Love or loathe the ‘amber nectar’, a spot of whisky tasting often features highly on any wish-list during a Scottish self-drive trip and the Scots themselves certainly consider their whisky to be the best in the world!
There’s a huge variety of different whisky styles distilled around Scotland (just search online for a scotch whisky flavour map and you’ll see what we mean!) which all adds to the fun of the tasting and trying to get around a few different whisky producing areas.
There’s the smooth floral whiskies of the north-east across to the much smokier, richer, malts from the Islands of the West Coast. The Scots are rightly proud of their most famous export and it’s worth brushing up on few basics before engaging with the locals about their favourite tipple. Even small pubs & restaurants can feature an astonishing array of whisky so, as well as trying to get to a distillery or two, there’s no reason not try a ‘wee dram’!
Here’s a quick look at some of the most famous whisky producing areas around Scotland. Of course, if you have a particular favourite and would like to incorporate the distillery into your trip, let us know and we can make sure you can make a visit during your self-drive tour!
The valley of Speyside in Scotland’s north-east boasts more distilleries than any other part of the country - all taking advantage of the wonderful clear water from the River Spey. Most of the distilleries offer tours and tastings but, if in doubt, stick to the well-signed 70 mile ‘malt whisky trail’, which takes in eight distilleries and can be completed by car or tour.
Another option is to just head for your favourite distillery – a couple of popular options are Glenfiddich, which is the biggest of the Speyside distilleries offering free tours which are very well set up for visitors, and the much smaller, independent, Glenfarclas. Just outside the Speyside area, another one of our favourites (both for the smooth 15 year old malt and beautiful location in the foothills of the Grampian mountains!), Dalwhinnie run a fantastic tour which gives an insightful overview of the whole distilling process.
The Isle of Islay
For many whisky connoisseurs, there’s no better place to be in the world than this small island off Scotland’s west coast. The most southerly island of the Inner Hebrides, the Isle of Islay (pronounced ‘eye-la’) has beautiful, isolated beaches (Islay boasts 130 miles of coastline) and good walking trails, as well as being home to eight renowned whisky distilleries.
Islay whisky is unmistakable for its very peaty and smoked taste. All of the island’s distilleries offer tours and provide an excellent opportunity to sample their produce. Most passenger traffic to and from Islay goes by ferry using the route from Kennacraig on the mainland to Port Ellen (although it is also possible to fly).
Our suggestion, if time is limited, is to stick to the southern edge of the island down by Port Ellen and visit Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. If you’re feeling active, you can walk or cycle this route (3.5 miles each way), and bikes can be hired in Port Ellen.
Laphroaig - the self-proclaimed most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies – offers a great all round visitor experience. For particular Laphroaig fans and members of the ‘Friends of Laphroaig Club’ (which can be joined for free online if you purchase a bottle) make sure to bring your membership number with you and you can visit your own little plot of land on the Laphroaig estate and plant your country’s flag to mark your visit!
Lagavulin offers a more intimate experience and a cosy tasting lounge, while Ardbeg is the best option if you need some food to soak up some of the tastings – the Old Kiln Café offers plenty of Scottish classics on the menu and it has a great atmospheric setting in the former peat kiln of the distillery. All three have beautiful coastal settings.
There are many reasons to make the trip over to Skye – the incredible scenery, especially the spectacular Cuillin Hills, being a particular draw. But the whisky produced here at the Talisker distillery -the only whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye- with its picture perfect setting on the shores of Loch Harport (complete with dramatic views of the Cuillins) is well worth making the trip for. It’s a rich smoky malt whisky which, in our view, is absolutely fantastic!
The distillery has had a bit of a makeover recently but don’t let some of the modern branding put you off – the tour is informative and the new visitor centre is very well set up to guide you through the distilling process (and, of course, finishing with a dram!). The distillery is very popular and tours book up quickly so it is worth trying to book ahead if you’re tight on time (there’s a booking form on the Talisker website or you can call the visitor centre).
As a general tip, if you go to Talisker and plan to visit some other whisky producers while in Scotland, it’s a good idea to join the ‘classic malts’ society at the end of your visit. It’s entirely free and will give you free entry into a number of other distilleries owned by the same group (including Dalwhinnie and Lagavulin).
If you would like some help planning your whisky tasting tour around Scotland or would like us to create a tailor-made itinerary for your Scotland self-drive trip, please get in touch.