There are currently over 150 active distilleries in Scotland and has five distinct whisky regions which are Highland, Speyside, Lowland, Islay, and Campbeltown – which all have unique characteristics and flavours that differentiate one from the other. The whisky industry accounts for 80% of Scottish food and drink exports and impacts 200 markets worldwide. The whisky sector generates £3.3 billion to the UK economy each year and attracts over one million visitors to the distilleries alone. This blog post will home in on the top five whisky distilleries across the five distinct regions in Scotland!
- Dalmore, Alness
The Dalmore name dates back to 1263, when Colin of Kintail, who is the chief of the clan Mackenzie, saved King Alexander III of Scotland from a charging stag. To say thank you, the King allowed Colin the right to use the Royal Stag logo as the Mackenzie clan crest which is now used as the whisky brand on every bottle. The distillery itself was established hundreds of years later in 1839 by Alexander Matheson. The tour at Dalmore lasts around an hour with each one being at 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm at a cost of £8. It is essential to book in the summer months as it is very busy and allows only twelve people to take part in the tour at one time. In a recent visit, my friend Alex and I were taken around Dalmore for a tour by Annemarie who has worked there for four summer seasons. Annemarie was excellent – she was friendly, confident and knew exactly what she was talking about. The best thing about Dalmore is that you can see how the whisky is developed when going through the different stages. It is presented in a room with the start of the process at one end and the final Dalmore whisky at the other. As well as this, it showcases the different spices and ingredients which are added to the whisky to get its distinctive taste, it is a great way to fully understand how the whisky is made. After being shown around the distillery, we were then offered a dram of the 12 year old Dalmore in a beautiful tasting room and a video that showed the history of the whisky was displayed for us to watch. Overall a great tour and the whisky tastes beautiful too!
2. Glenmorangie, Tain
Glenmorangie is situated in the north highlands just outside the town of Tain. Glenmorangie offers three tours within the distillery itself – these are the Original Tour, the Signet Tour and the Heritage tour. The original tour lasts between 30 and 40 minutes and includes a guide of the distillery and learning about the flagship whisky, Glenmorangie Original. At the end of the tour you are also offered a taste of the whisky itself. This tour is great value at only £7 per person.
3. Ardbeg, Islay
Ardbeg distillery is situated on the ‘Land of the whisky’ Isle of Islay and the distillery is beautifully placed beside the shore in Port Ellen. The peat distinguishes Islay’s single malts from those of other regions. Burned in kilns to dry the malted barley, it has been formed over millions of years. Ardbeg offers an array of tours starting from the ‘Distillery tour and wee taste’ at £6 per person. The distillery also has a lovely cafe called the ‘The Old Kiln café, which is appropriately named as it is literally where the peat used to be burned for the whisky itself.
4. Talisker, Isle of Skye
Talisker is the only active distillery left on the popular tourist destination of the Isle of Skye. It is set on the shores of Loch Harport with views of the rocky mountains known as the ‘Cuillins’. The distillery offers three different tours, Talisker Classic Distillery Tour, the Talisker Flight and the Talisker Tasting Tour. The classic tour lasts around 45 minutes and includes a tasting of Talisker itself at the price of £10. The Talisker Flight tour is designed for tourists that have more time to experience the full Talisker whisky. It lasts between one and a half hours and offers a taste of the whisky in a less formal setting. The Talisker tasting tour is an in depth experience of the distillery that also allows tasting of five different expressions of Talisker. The tour lasts approximately two hours and costs £40 per person.
5. Aberlour, Speyside
The distillery can be found in the lovely town of Aberlour in Moray. The distillery offers two bespoke tours named ‘The Aberlour Experience’ and the ‘Casks from the Past Tasting’. The extraordinarily pure, soft spring water used for making Aberlour whisky is drawn from nearby natural lochs which gives its distinct flavours. The Aberlour Experience offers a tour of the distillery and a tasting of six expressions of Aberlour itself. For all of this it costs just £15 per person and lasts around one and a half hours. The Casks from the Past Tasting is more directed at whisky enthusiasts which allows you to try some unique drams that aren’t ready available at any price. For this the tour lasts only one hour but does not include a tour of the distillery, available for £35 per person!
6. Springbank, Campbeltown
Being based in Campbeltown, the once proclaimed ‘whisky capital of the world’ has been going since 1828 and is now owned by the fifth generation of the Mitchell family. The distillery offers seven tours altogether ranging from the cheapest being the Springbank Tour to the most expensive being the Frank McHardy Tour. The Springbank Tour at £7 offers a look around the distillery with a tasting of the whisky at the end. The Frank McHardy Tour offers an exclusive day with Frank McHardy himself who has over 50 years’ experience in the whisky industry. The tour also offers a lunch with Frank McHardy followed by tasting an array of different whisky’s favoured by Frank himself.