A Guide To The Best Scottish Distilleries

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Traditionally grouped into only four main regions, the art of distilling in Scotland has been perfected over the years. Today there are over 120 active distilleries spread throughout Scotland. This guide has been created in order for visitors and spirit lovers to locate their nearest distillery, learn a little history on the production of whiskey and find out what each one has to offer.

Highland Whisky Distilleries  

Without a doubt, the Highlands and Islands is Scotland’s largest geographical whiskey producing area. There are around 48 whiskey distilleries in the Scottish Highlands at present and the variety of styles are endless. The oldest working distillery is called Glenturret, which was opened in 1775 and originating amongst smugglers and illicit stills of the 18th century, it has some incredible stories to tell.

Every year the Glenturret distillery opens its doors to over 70,000 visitors making this a 5 five-star tourist attraction. Brush up on your whiskey knowledge by experiencing the tours Glenturret has to offer, along with testing delicious samples. This distillery is commonly recognised as home to one of the UK’s most successful whiskeys, ‘The Famous Grouse’. Tours of the Glenturret distillery can be booked online running hourly from 10:30am and has recently been named Scotland’s best visitors attraction by the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions. You may also indulge afterwards in the Glenturret’s award winning on-site restaurant, where you can enjoy superb dishes made using locally sourced, traditional ingredients.

Named after the highest mountain in the British Isles and located at its base in the Scottish town of Fortwilliam, the Ben Nevis distillery is another one of the oldest licenced distilleries in Scotland. The famous mountain poses as an impressive background to a fantastic Scottish craft. The distillery was founded in 1825 by ‘Long John’ McDonald, whom the famous blended scotch, Long John was named after. The Ben Nevis distillery produces Ben Nevis 10 Years Old and Ben Nevis 21 Years Old whiskey. Tours are conducted by professional, trained guides accompanied by a tasting session to get a true, authentic tour experience.

Ben Nevis Distillery

The Dalwhinnie distillery holds the title of the highest malt distillery in Scotland, lying close to the A9 Perth to Inverness road close to the Drumochter pass. Situated in the heart of the Scottish Highland town of, this distillery produces single malt scotch whiskey. Dalwhinnie distillery is renowned for its gentle flavours and accented notes of heather honey, vanilla, citrus and sweet malt. As a result of being the highest distillery in Scotland, the temperatures here are very cold. This makes ideal for producing whiskey thanks to the cool waters that surround the Dalwhinnie distillery. This distillery offers a range of tours as well as a different experience with its ‘Chocolate and Whiskey’ tours. Tours can be booked online and are available Monday to Sunday.


Lowlands Whisky Distilleries 

 There are currently six remaining distilleries in the Scottish Lowlands. The Annandale Distillery produces single malt scotch and whiskey in Annandale, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. The distillery was first established in 1836 by a man named George Donald, who named the site after the valley in which it was situated and continued to produce single malt whiskey for 90 years. Unfortunately, in 1921 the distillery closed, until it was purchased again in 2007 by the Annandale Distillery Company. The site underwent a gruelling 10.5-million-pound restoration over a seven-year period, and now stands proudly in its former glory. Today the Annandale distillery conducts guided tours and tasting of its two types of single malt whisky, both matured in American oak barrels – an unpeated spirit that’s described as smooth and sophisticated.

Bladnoch distillery is a single malt Scotch whiskey distillery situated at Bladnoch, near Wigtown, Dumfries and Galloway. Situated on the banks of its river it is the southernmost whiskey distillery in Scotland. The distillery dates back to 1817 when John and Thomas McClelland were granted a licence to distil whisky on their Bladnoch farm in the Scottish Lowlands. The Bladnoch distillery is currently working on developing what it describes as a world class visitors experience, so be sure to keep up to date with the progress by visiting its website.

The Clyeside Distillery is located within the Pumphouse building at Glasgow’s famous Queen’s Dock. The distillery’s 140 years of history is brought to life through film, pictures and words which visitors can walk their way through either by guided or unguided tours. The Clyeside is able to produce up to 500,000 litres of spirits every year and has been described as having a light and fruity character. The distillery now continues the production of whiskey with an in-house café where visitors can enjoy delicious food and drinks. It is also available for exclusive hire, such as weddings, conferences and private parties.


Islay Whisky Distilleries 

It is believed that Irish monks originally introduced the production to Islay during the 14th century. Islay was a very fertile island for barley growth, with an excellent, pure water source, making this island the ideal place for the production of whiskey. Nowadays, there are currently eight working distilleries on Islay, although in ninth is set to open in coming years. Bowmore distillery is the first licence distillery in Islay and home to the oldest scotch whiskey maturation space in the world. Within this distilleries vaults, you’ll find more scotch history than anywhere else. For those who are lucky enough to the visit this beautiful island, a guided tour of this distillery is a must. Tours are available seven days a week, where you can unlock the secrets of what it takes to make Bowmore Whiskey.

Bowmore Distilery

Caol Ila, pronounced col-eela, Distillery is located on the north-eastern shores of Islay. It gets its name from the location in which it is situated and translates in Gaelic to ‘the sound of Islay’. This distillery considers every malt whiskey they produce as a masterpiece, with a wide range to choose from. In 2019 Caol Ila Will be celebrating the annual festival of music and Malt, with an array of events from 25th of May to the 1st of June.  There are a wide variety of tours available, each lasting between 1 hour and 1 ½ hours. So, why not consider adding a tour of Caol Ila to your holiday itinerary. Today, the distillery holds the title of the largest production of whiskey on the island of Islay and is often referred to as ‘The Whiskey Factory’.

One of three Kildalton Distilleries in the south of Islay, Lagavulin lies comfortably between Ardbeg and Laphroaig. Believed to have been illicitly distilling on this site as far back as the 18th century, Lagavulin produces single malt whiskey described as having a strong peat flavour accompanied by iodine undertones. These flavours tend to divide tasters dramatically, particularly newer scotch drinkers, customers usually fail to find common ground with their opinions. Today the distillery offers guided tours where visitors can witness experienced distillers at work and observe the unusual pear-shaped stills. Like Caol Ila, Lagavulin will also be featuring in the annual festival of Music and Malt in 2019.

Islay Whiskies

 Campbelltown Whisky Distilleries 

 Glen Scotia Distillery is a producer of single malt whiskey, situated in Campbelltown, Scotland.  More commonly referred to as ‘The Scotia’ or ‘Old Scotia’, this distillery is one of the five original Malt producing locations in Scottish history. Distilling here dates back to around the 1600’s, with Campbelltown dubbed the ‘Whiskey Capital of the World’ in Victorian times. Today, Glen Scotia aims to extend the range of its historical style and aims to introduce its produce to the next generation. The distillery prides itself on the use of the buildings original design, along with the original fermenters, still house and dunnage warehouse from the 1800’s. Tours are available to the public and the Glen Scotia Distillery is renowned for its remarkable service, making for a memorable experience.

Another distillery located in Campbelltown is the Springbank Distillery. Founded in 1828, the methods of its forefathers are still being used today. Using traditional production methods, the distillery claims to be the most hand-made whiskey producers in the country, with 100 percent of its produce made on site allowing distillers complete control over the quality of their whiskey. Visitors can enjoy guided tours of the distillery, carried out by experienced, knowledgeable members of staff to experience uncover the heritage and origins of this company.

Mitchell’s Glengyle distillery, founded by William Mitchell who also ran Springbank Distillery in Campbelltown with his brother John. This distillery produces single malt whiskey named Kilkerran. In 2004, after undergoing an extensive restoration and complying with the local area and listing buildings status, the Glengyle distilled its first spirit in over 125 years, expecting it to be ready by 2014. With various packages available to choose from, guests can choose from a brief guided tour and tasting session, to a premium, in-depth tour with whiskey legend Frank McHardy, who shares his 50 years of experience in the industry with visitors.

 Aberdeenshire Whisky Distilleries

Voted the number one distillery in Aberdeenshire by visitors, The Royal Lochnagar Distillery is situated near Balmoral Castle and is the perfect place to discover the production of scotch whiskey. Reconstructed in the 1960’s, the building still maintains its original features and character. In all aspects of the organisation, it is clear to see that quality is paramount. Not only in the process behind the quality of their products, but the quality of their visitor’s experiences too. There is an array of tours to choose from, where guests are able to uncover the history behind the liquids. The Royal Lochnager Distillery proceeds with filling its own casks on the premises, and quite unusually is home to a duty-paid warehouse. This is due to the distillery being home to Diageo’s Malt Advocate Academy. Bookings can be made online through the company’s website and is the perfect addition to any scotch-lover’s holiday itinerary.

Much like the Royal Lochnagar, the GlenDronach Distillery has been voted fantastic by past guests. Located in the Scottish town of Forgue is one of Scotland’s oldest working distilleries. The GlenDronach is a place of heritage, traditions and has been producing the finest sherried-single malt whiskeys for almost 200 years. Here you will find quality, guided tours running regularly throughout the day, in which you will learn of the buildings roots. Afterwards, you may wish to spend time at the visitors centre or find a memorable keepsake at the distillery’s on-site gift shop. The distillery promises to commit to perfecting the art of sherry cask maturation and produces Highland whiskeys that are most recognised for their deep colour and rich flavour profiles.

Voted number 9 out of the top 20 places to eat and drink in Aberdeenshire, the Knockdhu Distillery has an excellent reputation. Situated in the picturesque village of Knock in Aberdeenshire, this distillery promises to provide in-depth tours to members of the public, paying close attention not to rush or overlook any details in order to ensure its visitors are getting the full experience. The distillery is home to the single malt scotch whiskey named anCnoc, pronounced a-nock. The Knockdhu Distillery welcomes its guests and encourages visitors to explore the heritage of its production, tours can be scheduled online or via email. The company intends on amalgamating both the use of traditional methods for distilling their single malt and use them in a conventional way to reflect the contemporary design of their branding. They believe this results in a much finer, lighter tasting single malt without compromising on the quality. I suppose the only way to decide would be to book a tasting experience, right?

Whichever distillery you decide to go for will be a remarkable experience. Not only will you have a memorable visit, but you will have witnessed a piece of Scottish heritage. There is a vast amount of guided and un-guided tours to choose from which will compliment any scotch-lover’s trip perfectly, but even if you are not that heavily in-to whiskey, a visit to an authentic Scottish distillery is definitely one for your bucket list.

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