Distilleries

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  • Rows of oak casks stacked at a whisky distillery © Scotch Whisky Association
    Stacked rows of oak casks - © Scotch Whisky Association
  • The mash tun in action at Glen Garioch Distillery, Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire
    The mash tun at Glen Garioch Distillery, Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire
  • The pot still © Scotch Whisky Association
    The pot still © Scotch Whisky Association
  • Looking over a drystone wall to the Royal Lochnagar Whisky Distillery, established in 1848, near Balmoral on Royal Deeside
    Royal Lochnagar Whisky Distillery near Balmoral on Royal Deeside
  • An employee rolls a barrel outside the Strathisla Distillery, near Keith in Moray
    The Strathisla Distillery, near Keith in Moray

There are many factors that make the character of each Scotch whisky produced in Scotland different in its own right. The taste of single malts is affected by everything from the source of the water and the local landscapes to the shape of the copper stills used. To understand their many layers and complexities, a distillery tour is an essential experience for any visitor to Scotland. No two distilleries are the same, each in its own unique setting and with a colourful history to tell.

The regions

Just like wine in France, Scotland is split into five distinctive whisky-producing regions. Distillation in these regions all has the same historical roots, but distilleries in each area have matured and diversified in the production methods of their whisky with single malts embracing different and unique characteristics.

To gain insider knowledge, take a behind the scenes tour at one of Scotland’s many distilleries in one of the whisky regions and discover the art form that is Scotch whisky distilling.

Islay

Pronounced "eye-luh", this is the greatest of whisky-producing islands. Much of this Inner Hebridean island is covered in peat which is exposed to the elements and lashed by the wind, rain and sea spray of Atlantic storms. Harvested and used to malt barley, the peat gives the single malts here their salty, seaweed notes.

A dash of Islay malt gives the unmistakable tang of Scotland to many blended whiskies. Although it is only 25 miles long, the Isle of Islay has no fewer than eight distilleries. Sample the spectacular dram dubbed ‘liquid smoke’ at the Laphroaig Distillery and make sure you collect your annual ‘ground rent’ (a whisky miniature) before you leave. Thanks to the on-site bottling hall at the Bruichladdich (known as ‘the Laddie’) distillery, there is no better way to discover a whisky that is truly Islay, and watch it go from barley to bottle.

Find out more about whisky distilleries in Argyll & The Isles.

Speyside

By far the biggest whisky region in terms of production and concentration of distilleries, Speyside is the eponymous whisky region. Over half of all Scottish distilleries can be found here with Speyside single malts noted in general for their elegance and complexity, and often a refined smokiness. Beyond that, they have two extremes: the big, sherry-like type, as typified by The Macallan, Glenfarclas and Aberlour; and the lighter, more subtle style. Although it is not precisely defined, Speyside is commonly agreed to extend at least from the River Findhorn, just east of Inverness, to the River Deveron, northwest of Aberdeen.

Within this region are several other rivers, notably the Livet. Within Speyside, the River Livet is so famous that its name is borrowed by some whiskies from far beyond its glen, though only one may call itself The Glenlivet. Many of the region’s distilleries are on the Malt Whisky Trail, the only trail of its kind in the world. Along the trail you will also visit the only existing cooperage in the UK, Speyside Cooperage, where you can see the ancient art of creating whisky barrels and even try your hand at making a mini barrel yourself. Why not visit Speyside’s smallest distillery, Benromach, to learn more about the world’s first fully certified organic single malt whisky, or discover Cardhu Distillery, the only distillery pioneered by a woman?

Find out more about distilleries in Aberdeenshire and The Highlands.

Highlands

By far the biggest region geographically, the Highlands inevitably embraces wide and robust whisky variations. The western part of the Highlands has only a few, scattered, distilleries, and it is difficult to generalise about the character of their whiskies. If they have anything in common, it is a rounded, firm, dry character with some hints of peatiness. The far north of the Highlands has several distilleries, whose whiskies notably have a heathery, spicy, character probably deriving both from the local soil and the coastal location of the distillery. The more sheltered eastern Highlands have a number of particularly fruity whiskies. Be sure to spend an afternoon at Dalwhinnie Distillery, Scotland’s highest distillery at over 1,000 ft.

Find out more about whisky distilleries in the Highlands and follow the region's fascinating Malt Whisky Trail.

Campbeltown

Sitting at the far end of the Kintyre peninsula on the west coast of Scotland, Campbeltown once had about 30 distilleries in its heyday. Today, it has only three of which two are open to the public. One of these, Springbank, the oldest family-owned distillery in Scotland, produces two different single malts. This apparent contradiction is achieved by the use of lightly peated malt in one and a smokier kilning in the other.

Also pay a visit to the Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery, the first new distillery opened in Scotland this millennium, and sample their Kilkerran Single Malt. The Campbeltown single malts are very distinctive, with a briny character. Although there are only three producers, they are still considered by serious malt lovers to represent a region in their own right.

Find out more about distilleries in Argyll & The Isles.

Lowlands

The Lowlands region is known for its softer, lighter style single malt whiskies that are traditionally known as the 'Lowland Ladies'. The area is defined by a line following old county boundaries and running from the Clyde estuary to the River Tay. The line swings north of Glasgow and Dumbarton and runs to Dundee and Perth.

There are only a handful of Lowland distilleries still operating, including Glenkinchie in East Lothian, Bladnoch in Dumfries & Galloway and Auchentoshan, just north of Glasgow.

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  1. Gradings

    • Eat Scotland Award
    Eat Scotland Award

    Blackford

    From Auchterarder Tourist Information Centre - Leave Auchterarder on the A9 heading South.

  2. Aberlour Distillery

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    Distilleries

    Gradings

    • 5 Visitor Attraction
    5 Visitor Attraction

    Rothes

    An in-depth tour of Aberlour Distillery so that the discerning visitor can enjoy the true Aberlour Experience.

  3. Ardbeg Distillery

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    Distilleries

    Gradings

    Islay

    Follow your nose along the famous road from Port Ellen and you will eventually come to the most welcoming distillery on the island. Ardbeg's white-washed walls can be found nestling in a rocky cove on Islay's southern tip.

  4. Auchentoshan Distillery

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    Distilleries

    Gradings

    • 5 Visitor Attraction
    5 Visitor Attraction

    Clydebank

    Established in 1823, Auchentoshan (Ock-un-tosh-un) Distillery is on the mainland of Scotland, situated on the A82 between Glasgow and Loch Lomond.

  5. Ben Nevis Distillery

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    Distilleries

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    Fort William

    The Legend of the Dew of Ben Nevis Visitor Centre, built into an old warehouse dating from 1862 and former bottling hall, which still retains some of its original features.

  6. Gradings

    • 4 Visitor Attraction
    4 Visitor Attraction

    Forres

    On the outskirts of the Royal Burgh and ancient market town of Forres lies Benromach distillery, the smallest working distillery in Moray.

  7. Gradings

    • 3 Visitor Attraction
    3 Visitor Attraction

    Wigtown

    Nestled on the green banks of the River Bladnoch, Scotland's most southerly distillery has been producing the Spirit of the Lowlands since 1817.

  8. Gradings

    Pitlochry

    Blair Athol Distillery is one of the oldest working distilleries in Scotland. After enjoying a leisurely conducted tour, you can mull over the distinctive character of the finished article as you sip your dram of Blair Athol 12 Year Old.

  9. Bowmore Distillery

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    Distilleries

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    • 5 Visitor Attraction
    5 Visitor Attraction

    Bowmore

    There is no better tour - comprehensive, visually arresting, and well-planned, delivered with wit and nuggets of local knowledge - one gets the feeling that the tour has been specifically tailored just for you.

  10. Bruichladdich Distillery

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    Distilleries

    Gradings

    Islay

    Bruichladdich Distillery was built in 1881 and was the last distillery to be built on Islay.

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