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Issue 61 - The Standard of Excellence

Scotland Magazine Issue 61
February 2012


This article is 6 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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The Standard of Excellence

We look at some of the best Scottish distilleries to visit

Whisky and Scotland are pretty much synonymous these days; the name Scotch is the standard for excellent whisky the world over. It is woven not just into the fabric of Scottish life, its history and landscape, but also into its economic life; whisky being one of the biggest exports the nation has.

In many peoples’ minds it stands for tradition, stories and above all lasting friendships, the very essence of a great culture. We are not just talking about the amber liquid here, but the people and places behind it.

If you travel throughout Scotland you are probably not that far from a distillery, and no trip to Scotland would be complete without a tour and tasting of its national drink.

However, given the fact that Scotland has almost 100 distilleries, the question is where to start.

First, a little definition maybe of use. To be a single malt means that the liquid has to have come from one distillery, and been matured in Scotland for at least three years in an oak cask. It must also be made from malted barley, yeast and water.

Now once you get your head round that, it is constantly impressive how so many different flavours can arise from just those three ingredients.

So here is a brief list of some of the best distilleries in Scotland to go and visit. They either offer excellent visitor experiences for malt head and novice alike, or have other activites for those not so taken with the nation’s favourite spirit.

Classic late Victorian distillery, easily accessible in Perthshire, and keen to make an impression on visitors. Home to ‘Dewar’s World of Whisky,’ one of the most innovative distillery visitor facilities in Scotland. Opened in 2000, this is a state-of-the-art visitor and retail centre, based in the former distillery maltings, and takes the visitor through years of Dewars and whisky history.

Regarded as the first of the ‘new wave’ of distilleries in Scotland, and as the only Distillery on the Isle of Arran, it warmly welcomes more than 65,000 visitors per year despite its remote location on the north-west tip of the island. Unlike many distilleries, the management does not restrict its tour guides to the confines of a company / brand script but provides full training on the production process and actively encourages them to personalise the tour and make it their own. As a result the distillery receives many compliments each season with visitors referring to their tour guides by name as a mark of how much they enjoyed their time in Lochranza.

The distillery is a perfect trip when visiting Glasgow, as it’s only a short car ride from the city centre. This is the only, and possibly the last distillery in Scotland to practice traditional Lowland triple-distillation in its proper form.
Once it’s explained to you, ask the guide how it compares with the way Springbank distils.
Again the distillery is geared up for visitors of all levels of knowledge.

A trip up the east coast of Scotland, past the Black Isle, and to the Cromarty Firth (yes those are oil rigs out there) brings you to the Dalmore Distillery. It has a great view out across the firth and has recently refurbished its visitor centre. The stillhouse is unique in that it comprises four pairs of wash/spirit couplings. The former have flat tops and vertical condensers outside while latter have cold-water jackets for reflux and horizontal condensers, again outside. Unconventional?
Absolutely, but it adds to the Dalmore mystique.

This is the father of them all, it was the first distillery to open a visitor centre, and was also the first single malt available in the 1970s when the world was awash with blends. Situated in Dufftown, Glenfiddich is one of the most visited distilleries in Scotland, and deservedly so. For one thing, standard tour admission is free, and despite the numbers of people taking advantage of this, tours are frequent and well-organised. Excellent restaurant facilities.

Another of the east coast distilleries and a must see if you are traveling in this part of the country.
Again the visitor facilities are excellent. Scotland’s favourite malt is produced in the tallest stills in Scotland at just over 5m, based on a London ginstill design. The distillery fills its casks twice only, matures everything on site and owns woodlands in the Ozark mountains to maintain the best possible wood quality.

You know you have the right distillery by the massive copper grouse that greets you on the way in. This is home to one of the world’s best selling blends Famous Grouse. The visitor centre in impressively interactive and has garnered a string of awards. Fancy a Munro and a malt? Hillwalkers can bag Ben Chonzie (931m/3056ft), to the north and take a circular route down past Loch Turret to the distillery for some refreshment and a recharge.
The Famous Grouse Experience at Glenturret is worth taking as the name says, and experiencing.

Highland Park
One of the world’s great, individualistic single malts by any standards, and a ‘five-star’ distillery experience to match the dram. Traditional floor maltings using local Orkney peat, a first rate visitor centre and the manifold delights of the Orkney Islands all around. Scotland’s northernmost distillery and undoubtedly worth the pilgrimage, and there is plenty to do and see with the prehistoric sites of Maeshowe and the Rings of Brodgar situated close by.

One of the main draws on Islay, often known as the whisky island. If you are a Friend of Laphroaig then you must go and plant your flag on your square foot piece of land. This is a pristine distillery with a very entertaining visitor centre, captivating fragrances and friendly atmosphere.
Don’t forget to buy Laphroaig cheese. Nearly as sweet as a pudding!

Home to one of the most premium of single malt whiskies perched overlooking the Spey. How does one of the most well known distilleries in the world become even more popular? Simple.
Build a unique sensory experience at the visitors’ centre, where one can smell, taste and feel exactly what makes the place tick. Coupled with some of the smallest stills in Speyside, a visit is truly essential.

Such is the significance of this West Coast distillery that what once was a small fishing village (Oban means The Little Bay in Gaelic) has now grown into a thriving town, with the distillery sitting right at its heart. Often viewed as the quintessential starting point for a memorable Island distillery adventure.

After you have tackled the twisting and turning, huge downhill and uphill swooping sections of the A9, which also have some stunning views, the town of Wick hoves into view, and at its centre the northernmost mainland distillery in Scotland.
Pulteney’s setting in downtown Wick may lack a little glamour, but once inside the distillery, the experience is superb. Friendly staff, a bottle-yourown from the cask option, and a spirit still with no real head and swan neck, allegedly sawn down to size to fit the stillhouse!

Cambeltown may be out of the way a little, but this excellent distillery is well worth the trip through some of the West coast’s most delightful scenery. Up there among the classic distilleries of Scotland for its heritage, idiosyncratic way of making whisky and the sheer quality of its output.
Springbank operates floor maltings at one end of the process and bottles on site at the other.
A rare Campbeltown survivor after all these years and still in family ownership.

Worth it alone for the memorable trip to Skye, and Talisker is the only distillery on the island.
It was the favourite whisky of writers Robert Louis Stevenson and Henry Vollam Morton. In his poem The Scotsman’s Return From Abroad, Stevenson wrote: “The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Islay, or Glenlivet.” More stillhouse idiosyncracies here with ubends in the wash still lyne arms and purifier pipes which actually help to produce a heavier spirit thanks to the external wooden worm tubs. Weird, but it works, and what a spirit.

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