The Scottish Distillery Lowdown (Penny Pincher's edition)
There are more distilleries in Scotland than you could reasonably visit in 2 months, let alone 2 weeks. However, we did our best, learned a lot about last minute touring (read: book in advance), and found a few new favorites... and some weren't even Scotch!? Each tour was booked at the cheapest level, and the difference between tours and tastings varied vastly - despite the nearly identical price tags. There are surely many more good deals to be had in the world of Scottish hooch, please share your favorites!
Recommended by many Scots before take off, this place was our first stop and remained one of our favorite tours. Perfectly timed at an hour including the tasting (with chocolate pairing!), the tour was led by a passionate and friendly woman who took the time to answer the many questions our group had. The distillery is very proud of one of their recently retired producers- the first whiskey woman in Scotland (total win in my book), and they had a special edition recipe on sale in her honor (delish). They also let us keep our tasting glass! Set with a backdrop of the stunning mountains Dalwhinnie gathers all of it's water from, the white buildings responsible for this spirit make for a stunning view. Our only regret was that we visited on a Sunday, when production wasn't running. To be honest, it is neither of our favorite whiskeys, but a fabulous tour none the less. Researching later I found they have earned the "Best Distillery Tour Award from Drinks International", and it is well deserved.
Price: 12 pounds for tour, 2 (full) tastes with chocolate pairings and glasses
Isle of Rasaay Distillery:
This happy accident occurred on a teeny island off of Skye when we needed a real bed for a change. A short but breathtaking ferry ride brings you to Rasaay, and the unique B&B only a few minutes down the road. While most Scottish distilleries pride themselves on their tradition, The Rasaay Distillery has a much more modern approach. In fact, their first innovative whiskey isn't even done "sleeping" yet! Not to worry, though, there is still a tasting "While we Wait" and a chance to buy one of the first bottles.
Price: free with stay in the connected B&B, 10 pounds for a tour and taste
Isle of Skye Brewing Co:
At a restaurant a few days prior, J had a few beers he was blown away with; each one from this brewery. So, obviously, we had to plan a stop. While they don't actually do tours (as we found out upon entering) they do have a well equipped shop with about a dozen different and innovative beers, some reflecting their Scottish allegiance and some more common varieties. Each one is great. And, we learned they are expanding shop, heading to beer conventions in Nashville (coincidence?) soon.
Price: 10 pounds for a four pack
Our last stop on Skye, we were looking forward to a tour of a larger facility. Pulling up around 3pm, we learned they were booked solid on their hourly tours for the next couple days. Oh, right, people reserve stuff. So, we had a sniff and left. We're still glad we stopped by though, because it lead to these delicious oysters.
Glenfiddich - Only having one night in Speyside was a mistake - one we realized as soon as we turned onto the "trail". Trying to make up for time, we alotted for fewer full tours and more tastings ;) Our one tour of the day happened to be Glenfiddich. I have to say, we were less than impressed. As a massive distillery, much of it was video, and what wasn't was rushed, breathless. The tasting was plentiful (3 full shots) but none of the special editions were included like the others. However, the onsite bottling line was fascinating, and the whiskey delish.
Price: 10 pounds for tour and 3 tastes
Cragganmore - our next stop. A much smaller venue, we opted for just a tasting here (they also didn't have any tours for that day). It was held in the shop (no chairs) and we were suprised to see many other distilleries spirits for taste and sale (sister distilleries are a thing, and the Cragganmore Scotch is featured in the Johnnie Walker Scottish Edition). While it wasn't the most professional set-up, we both found some new favorite malts.
Price: 3 pounds per taste
Aberlour- named after the town it sets in, this was our last stop in Speyside. Their grounds and interiors are stunning, and their whiskeys are sweeter, a little softer than the others from the day. In fact, their 12 year is very reminicent of candied cherries - J was quite the fan.
Price: 10 pounds for 3 tastes
This distillery, "in the heart of Glasgow" blew me away at the famous Gin 71 with their soft Mulberry cask gin. Combining my favorite British fruit with my favorite British drink won me over, and the 35 pound price tag ensured my need to secure a bottle. We readied ourselves for a trip the next morning. However, the next morning, there was no distillery to be found where listed. Then their phones went unanswered. It is a fabulous spirit, though, so if you know where to find it please let us know!
Making your way down the west coast of Scotland is where you will run into the more peaty Scotches. Unfortunately we only had time for one stop, but Oban was a good choice. Situated in the middle of a harbor town, the setting is quite different than most other distilleries, but the tranquility returned upon entering the space. It was beautiful, the staff was knowledgeable, and the tasting was plenty - it much reminded us of the first stop.
There are so many wonderful distilleries scattered throughout Scotland. Half of our list went unchecked - we might have to go again (OOOPS)