Scotland’s contributions to modern society are storied and numerous: great thinkers like Adam Smith and David Hume, sports like golf and shinty (you know…shinty), and bards such as Robert Burns and Robert Fergusson. Oh, and whisky.
The product of an almost mystical alchemy, the process of creating single malt whisky transforms pure island spring water into a fascinating and complex golden spirit. Whisky is surely the most intoxicating example of Scottish ingenuity.
Aberlour (Banffshire, Moray)
Situated on the edge of the tiny town that shares its name, the Aberlour distillery offers the most immersive tasting tours in Scotland. The detailed tour takes you through the founding and history of the distillery as you wind through the tidy production and storage buildings.
Wise and often hilarious guides keep you engaged en route to the crown jewel of the tour; the tasting room, a cozy shelter with cask-built tables and a floor-to-ceiling window looking on to hundreds of resting barrels. Each tour-goer settles down to an array of six drams, from raw spirit to cask strength A’bunadh, posed with the impossible challenge of staying sober.
Talisker (Carbost, Skye)
From the shores of Loch Harport in eastern Skye comes a whisky as an enigmatic and volatile as the local weather. Talisker. This small operation with its strong traditions and classic equipment offers an informative and generous tasting tour that requires advance booking.
The tour culminates in a series of tastings, including the fiery 10-year old and the rich 25-year old expressions, that have guests calling out tasting and nosing notes. As the drams run dry, strangers become friends while outside the weather and the looming Cuillin hills make for an enchanting backdrop.
Edradour (Pitlochry, Perthshire)
The smallest distillery in Scotland also puts the smallest dent in your wallet – the tours are free! The farmhouse Edradour distillery sits in the hills east of Pitlochry and proves that excellent whisky is all in the craft. And that craft is the expression of just three men; the majority of the staff work in the visitor center and as tour guides.
The old-time washbacks and mash tuns give way to a visitor’s center replete with the full range of Edradour whiskies, a staggering number considering the small annual production. Give the Port Wine finish a try – you won’t regret it.
Highland Park (Kirkwall, Orkney)
Across the Pentland Firth from the northern tip of Scotland lie the Orkney Islands and the famous Highland Park distillery. Highland Park’s distinctive pagoda overlooks the port city of Kirkwall, and it kicks off its tour with a bang as guests receive a free taste of their lauded single malt during an introductory video.
As the tour progresses through the old stone buildings, stop and admire the malting floor – Highland Park is one of the few remaining distilleries that malts its own barley. The tour deposits visitors in its lavish gift shop where hard-earned dollars are bid brief goodbyes.
Glenfiddich (Dufftown, Banffshire)
Glenfiddich is the world’s best-selling whisky, and the distillery has one of the most popular tours in the country. Like many of the tourist attractions in Scotland, Glenfiddich’s visitor experience is a multimedia extravaganza.
The tour details the whisky-making process as well as the strength of spirit and independence that went into making Glenfiddich a household name around the world. Enjoy a taste of the mainstay 12-year old or the 80-proof liqueur as the tour ends, and take satisfaction that you’re in the whisky-capitol of the world.