Scotland for the Whisky Tourist (Part 2)

The A9
Last month we explored the distilleries of central and southern Scotland. If, however, your tour takes you north, a few points break up the journey on the east.

From Edinburgh to Perth via Stirling will award the opportunity of a stop at the also now independently owned Tullibardine distillery. Beyond Perth, off the main north arterial route (A9), two genuinely world famous blends offer the chance to immerse one’s self in branding at The Famous Grouse Experience (Glen Turret Distillery, cooking with whisky classes offered) and the World of Dewars (Aberfeldy distillery).

A short hop takes you to another blend’s (Bells) home at Blair Athol distillery in Pitlochry as well as another privately owned still at Edradour. Rejoining the trail north to Inverness, stop for a break at Dalwhinnie, before choosing to continue north via Tomatin to Inverness or veering east to the heart of production, Speyside, with its twice annual whisky festivals.

Taking an eastward turn really opens up possibilities, as more than half of Scotland’s distilleries are to be found in the triangle marked by Grantown-on-Spey, Nairn and Keith: Speyside. Taking its name from the rich salmon grounds of the river Spey, the area boasts some of the most famous names in single malt circles. To name them all would be overwhelming, so let’s stick to those openly welcoming visitors. Glenfarclas, Aberlour, Macallan, Cardhu, Cragganmore, Glen Grant, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Glenlivet (whisky school available), Glen Moray, Benromach and Strathisla.

Like some people, these places all have their own personalities well worth getting acquainted with. As whisky tourism evolves it is now possible to not just have a simple tour of a distillery, but to indulge in various levels of ‘investigation’, with some distilleries offering a thorough look at how the contents of a barrel are created and the range offered after those years in wood.

Beyond the opportunity to see first hand who and how to thank for your favourite dram, Speyside also provides many watering holes almost essential for inclusion in a Uisge beatha odyssey. Favourites include the Highlander Inn, the Fiddichside and the Craigellachie Hotel all in Craigellachie as well as the Grouse Inn on the Cabrach road. Also of note is the museum distillery of Dallas Dhu near Forres and the Speyside Cooperage at Craigellachie.

Outlets include the Whisky Castle at Tomintoul, Gordon and MacPhail in Elgin, the Dufftown whisky Shop and Duncan Taylor and Essons in Huntly.

Returning south from Speyside may take you past Glen Garioch in Old Meldrum, off the A96, to Aberdeen then Fettercairn or past the Lecht to Royal Lochnagar distillery near Balmoral and Braemar.

Heading north from Inverness, take your pick of Ord, Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Balblair then Clynelish before running out of dry land at Pulteney in Wick. Any further adventures require the services of a ferry if Highland Park or Scapa, both on Orkney, are to feature.

Stops along the way include The Anderson Hotel in Fortrose, the Black Isle, known for beer, food and drams as well, John, Scott & Millar in Kirkwall, Orkney for more provisions.

On the route south it is not just a change of scenery which makes the long journey west across the top of Caithness then down to Kyle of Lochalsh for the bridge to Skye and Talisker worthwhile as John and Frances Clotworthy’s private still at Aultbea offers a unique opportunity to make your own spirit.

As well as Talisker on Skye you have Ben Nevis at Fort William and Tobermory on Mull to the south. Back on the mainland a call at Oban distillery will break up the long stretch to Campbeltown and the most traditional of all distilleries, Springbank and its reborn neighbour Glen Gyle.

Returning up Kintyre the expense and effort of the journey to Islay can surely be rewarded many times over as the sense of time and place is so magical on this special island. Home to Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain, Bruichladdich, with another school facility, and now Kilchoman, three nights are probably needed to make the most of the Hebridean hospitality. If this isn’t enough, remember the Isla of Jura distillery is but a short sea journey east. If scheduling your visit for the annual Feis Ile festival book early as accommodation is stretched.

On your return leave time to call into Loch Fyne Whiskies in Inverary.

Perhaps the dream of trekking round the still rooms of Scotland might take a while to turn into reality so can I suggest you do your homework first and embark on a virtual tour glass by glass, just to whet the appetite.

Although not bang up-to-date, ‘Visiting Distilleries’ by Wendy and Duncan Graham is a marvellously comprehensive resource for choosing the most suitable stills to stop at. (ISBN
1-903238-64-1) You can purchase this book from Amazon here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *