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The Ultimate Malt Whisky Discovery
7 Scotland Distillery Tours Reviewed
If you’re an amateur of the Water of Life you won’t want to miss this review of 7 malt whisky discoveries experienced while driving for 14 days around Scotland. Many miles were covered to visit them, in a wide geographical area, from the known Whiskey region of Speyside to the Isle of Skye all the way to the Orkney Islands. In this post, you’ll get an honest opinion and insights about those seven Scotland Whisky distillery tours with some money-saving tips.
When the decision was made to visit Scotland, from the get-go it had to include Speyside.
With over half of Scotland’s distilleries located in Speyside, it’s the must-visit destination for whisky lovers. Four fun-filled days in Speyside were enjoyed which included tours of Aberlour, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Cardhu.
Even though each individual tour explains overall the same information as to the fermentation and distillation steps, each these Scotch distillery has some notable differences in technique, history and/or process. Many noteworthy distilleries were visited during this Scotland self-drive tour, stopping in at Talisker, Oban and Highland Park during this Scotland itinerary. We just couldn’t help ourselves…Also included are some pictures that were taken of other distillery venues which happened to be along the way!
This review of distilleries tours is entirely based on our own opinions and preferences. Cheers!
Visiting Scotland soon? Make sure to read our Scotland Travel Tips blog article for more information on what to know before you go.
7 Whisky Distillery Tours in Scotland Reviewed
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Whisky Distillery Map | Scotland
Visited = Green | Tours = Red
Glenlivet: The Single Malt that started it all!
Location: 4 Castleton of Blairfindy, Glenlivet, Ballindalloch AB37 9DB
It is said that The Glenlivet Distillery sits in a wild and remote glen, its history laced with drama and intrigue. So in every bottle of whisky they make, they capture as much of the spirit of the glen as they can. After a visit to this distillery, it’s easy to agree with that statement!
This is a Pernod Ricard owned distillery, one that did not disappoint from arrival to finish. Probably the best tour in the region, with a most knowledgeable local young man who not only explained pretty much every aspect of the distillery but made the tour interesting as to “his take” on the industry, whisky itself and a new generation of whisky drinkers like himself.
The site has a nice cafeteria-style restaurant / coffee shop and a well-appointed gift shop as well. Said to be the oldest distillery in Scotland, this establishment is well maintained, offering beautifully restored buildings and a fully glassed view of the stills as you arrive in the main visitor parking lot.
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A fun fact… My partner had signed for to a promotional marketing advertisement years back and had been sent a key as “Guardian of the Glenlivet”… Forgot the said key at home but mentioned it at reception and was offered an extra special dram from the Glenlivet archives! It was well worth mentioning.
The oldest distillery, dating back to 1824
Great tour with a local lad
Coffee Shop on premise, perfect to grab a bite before the tour
Very generous tasting, as generous as it gets
Aberlour: The brook runs through it
Location : Aberlour, Banffshire AB38 9PJ
As their website states, this quaint distillery is steeped in centuries of legend and surrounded by the dramatic Highland scenery of Ben Rinnes. The village of Aberlour lies at the very heart of Speyside, where the Lour burn joins the River Spey.
The exceptionally pure, soft spring water used for making Aberlour whisky is drawn from nearby natural springs. In this special place, the resources of nature and the founder’s passion for making the best single malt combine to make the generously multi layered whiskies of Aberlour.
Also owned by Pernod-Ricard Group, this was a very interesting tour. The guide was a knowledgeable local woman, the stories interesting and the tasting at the end was probably the best organized and most interesting one overall. The tasting is comprised of a full flight of Aberlour Whisky from which you’re asked to let your nose and taste buds figure out what’s in each glass. This was also one of the only tours that asked at the registration if our group had a designated driver and offered us some takeaway flasks for a small fee.
Quaint town setting by the burn (brook)
Good storytelling guide with some history
Interesting Blind Tasting Flight
Take-Away Flasks for the Designated Driver (small fee)
The Glenfiddich Distillery: Still Family Owned
Location: Dufftown, Banffshire, AB55 4DH
Stated quite efficiently, “We are proud to be one of the last independent distilleries in Scotland, with the freedom to maintain our tradition of innovation with a pioneering spirit.”
Not exactly our view before visiting the Glenfiddich Distillery. The name was somehow tainted with the sense of a too common brand, of a less refined single malt, too mainstream. Maybe the perception of it being highly available made it a generic single malt of sorts, the all-around “Glen” of them all. This said a visit to this well-crafted family owned and run single malt distilleries set us straight on a lot of things.
Above all else, this tour provides us with knowledge about the special care that goes into producing Glenfiddich. From sourcing their local water to selecting the best barley with specific demands on product and provenance. Attention to craftsmanship, to distilling process and to on-site maturation and bottling made this tour an “eye opener” as to what Glenfiddich really stands for.
A must do tour when in Speyside
Still Family Run
Traditional Kilt Wearing Guide
Bottling on site
Green technologies – Reuse of energy
Tasting of Ageless – the Experimental Series
Cardhu: A bit of it in every bottle of Johnnie Walker!
Location: Knockando Aberlour Banffshire AB38
Founded by Helen Cumming in 1811 as an illicit distillery and licensed in 1824, Cardhu is the first distillery to be officially pioneered by a woman. Two women, in fact: in 1872, Elizabeth Cummings, daughter-in-law of the founders, took over the running of the distillery and set about refining the flavour and character of the whisky we know today – the effortless, elegant, generous spirit, born of hard work and determination.
Woolly Highland Cows on premise
It’s a fun fact to know that Cardhu’s single malt is an integral part of every bottle of Johnnie Walker bland out there. It’s said that there’s at least a splash that goes into every bottle! Our visit to this distillery, another Diageo “Classic Malts Selection” was less than amazing.
The facilities are pretty dated, although the initial “smelling chart” trivia is a fun start to the tour and the malting process display is also well done, Cardhu falls short on everything else and especially when it comes to tasting. You pretty much get a nosing’s worth, far from the generous pour offered at other distillery locations.
Nice display of the entire Malting process guide
Cheapest portion of whisky
Woolly Highland cows on the premises 🙂
Highland Park Distillery: Made with Pride on Orkney
Highland Park states proudly… ‘’Our whisky, like our island home, is shaped by a wild climate and stormy seas, and by the Vikings who settled here over 1,000 years ago, leaving their mark on our people and our culture. ‘’
Promoted as having a Viking Soul, Highland Park is about as high north as one goes to find passion and skill coming together to make a fine glass of whisky. One that truly stands apart as they say. The feeling you get when in this place is not only of being in a faraway land but of a truly different experience as to the style, location and heritage Highland Park has to offer. Not only is the tour interesting and well presented, this is your chance to see one of the last “on-site” malting floors still in operation.
Would we go all the way to Orkney just to visit Highland Park? Probably not, but if you’re planning to ferry across for the many archaeological sites and the breathtaking scenery that abounds here, try to make this distillery tour part of your time on these islands.
One of the last malting floor can be seen on site
The most northerly distillery in Scotland
Very cool Viking Heritage and feel
Unique plant based Peat since there are almost no trees on Orkney
Guide actually enjoyed took a little dram with us 🙂
The Oban distillery: Nestled in a seaside town
Location: Oban Distillery Stafford St, Oban PA34 5NHe AB38
The town is quite literally built around the distillery, which is nestled beneath the steep cliff that overlooks Oban, one of Scotland’s oldest sources of Single Malt Scotch Whisky is just a short meander from the sea.
Expectations were set high for this tour, Oban Whisky being a favourite of ours. Unfortunately, the initial encounter with the staff that greeted us was, let’s just say – subpar. Fortunately, the manager at Oban distillery made up for this generously on the tail end of the tour, offering us a VIP tasting to make up for the initial rudeness.
Amazing Seafood at EE-USK
You got to love Oban for what it is, a wonderful malt whiskey. But by the end of the tour, knowing that the water used is from the municipal well and the barrels actually aged in Glasgow kind of blew our love bubble. Furthermore, after the tour, the distinctive salty taste the Oban Malt Whisky is renowned for is still something of a mystery?
Another Diageo distillery, part of the “Classic Malts Selection” which in this case, fell short on expectations. Note that if you only do Oban distillery tour,, you’ll probrably find the overall experience positive and somewhat informative as a whole.
One last note, OBAN actually means “Little Bay” in Gaelic. Who knew?
One of our favorite malts of all time
In the heart of Oban’s seaside town
Unique salty taste
Sadly not the best experience but Manager made up for it
Talisker: Oldest distillery on the Isle of Skye
Location: Carbost, Isle of Skye IV47 8SR
Talisker is the oldest Single Malt Scotch Whisky made by the sea on the shores of the Isle of Skye, one of the most remote, rugged, yet beautiful landscapes in Scotland.
Few whiskies tell the story of their origin better than Talisker. Its smell and taste instantly connect the drinker with the rugged environment – like a warm welcome from a wild sea. It’s a powerhouse; challenging but adored; once discovered rarely left. Sitting amongst the Inner Hebridean Scottish Isles, Skye is rugged, windswept, a place of extremes.
Talisker on the Isle of Skye captures the spirit of its island home perfectly. Bursting with the famous smokiness, the surprising subtle notes of black pepper, and yet rounded with a smooth finish, Talisker is a delicious contradiction.
Also owned by the Diageo Group and part of the “Classic Malts Selection”, this remote distillery offers a great tour of the entire distillery. Once done, you’re led to a well-appointed tasting room where you get to sample a dram of Talisker’s award-winning malt.
And even though, the tour with an awesome guide was very enjoyable, the sampling left much to be desired with more than one of their malts to compare.
Want to see more of Skye? Who wouldn’t! Read this post on all the great things to do on Skye from Wanderlust Crew
Skye’s oldest distillery
Peatier than most whiskies
Close enough to the bay that storm waves can actually crash on the distillery
Not the most generous pour
“Might as well distilleries”
Drive anywhere in Scotland for a short amount of time and you’re bound to pass a distillery here, there and everywhere along the way. Yes, we’d planned many distillery tours before we’d even set foot in the land of malt, but nevertheless, temptation to get a sneak peak was pretty much unavoidable for the true amateur…
Here are some noteworthy pics of some of our unscheduled impromptu drop-ins!
The Easter Elchies House
The Spiritual House of The Macallan
The Spiritual House of The Macallan
The Macallan New Visitor Center
The Balvenie Distillery
Glenmorangie’s very orange Cadillac
Pretty delivery truck at The Dalmore
Open Still Doors at Craigellachie
Abandoned warehouses at Cragganmore
Auchentoshan just outside of Glasgow
On a final note…
Being true whisky amateurs that have enjoyed single malts for the greater part of their adult life, these Whiskey distilleries tour while on a two weeks Scotland route was worth it. Malt as they call it in Scotland, offers an abundance of subtleties and nuances to tempt the palate. One could spend months in search of perfection, but all good things must come to an end… At some point.
Speyside Cooperage…Artisans at work
For those of you who want to go beyond distilleries and tasting, I’d strongly recommend a visit to the Speyside Cooperage. This is the definitive “barrel making” tour all aficionados should sign up for. The visit is extensive, information and is without a doubt, the perfect complement to any distillery tours you may be planning.