Speyside, north of Aberdeen, is the true heartland of whisky. From Cragganmore, with its complex blends and exclusive clubroom (think roaring fire and lots of antlers) for connoisseur whisky tastings, to Glenlivet, which sits in a remote glen and organises a variety of tours, from classic distillery poke-arounds to luxury samplings. Speyside is also home to Strathisla, which is the oldest working whisky distillery in Scotland (established in 1786) and, with its distinctive pagodas, may also be the most beautiful distillery in the country.
The recent success story of the region is Copper Dog, a blended-malt created in 2016 at the beautiful 19th century Craigellaiche Hotel. It’s proved a hit thanks to its down to earth price and taste, and the fact it goes pretty well in a cocktail or three. The hotel is home to the wonderful Copper Dog pub, named after the copper device historically used to ‘re-appropriate’ the good stuff from barrels, which is the watering hole of choice for Speyside’s whisky-makers. Prop up the bar for the best drams around with some of Scotland’s greatest blenders.
Some of Scotland’s best-known whiskies are born here. Glenmorangie, set on the beautiful shores of the Dornoch Firth, has been making whisky since 1843 and is a prime destination for connoisseurs. Visitors can stay in the impressive 17th century Glenmorangie house, take a tasting masterclass and embark on a distillery tour with the ‘Men of Tain.’ In Perthshire you can find the award-winning The Famous Grouse Experience, which will teach you plenty about the making of Famous Grouse and reveal the process behind the production of Glenturret, Scotland’s ‘oldest single malt’.
Head to the charming coastal town of Oban for, you guessed it, the Oban distillery. One of the most historic in Scotland, and certainly one of the smallest. With only two pot stills, visitors can see how traditional craftsmanship is employed, before enjoying a complimentary dram of Oban’s 14-year old West Highland Malt.
The Isle of Jura
On the west coast of Scotland, approximately 60 miles from Glasgow, is the Isle of Jura. You couldn’t get any more remote than this; with one road, one pub and, yes, one distillery, this is an island hugged by craggy shoreline and beautiful sandy bays, where the deer far outnumber the human population. It was also once described by George Orwell, who wrote 1984 here as ‘the most un-get-at-able place’. Nowadays you can get there fairly easily, and it’s worth the trip, if only to visit the Jura distillery, where the master blenders say that each Jura whisky is imbued with the ‘smokiness of superstition’ unique to the island. Should you wish to stay the night, you’ll have to go with the island’s one and only hotel Jura Hotel, naturally.
The whiskies made here are affectionately known as ‘The Lowland Ladies’ for their (arguably) soft taste. A fair assessment or not, the Lowlands certainly offers whisky distilleries with a different attitude. Urban bases make for a distinctive experience, such as the vast Clydeside Distillery on the banks of the river Clyde in Glasgow. This industrial space at Queen’s Dock runs a variety of tours and even a Glaswegian history lesson in ‘The Dockside Story’. In the heart of Glasgow is the Auchentoshan Distillery, which prides itself on being ‘more tarmac than tartan’ and runs a multitude of tastings and tours, all with complimentary drams, of course. Just a stone’s throw from Edinburgh is Glenkinchie Distillery, which runs a shuttle bus to and from the capital and whose exhibition tour will only set you back a fiver (with a dram included).
The Isle of Raasay
For a truly special experience, head to the remote Isle of Raasay. Officially opened in September 2017, with accommodation to open this month, Raasay Distillery it is the first ever legal whisky distillery on this tiny Hebridean island. Just east of Skye, it is only 14 miles in length and boasts just 120 inhabitants. The opening is a major event; converting a disused Victorian Gothic villa, Borodale House, into a distillery, visitor centre and hotel, and utilising the skills of, almost exclusively, native islanders. They are currently hard at work creating their first Raasay single malt, which will be available to drink in 2020. A stay here will guarantee, not only breathtaking views of this stunning little island, but the unique opportunity to see a new whisky being born.