A Rundown of Scotland’s 3 Most Famous Whisky Distilleries

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Hardcore collectors and whisky novices alike are increasingly turning their interest in the spirit into an experience they’ll never forget.

Whisky tourism is booming, with the Scotch Whisky Association recording 1.9 million visits to distilleries in its 2017 annual survey —11.4% more than the previous year. And with plans to reopen closed distilleries like Port Ellen, the industry is set to grow even further. This guide covers some of the most renowned whisky regions and distilleries in Scotland, which may help you plan your next trip.

1. Glenkinchie

Home of ‘The Edinburgh Malt’, Glenkinchie is one of the Lowland distilleries, and only 15 miles from the Scottish capital. Farmers John and George Rate built and operated the facility under the name Milton Distillery in 1825, before licensing and renaming it Glenkinchie in 1837. In 1968, it closed its traditional floor maltings—the historic technique of preparing barley for fermentation and turning it into malted barley— and transformed it into a distillation museum.

A visit to Glenkinchie is characterised by its friendly, personal touch, with tour guides often telling stories about current and former employees of the distillery. You can also create your own personal memories of the day as, unlike most distilleries, you are also welcome to take photographs during weekend trips when distilling is not taking place.

Once you’ve seen everything the museum has to offer, followed by a complimentary dram of Glenkinchie 12-year-old single malt, you can then take a tour of the distillery. Here, you’ll learn about each stage of producing single malt whisky, while also catching a glimpse of one of the largest copper pot stills in Scotland. After a trip to the traditional warehouse, you can then head to the distillery’s bar for a shot or two.

There are a number of different visitor experiences available. The Flavour of Scotland Tour offers you the chance to compare Glenkinchie to other single malts around Scotland, while the Expression Tour provides an in-depth tasting of six Glenkinchie expressions in the distillery’s VIP Rate Room, which includes exclusive cask samples. Or, how about placing yourself in the hands of a true expert as part of the Manager’s Tasting? This gives you a tutored tasting conducted by the distillery manager himself, as well as your very own copita glass and an exclusive bottle of Glenkinchie. If nature is more your thing, opt for the Whisky in the Wild Tour. You can sample four whiskies from the Flora and Fauna range as you explore the Glenkinchie wildlife, which teaches you about the local natural history of the area, and take home a souvenir branded Glencairn glass and lanyard.

Transport can be covered by the distillery’s handy shuttle bus service, eliminating the need for a designated driver. Prices for a day at Glenkinchie range from £4-£150 depending on which experience you pick. Tailor-made group and evening tours are also available, with prices varying according to your requirements.

2. Talisker

The oldest working distillery on the Isle of Skye, Talisker is the only one on the famous island which is currently open to the public. Famous for its deep and elemental character that’s echoed by its rugged, windswept home, a trip to Talisker also gives you a chance to savour the breathtaking views of the Cuillin mountains.

For just £10, visitors to the Talisker distillery get the opportunity to see the five copper pot stills and traditional worm tubs that make its whisky so unique. You can also explore the casks in the warehouse where the Angel’s Share—the amount of distilled spirits lost—evaporates during maturation, and taste the award-winning Talisker Single Malt Scotch Whisky at the bar. However, do note that this is a free taster as opposed to a dram.

Other options include the Talisker Flight tour (£25), which take place at noon on weekdays. This gives you an insight into the inner workings of the distillery and the processes required to produce a single malt, as well an informal tasting of several Talister expressions. Each taster is also complemented by a handmade chocolate. For a more comprehensive insight into the distillery and a taster of five unique expressions, choose the Talisker Tasting Tour (£40). This also gets you a complimentary nosing glass, which makes the perfect memento of the day.

3. Laphroaig

Laphroaig is the most famous of the Islay whiskies, and continues to be the region’s biggest worldwide seller. It is also the favourite whisky of Prince Charles, and even bears his Royal Warrant. The island of Islay, cast adrift off the west coast of Scotland, is a year-round haven for wildlife like pilot whales, bottle-nosed dolphins, and sea eagles. As for the people, Islay is home to a strong and independent community who work tirelessly to ensure Laphroaig always stays true to its origins, defined by a distinctive hardiness and single-mindedness.

Laphroaig was opened by brothers Donald and Alexander Johnston in 1825, and to this day, still employs centuries-old methods of making whisky. Unlike the majority of Scotch distilleries, Laphroaig has retained its own floor maltings, and you can catch a glimpse of the process during a tour. This is particularly unusual given the substantial size of the distillery, which boasts seven stills and a capacity of over 3 million litres per annum.

The distillery’s range of tours caters to all levels of interest in whisky. The basic option, which costs £10, consists of a guided tour followed by a choice of three drams at the bar. If you’re more concerned with tasting than touring, the Layers of Laphroaig Tasting (£20) allows you to explore the flavours of each individual cask, which combine to create the Laphroaig Select Single Malt. The Distillers Wares package (£70) follows a tour with tastings from a selection of casks in the warehouse.

The most extensive choice is the Water to Whisky Experience (£100). This four-and-a-half hour tour includes a look around the distillery, a picnic lunch, a visit to the Laphroaig water source and peat banks (where you can cut the peat yourself), and tasting. If you sign up for the Distillers Wares or Water to Whisky tours, you can also bottle your favourite whisky to take home as part of the cost. For the ultimate luxury, you can even book Laphroaig privately for an exclusive tailored visit, which runs to an extra £200 on top of the base cost of the tour. Alternatively, visitors can simply browse the small museum in the Laphroaig visitor centre, and make the most of the distillery’s impressive gift shop—which include quirky products like Laphroaig cheese, as well as quality whiskies and other memorabilia.  

The distillery has also emphasised its community spirit through its Friend of Laphroaig scheme. Launched in 1994, Friends of Laphroaig is a global group of fans and followers. By becoming a member, you have the chance to become a ‘whisky landlord’ and receive an honorary plot in the Laphroaig peat fields. The next time you return to the plot, you’ll receive a dram of Laphroaig as ‘rent’ for your land. Being part of Friends of Laphroaig also bags you online discounts, special bottlings, and first dibs on all news, events and competitions. It’s free to sign up, so don’t miss out during your trip.

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