To mark International Scotch Day on Feb 8, we explore the five major whisky regions in Scotland and look at some distilleries that offer tours, tastings and fun-filled behind-the-scenes experiences
About 15 miles wide between Inverness and Aberdeen, the Speyside region is where most whisky distilleries are located, especially the bigger-name brands, getting their water from the River Spey. The typical flavour profile of malts from here include fruity and honeyed notes ,and quite a few are matured in sherry casks. These spirits tend to be widely appreciated and are considered a good starting point for those having whisky for the first time.
The tour at The Macallan Estate is not to be missed. Located in Easter Elchies, Craigellachie, this award-winning distillery offers a range of experiences that must be booked in advance. The Mastery Experience (£250 per person) is the most elaborate as it includes a welcome dram at The Macallan Whisky Wall, a dining experience at the Elchies Brasseries, an in-depth distillery tour, a tutored tasting and a whisky flight at The Macallan Bar.
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Another informative tour is at The Glenlivet headquarters, where guests can choose from three options: The Original distillery tour (£20), which takes you on the journey of the spirit; The Single Casks tasting (£40); and The Archives warehouse tour (£100), an exclusive experience that allows visitors to discover rare casks.
Other distilleries of note in the area include Aberlour, The Balvenie, Cardhu, Dufftown, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich and Mortlach.
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Covering most of Scotland — from northwest of Glasgow to the extreme north of the country — the Highlands feature a subcategory called “the islands”. Some would argue that this is the most picturesque region, with its mountains, coasts, glens, lochs and other natural formations. The whisky from here tends to be richer and dryer, with a few peaty varieties.
Located in Tain, north of Inverness, the Glenmorangie Distillery is known for having stills with necks as tall as giraffes. The one hour tour (£20),which takes visitors through its signature whisky, The Original, includes two drams at the end. The brand also has a luxurious boutique hotel called Glenmorangie House, near the shores of Moray Firth.
Clynelish is one of the Four Corners distilleries of the famed Johnnie Walker, and a tour of the coaster Sutherland home is available. Choose either the Clynelish Flavour Journey tour (£19), the Express Tasting (£15) or the candle-making workshop (£50).
If you are keen to visit one of the smallest Scotch distilleries, head to Oban for what is one of Scotland’s oldest sources of single malt Scotch whisky. While the Oban Distillery tour (£22) will take you through the rich history of the still, you can opt for the Oban Chocolate pairing experience (£45) or the Taste of Oban tutored flight (£22).
Other popular distilleries are Aberfeldy, Dalwhinnie, Glendronach, Old Pulteney, Strathearn and Tomatin.
Lowland whiskies are similar to their Irish counterparts, having been triple distilled, which lends them a softer expression. The distilleries are closer to heavily inhabited cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh, the border is drawn from Grenock to Dundee. The lowland stills produce light, sweet and somewhat floral malts, which are traditionally non-peated. There are not many distilleries in this area.
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Perhaps the closest to Glasgow, Auchentoshan is perfect for those who prefer a tour that is short, sweet and does not require a great deal of travelling. It also hosts corporate events. While there are a few tour options, the Behind Closed Doors Experience (£200) is a completely private late-evening session.
Glenkinchie, found in East Lothian, has a multi-sensory Distillery After Dark experience (£110) that includes a flight of six drams. More versed drinkers should give Glenkinchie’s Hidden Lowland Tour and Tasting (£135) a go as it includes stories, adventure and access to areas that are not normally open to guests.
Other brands of note in the lowlands are Bladnoch, The Glasgow Distillery, Kingsbarns and Lindores Abbey.
Islayisanislandwithapopulationofabout3,000.Itswhiskies are popular for being strong and peaty. Affectionately called “the whisky island”, Islay is worth the ferry ride over to visit all its distinctive whisky houses and take in the spectacular views. If you are into smoky flavours with a hint of salinity and a character of their own, then Islay spirits are for you.
The Bunnahabhain Distillery offers an unusual range of unpeated, sherry cask whiskies. While tastings are available, guests may also sign up for the Warehouse 9 Experience (£40),which includes a tasting of whisky matured in US and European oak casks.
A Dram Good Tasting (£65) allows you to sample Ardbeg’s young and old malts, from new make spirits to prized bottles. As this does not include a tour, you may also opt for Tour and Wee Taste (£12) to understand the process behind the brand’s popular amber liquid.
While on Islay, visit the Ardnahoe, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin and Laphroaig distilleries.
The smallest of the whisky regions is Campbeltown, which was the whisky capital of the world in 1825.It had 30 distilleries back then. But now, only three are located here. The area is known for producing briny and smoky whisky, often with a finish of vanilla and caramel.
History buffs will enjoy the Springbank tour (£12),which will give you insights into the distillery that has stood on the same spot since 1828. It is the only one in Scotland to have 100% of its processes on site, so you will not want to miss a moment. Tours are done in intimate groups of 12.
Visiting Glen Scotia for a tour (£10) will give guests a chance to discover the brand’s pivotal role in the history of whisky. For something more special, try the Dunnage Warehouse Experience (£55), which is only available from April, or the Manager’s Tour (£100), an immersive and private session.
Finally, the Glengyle Distillery, home to the Kilkerran single malt, offers tours of the distillery (£12) and The Washback Bar experience, which gives guests the chance to choose from tasting flights that feature new distillery releases