Made from its water and barley, infused with the earth and aged in the air, the whiskies of Scotland are as life-affirming, rich and enchanting as the land itself. And with countless variations in the landscape and climate influencing the taste, body and nose of a single malt, to get a complete portrait of Scotland’s whisky you really must explore the farthest reaches of its gorgeous landscape.
Scottish whisky-making covers five different areas, all within a unique environment that adds flavour and distinction to their single malts. Throughout the Highlands and Islands, Islay, Speyside, Campbeltown and the Lowlands you will find more than enough gorgeous views and fine single malts to lift the spirits.
It’s hard to go wrong when sampling Scotch whisky at the source, but with over 100 distilleries, you might want a few pointers. We have chosen a few distilleries across the five regions, each offering fantastic whisky, lovely locales and great visitor experiences. So if you don’t know your Islay from your elbow, or you’re a seasoned single malt sage looking for a your dream break in Scotland, you should find plenty to enjoy.
Strathisla Distillery, Speyside
The Speyside whiskies are renowned for their lightness and subtlety. As such they are perfect gateways to the wonderful world of Scottish whisky, and so too is the Stathisla Distillery the perfect gateway to Scottish whisky distilleries.
Speyside is home to over half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries – along with the famed Malt Whisky Trail. With so much choice it can be difficult to know where to begin, but we’re going to go back to the beginning and recommend the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland.
Strathisla was originally founded in the late 18th Century, before being purchased by James Barclay of Chivas Brothers in 1950 (creator of the first luxury whisky). Today you can sample and purchase the ever-popular Strathisla 12 single malt along with the famed Chivas Regal blend after enjoying a tour of the distillery. And if you want to dive deeper into the region’s whisky-making heritage, you can visit the annual Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival at the start of May. Enjoy a host of tours and events dedicated to this fantastic whisky producing region.
Port Ellen Distilleries, Islay
In contrast the Islay single malts are known for their smoky flavours, full bodies and deep ochre hues. In addition to peat used in the distilling process, the rugged climes and sea spray of Islay are perfect for whisky production, as evidenced by no less than 8 distilleries on an island less than 25 miles long!
For a great cross-section of the Islay single malts try visiting the Laphroig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg distilleries close to Port Ellen. The largest town on Islay, Port Ellen also offers a ferry connection to the mainland and views to the Oa Peninsula and Kilnaughton Bay.
The Port Ellen distillery now makes the malt for all the distilleries on the island. Follow the malt’s journey along the southern coast of Islay and you will arrive at Laphroig, and a little further, nestled on the bay, is Laguvulin: one of Scotland’s most photogenic, and therefore photographed, distilleries! Finally, complete your micro-tour with a stop at Ardbeg. The distillery celebrated its bicentenary in 2015 and shows no signs of stopping. With several ‘World Whisky of the Year’ awards and a very good café, it’s the perfect peaty pit stop.
Scotland’s Lowlands offer some of its most accessible whiskies – with smooth finishes and delicate notes – and its Lowlands offer some of its most accessible distilleries too. But despite its location lowland distillery numbers dropped rapidly from their recorded peak of over 200 in the late 18th Century, something which many believe was due to acts of Parliament favouring gin production.
Still, patience and resilience are key attributes in whisky production, and there is something of resurgence in the lowland distilleries recently. Several smaller whisky producers have been springing up in recent years with triple distillation being more common in the Lowlands than any other region.
Auchentoshan is well-known for the triple distillation of their whisky. This creates a smooth and delicate flavour but (testament to their patience!) takes longer to make. Thankfully, they do all the waiting for you, and a visit to the distillery to sample some of their award-winning whiskies only requires a short train ride from Glasgow. Once there you can enjoy one of the tours and enjoy a wee dram.
Dalwhinnie, Highlands & Islands
For the dedicated whisky pilgrim, or just someone who fancies seeing some of the most beautifully barren, wild and windswept of Scotland’s stunning scenery, a trip to the Highlands and Islands is a must. Here you will find some of the most renowned whiskies encompassing a range of strengths and flavours, due in part to the variety of locations the region comprises.
The Dalwhinnie Distillery may not be THE highest distillery in Scotland (though it certainly is in the running) but it is undoubtedly one of the most scenic. Located in the Cairngorms, Britain’s largest National Park, you can marvel at the pinewoods, valleys and tundra like wilderness before taking a tour of the distillery and enjoying a sample alongside some delicious chocolate.
The signature Dalwhinnie 15 year old is a smooth and full-bodied single malt. As such it is perfect for newcomers and perfectly acceptable for whisky veterans. Due to the low temperature of the region (Dalwhinnie offers a borderline subarctic climate) many of its malts offer warming qualities – ideal if you’re going to set out on a walk – and you can also find exclusive editions in the distillery’s shop.
Formerly known as ‘Whiskytown’ due to the proliferation of distilleries, today Campbeltown only boasts a handful. But what distilleries they are! The region’s single malts are often characterised by a hint of salinity, that befits its status as an important shipbuilding and fishing centre, and a bottle of local whisky is undoubtedly one of the finest souvenirs of your time on the Kintyre Peninsula.
Proud of the fact that it is the only distillery in Scotland to complete 100% of the whisky-making process on site, the Springbank distillery not only allows you to sample some of its stunning single malts, but you can also visit two distilleries! The Springbank tour showcases the historic aspect of Campbeltown whisky production whilst the Mitchell’s Glengyle Tour provides the perfect opportunity to see the modern face of whisky production in the region.
Mitchell’s Glengyle distillery opened in early 2004 after a huge amount of restoration and modernisation work and to say its first bottle of 12 year old single malt was eagerly anticipated would be something of an understatement. Visit either distillery and enjoy a sample of cask strength whisky and a miniature to take home.