & Tea Room. While there are number of places you can visit on this route I would highly recommend both these as they were great.
Read: Blair Castle & Gardens, Scotland
Read: Blair Atholl Watermill – Living Heritage
We reached Inverness early evening and spent the rest of the day walking across the city and exploring its riverside. The next day we set off to Loch Ness. We also planned to visit the Glenfiddich distillery before driving to Isle of Skye that evening.
We drove almost 35 miles in the other direction to get to Glenfiddich distillery and I had checked online to make sure that we make it in time to catch their last tour but unfortunately when we got there (just in the nick of time), we were told that the last tour had been cancelled and that they were no other tours that day!
We were quite heartbroken having driven all that way and having missed our turn at doing the tour. Disheartened we watched a video that takes you through the history of Glenfiddich whisky, and the staff were kind enough to give us a taste of their famous whisky while we sulked at our bad luck!
Here are some tips to help you plan your trip!
- We were in Scotland in May, which is not the peak tourist season and yet the tours were getting full quickly. So if you do absolutely want to make it for one, I would recommend you get there early.
- Most distilleries do not allow children below 8 years of age on the tour. Like us if you are a couple travelling with a young child, one of you can go on the tour while the other keeps the child entertained at the visitor centre. You might want to visit 2 distilleries so both of you get to go on a tour.
- If you plan to visit Loch Ness and visit one of the Speyside distilleries on the same day. You might want to start early from Inverness, go to the distillery of your choice, finish the tour, make it back to Inverness for lunch and then head to Loch Ness. I would advice that you check the Loch Ness cruise timings to make sure you make it time for one of the scheduled tours. If possible I would suggest buying tickets online to avoid being turned away because the cruises of your choice is full.
Spend sometime on the VisitScotland website which gives you a ton of information on whisky as well as gives you links to individual distilleries and a list of tours that you can sign up for.
The Scotch Whisky Experience, Edinburgh
If your trip to Scotland limits you to Edinburgh then try and visit The Scotch Whisky Experience center located bang on the Royal Mile. Sitting in barrels, visitors are taken through a virtual distillery. Learn about the history of whisky, get introduced to the whisky making process and do some tasting here.
You can choose from tours that last from 50 minutes to those that stretch over 3 hours depending on your time and interest. On my first visit to Edinburgh several years back, I had done the Silver Tour which is a basic introduction to Whisky and it was a lot fun. We were also given certificates to certify that we have done a basic whisky tour! I would highly recommend a visit here if you don’t have time to visit a distillery later on in your trip to Scotland.
Click here to find out more about the center.
Have you visited the distilleries in Scotland? Do you have any experiences that you would like to share?