With winter officially ending on 21st March, there’s no better time to plan for an adventure around Scotland’s diverse landscape than now. Filled with majestic mountains, wild nature, and vistas at almost every turn, the region has plenty to offer both tourists and locals alike .
More so if you’re a Scotch whisky lover. The epicentre of whisky production has not only some of the best terrains for producing such varied single malts, but also some of the most immersive and exclusive visitor experiences in the whisky world.
Diageo’s upgrade to its existing network of 12 distillery visitor centres supports the creation of a new generation of Scotch enthusiasts. Of these, four — Glenkinchie in the Lowlands, Cardhu in Speyside, Caol Ila on Islay, and Clynelish in the highlands — are crucial to the art of blending and represent the ‘four corners of Scotland’. They’ll be conveniently linked directly to the Johnnie Walker venue in Edinburgh.
Even Johnnie Walker fans will appreciate this list — as the first four distilleries all have a part to play in creating the blends that people have known and loved for so long. Here are the five best Scotch whisky distillery tours to sign up for this spring.
Proud home of ‘The Edinburgh Malt’, Glenkinchie Distillery lies nestled amongst the rolling farmlands of East Lothian, a convenient 30 minutes away from the bustling city. Today, it’s one of the few Lowland distilleries that are still in production.
Despite being operated under relative obscurity for years — having being founded illegally by the Rate brothers in 1825 under the name of Miltion distillery — the Glenkinchie Distillery has now opened its doors to fans for tours around its legendary property.
Each tailored-made for different types of whisky aficionados, the tours range from a simple exhibition on the original Malting Floors and the model distillery, to the Manager’s Tasting package, where connoisseurs are taken on an exclusive tasting of six different expressions with the distillery’s manager. Meanwhile, those dreaming of experiencing the picturesque Lowlands during spring with a glass of Scotch in hand will surely revel in the Whisky in the Wild Tour, which includes a sampling of Glenkinchie’s Flora and Fauna single malts.
Tucked within a quiet town near Port Askaig, the Caol Ila distillery has overlooked the stunning shores of Islay since it was built in 1846. As the largest distillery on the Isle of Islay, the revered property is famous for its peaty whisky, often medium-bodied with a well-rounded flavour.
A standard tour here includes not only the panoramic views of the Paps of Jura, but also the inner workings of the historic premises as visitors walk amongst the distillers tending to the six copper stills within. Those with a sweet tooth will be inclined to opt for the Chocolate and Whisky Tasting, where Caol Ila’s exceptional whiskies are paired with chocolates from the award-winning Highland Chocolatier.
Though first built in 1819 by the Marquess of Stafford, Clynelish’s present-day distillery now operates in a larger, more modern site across the road as Sutherland’s only fully-functioning distillery.
Because of its fortunate location in the popular coastal holiday town of Brora, the Highland distillery is often a stop for those on a pilgrimage to the world’s whisky hot spots. Here, the Taste of Clynelish Tour is accompanied by a tasting of the Clynelish Distillery Only Cask Strength Bottling, while The Clynelish Experience takes things a notch higher with the opportunity to sample exclusive whiskies by the brand.
Nestled within the idyllic heart of Speyside, the Cardhu Distillery continues its legacy as the only malt distillery that was pioneered by a woman, producing world-class malt whiskies since its establishment in 1811 as an illicit distillery.
Until this day, the generous and progressive spirit of its founders Helen Cumming is apparent at the distillery, where guided tours are made more interactive with a whisky guessing game and a chance to make history on the Hall of Fame. Visitors looking for a more comprehensive journey through the distillery have the option of the Cardhu Collection Tour, which also includes a tasting of six of its famous single malts.
A visit to the Isle of Skye isn’t complete without a tour of the legendary Talisker Distillery. Set on the shores of Loch Harpot and in the heart of a quaint village called Carbost, it’s the oldest working distillery on the isle, and offers the most dramatic views of the Cuilins range.
Its scenery makes for a befitting setting for the distinctively smoky and full-bodied single malts it has come to be known for, but you’ll have to step into the distilling grounds to fully comprehend the work that goes behind its award-winning creations. For ardent fans, the Talisker Tasting Tour is recommended for its in-depth look behind the scenes, followed by a tutored tasting of five expressions of Talisker.