Within the broad world of whiskies, Scottish whisky or ‘Scotch’ has always been highly regarded. The first record of whisky production in Scotland dates back to 1494. With millions of liters produced every year, Scotland is the largest whisky producer. America, Ireland, and Japan are the other main countries. The competition is big, with more than twenty other countries producing high-quality whisky all around the world.
According to the world’s leading whiskey guide, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015, the world’s best whiskey is a Japanese single malt from Suntory, Japan’s oldest distillery with two American whiskies taking the 2nd and 3rd places.
Surprisingly not a single Scottish whisky made it to the top five, and if that’s not bad enough for the Scotch’s reputation, the best European whisky according to the Whisky Bible is English one!
The main criteria for a ‘Scotch’ that it must be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks. There are five distinct whisky regions in Scotland – Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Islay, and Campbelltown – each has its own characteristics.
Generally, the Lowland Malt Whiskies are lighter, and Islay whiskies are the heaviest Malt whiskies. Currently, there are over 80 distilleries in operation. Speyside has the most, 30 distilleries.
We have selected ten excellent Scottish distilleries to visit and try the water of life – the original name in Scottish Gaelic is uisge beatha, which means water of life.
Talisker Distillery is located on the magical Isle of Skye. It is a 2,5 hours scenic drive away from Inverness. Also, companies are offering one day tours from Inverness. Make sure to have your camera charged and add an extra hour on top of your original plans because the dramatic views of the Cuillin Mountains will make you stop for a shot. Once you arrive at the distillery, you can taste the whiskies after a guided tour. Talisker whiskies have a powerful and peppery taste and are moderately peaty.
The Balvenie Distillery is located in the heart of Speyside near Dufftown. The distillery offers one of the best tours and produces one of the best whiskies in the world, which you get to taste at the end of your glorious excursion. Balvenie Distillery offers the unique opportunity to give the visitor an insight into every whisky-making process, from malting the barley to coopering the barrels.
Lagavulin Distillery is located on Islay, the fifth-largest Scottish island and the most southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides. With public transport, it is possible to reach Glasgow by bus and ferry. On the guided tour, visitors can view most of the stages in the production process. However, the malting takes place in Port Ellen. Lagavulin whisky has all the Islay characteristics. They are peaty, smoky, salty, and powerful.
4. Highland Park
The most northerly distillery, Highland Park, is located on the Orkney Islands just off the north coast of Scotland. The distillery itself is enough reason to visit the archipelago. It still does things the old way, and visitors can see the fascinating process of whisky making in the stone buildings and cobbled alleys. There is a possibility for extensive tastings to try these unique subtle floral and smokey whiskies. Orkney is home to beautiful beaches, rich heritage, culture, and wonderful wildlife and birdlife.
Laphroaig Distillery is located on Islay, just like Lagavulin. The island is home to eight distilleries, so the competition between them is big. When you arrive in Port Ellen by ferry, there is a great view of the 3 distilleries along the coast (Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg). In the Visitor Center, there is a lounge reserved for ‘Friends of Laphroaig.’ It is a worldwide club for fans of the peaty, iodine notes of this whisky. Anyone can become a ‘friend’ who buys a bottle of Laphroaig and registers with the barcode online. Friends then get a lifetime lease on a square foot of Islay, and they can collect their own square foot, in the form of a miniature of Laphroaig, upon their visit to the distillery.
Benromach is a Speyside whisky produced by the smallest distillery in the region just outside of Forres. It is a truly handmade whisky, a creation of two experienced, passionate distillers. They use the finest Scottish barley and the purest spring water, ensuring that the product reaches the highest quality standards. You can have a personal tour with the Distillery Manager and even hand-fill your own unique bottle of Benromach Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Click here to visit their website.
Dalwhinnie is one of the highest distilleries in Scotland and also very popular among visitors. Like most other distilleries, Dalwhinnie no longer does its own malting. In the process, clear, crisp spring water and peat are used from a local source. The most spectacular part of the tour is visiting the still house, which has only two stills, but they are very large and stand under the orange spotlight, giving you the feeling that you are in a spacecraft. Dalwhinnie whiskies are gentle and smooth with heather, honey characteristics.
One of the most easily accessible islands in Scotland, Arran has a shape of ‘miniature’ Scotland. The distillery does everything in small batches and operates only with three men who do everything from the milling through the distilling to the warehousing operations. After touring the distillery, try their fine Scotch and spend a few days here to explore the stunning landscapes, ancient castles, and fascinating landmarks.
Glenmorangie Distillery has been producing whisky since 1843, located in the Scottish Highlands. It is the most popular single malt sold in Scotland itself and enjoyed by whisky lovers worldwide. The crafting is assigned to the care of only sixteen people: the Sixteen Men of Tain. Depending on what kind of barrel a whisky has been aged, it will get certain characteristics. Glenmorangie is available in a wide range of “finishes” such as aging in bourbon, sherry, port, or Madeira barrels.
Cragganmore is a Speyside whisky, with the distillery located just on the riverside of the River Spey. It is one of the most complex and characterful malt whisky. While Cragganmore is hard to find in the USA as it is not its target market, it is widely popular in Scandinavia. The distillery offers two different tours. The Distillery Tour gives the visitor the chance to see the distillation process and finish with a single malt glass. The other tour, called Expressions tour, offers a chance to visit the exclusive Clubroom and try three of the finest whiskies.