The distilling of whisky in Scotland is a craft steeped in history, dating all the way back to the 15th century. Over hundreds of years, the art of whisky distilling has become deeply embedded in Scottish culture, and the end product of one of the most popular spirits in the world, selling 1-2 billion bottles every year.
Surrounded by the stunning and dramatic Scottish scenery, visiting a Scotch whisky distillery is one of the most astounding experiences for connoisseurs and novices alike.
With over 120 licensed distilleries across the 6 whisky regions in Scotland, the Highlands, the Islands, Speyside, the Lowlands, Islay and Campbeltown, Scotch whisky enthusiasts really are spoilt for choice. Not sure where to start? Not to worry! For a comprehensive understanding of all things whisky, you can begin by reading our whisky guide. Once you’ve taken in all of the whisky wisdom in our guide, read our list of the best distilleries to visit in each Scotch whisky region and reasons to go that will make you want to clear your calendar and head to Scotland straight away!
Scotch Whisky Distilleries to Visit
Speyside, a small pocket in the north of Scotland, boasts the greatest concentration of malt whisky producers, with 50 distilleries. They are built on the River Spey, which plays a great part in creating the whisky from this region’s identity, as the water is particularly pure. You can also follow the malt whisky trail which takes you to 9 distilleries in Speyside, or attend the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival for a more comprehensive understanding of this whisky region as a whole. But if you’re just looking for one or two to visit, look no further!
Founded by Helen Cumming in 1811, Cardhu was the first and still is the only distillery founded by a woman. The different whiskies and single malts that are produced here are just as fascinating as the distillery’s meandering history. Cardhu produces a variety of blended and single malt whiskies and even has a ‘Guess Dhu’ tour for those who want to make whisky tasting a competitive sport.
No distillery tour would be complete without a stop at Glenfiddich, the most awarded distillery that has been supplying Scots with their favourite whisky since 1886. Glenfiddich has grown its reputation and brand through 5 generations of the Grant family, working their way to the very top. Seeing how they create the spirit that earned them this position is a must! If you only have time to visit one distillery, Glenfiddich is undoubtedly the best choice. It is the perfect combination of still being family-run while also being a large scale operation that produces 10 million litres of whisky a year, which accounts for a staggering 30% of all single malt sales worldwide. The site itself is expansive, with 43 warehouses that can hold 800,000 casks, one of the last cooperages and on-site bottling lines still in operation in Scotland, and a visitor’s centre that was recently given a £1,7 million makeover. Glenfiddich was the first distillery to open a visitor’s centre, and has set the bar incredibly high ever since, ensuring that they offer guests a highly informative and enjoyable experience. Glenfiddich truly is a whisky wonderland.
For an exclusive experience of the Glenfiddich distillery, join our four-day Scotch whisky expedition where you will be able to live and breathe all things whisky in a way that has never been possible before. Glenfiddich is opening its on-site accommodation exclusively to participants of the expedition, making this the most immersive experience that has ever been available. The expedition includes comprehensive tours and tasting sessions in small groups, a lavish gala dinner with a VIP guest and even the chance to blend your own whisky to take home.
Surrounded by ghosts of distilleries past, only 3 distilleries are now in operation of the 30 that once earned Campbeltown the accolade of whisky capital of the world. Despite being the smallest whisky producing region in Scotland nowadays, Campbeltown is still an essential stop on any whisky lover’s adventure, known for producing highly distinctive single malts particularly unique to this area.
Founded in 1828, Springbank is the oldest whisky distillery in Campbeltown. Springbank also proudly holds the title of the oldest independent family-owned distillery in Scotland, now owned and run by the original founder’s great, great grandson. Dedicated to preserving their traditional approach to whisky distilling, Springbank is now the only distillery in Scotland to carry out the entire production process of its delicious whisky on site.
With rolling hills, the tallest mountain in the UK, mystical lochs, golden beaches and woodland, the Highlands is one of most stunning areas in the world. The breathtakingly dramatic scenery is all the more attractive as it is home to over 40 distilleries that soak up the variety of their surroundings, making this region the producer of the most diverse range of whiskies. The North is known for more full bodied, even spicy whiskies, while those distilled in the South are lighter and fruitier and those near the sea pack a peatier punch and more maritime influences. To whittle 40 distilleries that are all unique in their own right down to just a couple is a tricky task, but we have selected two that are particularly worth a special mention.
With only 3 people overseeing Edradour’s operation, this is Scotland’s smallest distillery, but also one of the most popular to visit due to its quaint feel and personal approach to their tours. The humble scale of this distillery and their highly traditional approach offers a unique experience of whisky production that you will only find here in Edradour. You will truly feel like you’ve stumbled across a hidden gem frozen in time. Edradour will welcome you with open arms and guide you around the charming distillery for only £10.
On the other end of the scale is Glenmorangie, a Northern Highland distillery owned by Moët Hennessy and producer of one of the most popular whiskies. Glenmorangie uses the tallest stills in the whole country, which produces a fresher and purer spirit. This distillery is also particularly known for the complexity of their whiskies which stems from their use of different woods and casks during the maturation process. Glenmorangie is also credited with creating the art of extra-maturation, a process of transferring the whisky to different casks to add layers of flavour and tone. Offering a wide range of tours, visits of the grounds and tasting masterclasses, Glenmorangie is a must-see for any whisky enthusiast!
Roughly 800 islands are dotted around Scotland’s coastline but only a handful produce whisky. These distilleries are particularly unique due to their stunning locations on various picturesque islands. The whiskies they produce take on a character specific to the Islands through their interaction with this landscape, often described as bearing a maritime quality, or as absorbing the saltiness or ocean spray of the environment in which they mature.
Isle of Jura
With only one row of charming whitewash cottages on the seafront that is surrounded by untamed land and gorgeous beaches, the Isle of Jura is both peaceful and wild, an attraction to visit in itself. As well as offering breathtaking views and scenery, the Isle of Jura is home to a distillery that is the beating heart of the small community that inhabits the island. Founded in 1810, the Jura distillery fell into disrepair for many years, and was given a new lease of life by two passionate members of the community and is now completely rebuilt and stronger than ever.
Off the west coast of Scotland, Islay is the largest whisky-producing island and is thought of as its own region, with a total of 8 distilleries that are known for their peaty single malts.
Bruichladdich represents the perfect balance of a traditional yet progressive approach to whisky production, their aim being to respect the past but not live in its shadow. In the idyllic setting on the shore of Loch Indaal, Bruichladdich is faithful to the traditional process, every stage of the operation being carried out on the island, but is also unafraid to venture into new territory, now producing gin for instance, and adding new twists to classic whisky production methods.
The distilleries located in the rolling countryside of southern Scotland produce lighter, more delicate and elegant single malts known as ‘lowland ladies’. The distilleries in this region are also the most accessible thanks to their proximity to Edinburgh and Glasgow, some just a few miles or shuttle bus ride away.
Glenkinchie has been distilling top quality whisky, often nicknamed the ‘Edinburgh malt’ as it is only 15 miles from the capital, since 1837. They now produce 1,3 million litres of whisky a year, which equates to 3 bottles for every person in Scotland.
What are you waiting for?
Visiting a Scotch whisky distillery is the most unique adventure that allows you to experience the stunning Scottish landscape in the best way possible – while learning everything about whisky production and sampling the end product! You’ll gain a newfound appreciation for the spirit you love through understanding the work, passion and skill that goes into making each malt unique, from region to region but also distillery to distillery. From the same basic ingredients – barley, water and yeast – stem hundreds of whiskies with different notes and flavours, a true testament to the importance of the production process carefully developed and perfected in each distillery. This list of course only scratches the surface, but is a great place to start your whisky adventure!
For more information about our scotch whisky expedition, click here.