Dreaming of a wee dram of Scotch? There's no better place to drink the uisge beatha (Gaelic for “water of life”) than in its birthplace. Travelers with a taste for single malts can take in spectacular, emerald-green scenery; mysterious peat bogs; and mist-capped mountains as they discover distilleries scattered from the Highlands to the Lowlands, from Glasgow to the ruggedly beautiful island of Islay. Get ready to bust out your tartan—we're taking you on a tour of Scotland's 10 best places to enjoy Scotch whisky.
by Alexis Korman
Alexis Korman is a freelance wine, food, and travel writer based in New Orleans, and Contributing Food Editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine. She's also co-founder of an artisanal kombucha project, Big Easy 'Bucha. Follow her adventures eating and drinking around the world on Twitter @lexisips.
No matter what's in your pocketbook, Scotch lovers can design a trip to suit their sipping needs at Auchentoshan Distillery. Just half an hour by car from Glasgow, Auchentoshan is the only Scotch producer in the country that employs a triple distillation method to remove impurities, which explains the spirit's lively, but smooth character. The modern visitors' center teaches guests about the Scotch-making process with informative tour guides and placards, and the one-hour “Classic Tour” includes a dram of the nutty, light Auchentoshan Single Malt 12-Year-Old Whisky for just £6.
Insider Tip: For those ready to splurge, try filling your own bottle for £100; it's an experience usually reserved for master blenders that you won't soon forget.
Blysthwood Square Hotel
Overnight in Glasgow at the modern, five-star, Scotch-centric Blythswood Square Hotel. In addition to the plush environs (think bespoke marble bathrooms, Egyptian linens, and a 24/7 concierge), you'll find impeccable cocktails at the hotel's Restaurant at Blythswood Square (try the Scotch-based Penicillin). It's made with Black Bottle Whisky (a blended Scotch featuring whiskies from nearly all of the distilleries on Islay), honey and ginger syrup, lemon, and Ardbeg Spray. Prefer your pour neat? There are 140 Scotches at the hotel's Salon bar that range in price from £3.90 to £200, including many rare varietals, like the Dalmore Constellation Vintage 1991.
Insider Tip: Thirsty for more? Take a cab to Òran Mór and Bon Accord, two bars that give travellers hundreds of Scotches to choose from (Bon Accord has 350 selections alone) in spirited tavern environments.
The Famous Grouse
Positioned two miles northwest of Crieff (a little over an hour by car from Glasgow), the Glenturret Distillery houses The Famous Grouse experience, the oldest and purportedly most-visited distillation site in Scotland. Established in 1775, the Glenturret is a working distillery, and its single malt is one of the main whiskies used in The Famous Grouse's blend. A range of guided tours help visitors to sip their way through the whisky making process, including the milling and mashing.
Insider Tip: The site also presents an interactive show, where guests can virtually fly above Scotland, viewing the countryside through the eyes of the brand's red grouse, Scotland's national game bird.
WHERE: Port Ellen
No Scotch pilgrimage is complete without a trip to Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides. Ruggedly beautiful, Islay is known for its rocky coastline, mild climate, and peaty soil, making it the perfect place to create whisky. The island is home to eight working distilleries (including some of Scotland's most revered Scotch producers). Start your island exploration at Ardbeg, famous for its deep, smoky, and complex whiskies, and boasting the best distillery restaurant on Islay, the Old Kiln Cafe. A lunch might include roasted tomato soup and a local lamb burger, followed by an “Ardbeg Across the Decades Tour”: For £35, guests can tour the facility, learn about the rich history of the site (it was established in 1815 and once had its own church), then retreat to the comfortable study to share rare drams from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, all while listening to music tailored for each selection.
Insider Tip: Die-hard fans can book a night at the Seaview Cottage in the heart of the distillery; the former home of the distillery master has been recently renovated, with three en-suite bedrooms.
Built in 1881, Bruichladdich focuses on craft production and uses 100% Scottish barley. The distillery features a comfortably rustic, wood-accented tasting room where visitors will feel at home sampling drams. The basic tour of the working facility, which has managed to retain some stellar pieces of historical distillery equipment like a 130-year-old mash tun, costs just £5 per person, and is redeemable against a bottle of whisky (or gin, as the distillery also produces The Botanist dry gin, made from 22 foraged island botanicals).
Insider Tip: Scotch connoisseurs should spring for the “Warehouse Tasting,” for £25, which includes pours from three selected (and often rare) casks and includes a take-home glass.
WHERE: Port Ellen
Perhaps no other Scotch whisky inspires such strong sentiments: Come see what all the fuss is about at Laphroaig's visitor-oriented distillery. Basic tours are just £6, last one hour, and include a tasting of your favorite peaty, smoky Laphroaig expression, along with a signature glass. The most intriguing on-site experience involves food as well as Scotch: The “Flavour Tasting” leads guests through the complex aromas and tastes of three Scotches, along with bites that enhance the flavors (it's a steal at just £14).
Insider Tip: Join the Friends of Laphroaig society, the island's most unique customer appreciation program, and plant your flag (literally) in your very own square foot of Islay land; dom't forget to collect your “rent” from the distillery in the form of a dram at the bar in the tasting room.
The oldest distillery on the island (founded in 1779), Bowmore is renowned for producing smoke- and peat-rich single malts, and is one of a handful of Scotch producers that makes and turns its own floor-malted barley by hand. With an ideal location on the sea, guests can soak in the island atmosphere, get a glimpse of the Bowmore No. 1 Vaults (a moody, musty cellar situated below sea level), and taste several Scotches in the modern tasting room, complete with oversized windows and a balcony overlooking the water. There's even a fireplace in winter if the Scotch isn't warming enough.
Insider Tip: Book an overnight stay at the renovated Bowmore Distillery Cottages and your tour of the facility is complimentary (as is a bottle of 12-year-old Bowmore waiting in your room).
Dewar’s World of Whisky at Aberfeldy Distillery
Learn about America's top-selling Scotch whisky at the beautiful Aberfeldy Distillery property, located about 70 miles from Glasgow. Beginning in 1898, the facility has been making an elegantly balanced single-malt whisky ever since, forming the centerpiece of Dewar's award-winning blended Scotch. In addition to tours, the visitors' center provides a welcome respite, offering free Wifi, terrific coffee, and snacks. Order the Stillman's Lunch: the platter of Lockerbie cheddar, Clava Scottish brie, and Strathdon blue cheese with oatcakes from a local bakery does not disappoint.
Insider Tip: There are interactive exhibits, complete with listening stations that expound the Dewar family's contribution to the world of whisky.
Of course, you can't leave Scotland without a visit to the charming Glenmorangie distillery, which lays claim to the tallest stills in Scotland, but don't miss a chance to stay the night at Glenmorangie House in Cadboll. Situated above the Moray Firth and within the ruins of a castle, the 17th-century house is now a five-star hotel with all the attractions of a country estate. Grab a pair of wellies and head down to the beach, or take a peek at artist Barry Grove's stunning recreation of the eight-century A.D. Pictish sculpture, the Hilton of Cadboll Stone (it's lit up at night); you'll see echoes of the design on Glenmorangie's labels.
Insider Tip: Room rates include a full Scottish breakfast, afternoon tea, a pre-dinner drink with canapés, and a four-course dinner. If you're lucky, a bagpiper will entertain you.
Located in the heart of Speyside, The Glenlivet's visitor-friendly facility delivers a free 45-minute distillery tour, including a warehouse visit and a free dram, along with three options for hiking along historic whisky smugglers' routes. Check out the George Smith Smugglers Trail, which starts at The Glenlivet Distillery and winds its way along the scenic River Livet to the ruins of the Drumin Castle (home of the notorious Earl of Buchan, also known as the Wolf of Badenoch). It's a great way to see the sights while working off some Scotch.
Insider Tip: Don't miss the distillery's coffee shop and its famous whisky cake, a sweet ending to a Scotch-fueled trip.