Scotland is well known as a producer of some of the best whiskies in the world, and there are over a hundred whisky distilleries in Scotland. Many of these distilleries are open for whisky tasting and tours.
I had the pleasure of living in Scotland for a number of years, which allowed to me to regularly partake in two of my favourite pastimes—landscape photograph and drinking whisky. Over the past decade I’ve visited dozens of Scottish whisky distilleries and I’ve enjoyed a fair share of “wee drams”!
In this guide, I’m going to share with you everything you need to know about whisky in Scotland. This will include an overview of the different regions and their flavours as well as a guide to how whisky is made.
We think that visiting a whisky distillery is an essential part of any trip to Scotland, even for those of you who don’t like whisky. Jess for example isn’t the biggest fan of whisky, but she still enjoys visiting the distilleries and learning all about their history and learning how whisky is made.
During our time in Scotland, we visited a great many whisky distilleries, from world famous brands like Talisker and Glenmorangie, to more niche manufacturers like the distillery found on the Isle of Raasay.
Based on our experiences, I’ll share a number of Scottish whisky distilleries we think you should consider visiting. I’ll divide these up by region, so wherever you plan on going in Scotland, there will be a whisky experience waiting for you!
Table of Contents
Scottish Whisky Overview
Let’s get started with an overview of whisky in Scotland, including how it is made, the types of whisky, and where you can find whisky in Scotland.
What is Scottish Whisky?
Scottish whisky, also known as whisky, Scotch, or Scotch whisky, is a strong alcoholic drink produced in Scotland. It’s made from grain, most commonly barley. The Scottish Gaelic word for whisky is uisge beatha (from the Irish uisce beatha) which means “water of life”.
For a whisky to be labelled and sold as a Scotch whisky, it must meet a number of criteria, which include:
- It can only be made from water and malted barley (other whole cereal grains can be added)
- It has to be produced at a distillery in Scotland
- It must be distilled in a pot still
- It has to be matured in an oak cask in Scotland for at least three years
- It must be at least an alcoholic strength of 40% by volume
These criteria are defined by the Scotch Whisky Regulations, which you can read here. It’s also illegal to make any other type of whisky other than Scotch in Scotland.
Note that in Scotland, whisky is spelt without an “e”. If you refer to whiskey, it’s assumed you are talking about Irish or American whiskey. Whisky from Japan is usually spelt the same as from Scotland.
There are actually five different types of Scotch whisky, which are:
- Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- Single Grain Scotch Whisky
- Blended Scotch Whisky
- Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
- Blended Grain Scotch Whisky.
I think that most folks learning about Scotch whisky are likely to be interested in the difference between a single malt whisky and a blended whisky. Let me explain the difference for you.
What is Single Malt Scotch Whisky?
A single malt whisky is a specific type of whisky which must meet two criteria. It must be made at a single distillery, and only one malted grain can be used. In the case of single malt Scotch whisky, that malted grain must be barley.
As mentioned above, you can also get what is known as a single grain single whisky. This must also be made at a single distillery, but can contain multiple cereal grains. The single in the name refers to the distillery, rather than the grain.
Once these “single” whiskies have been created, they can either be bottled and sold as is, or they can be mixed together to create what is known as a blend.
Popular brands of single malt scotch whisky include Glenfiddich, Macallan, Glenmorangie, and Laphroaig.
What is a Blended Scotch Whisky?
A blended whisky combines a number of different single whiskies into one drink. This can be a blend of single malt whiskies, a blend of single grain whiskies, or a blend of both. Hence there are three categories of blended whisky in Scotland.
A blended whisky is usually designed to have a specific flavour profile, and it allows whisky manufacturers to produce a more consistent product, regardless of the individual variations of each single malt.
Blended Scotch whiskies, made from both Single Malt and Single Grain whiskies, account for over 90% of all Scotch whisky sales. Popular brands of blended Scotch whisky include Johnnie Walker, J&B, Famous Grouse, and Bell’s.
How is Scotch Whisky Made?
There are five main stages in Scotch whisky production. There are of course minor variations to this process from distillery to distillery, but the general way Scotch whisky is made is as follows.
In order to make alcohol you need just two things: yeast and sugar. The yeast feeds on the sugar, and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide as a by product.
The sugar in Scotch whisky comes from germinated barley grains, which are created in a process called malting. This same process is also used for beer production.
Barley grains are first steeped in water, and then spread out on large floors to allow the germination to take place. The temperature, air flow, and humidity on the malting floor is carefully controlled for optimal germination.
The germination converts the starches in the barley grains into sugar, which normally the seed would use as energy for growth. This process also creates heat, so careful management of the grain, including regular turning, is required to keep the grain at the optimal temperature.
Once the grain has germinated for around a week, the germination process has to be stopped to maximise the sugar potential and prevent the grain from turning into a barley crop!
To stop the germination process, the barley seeds, now known as “green malt”, are heated and dried in a process known as kilning. Traditionally this is done on a large floor filled with small perforated holes. The green malt is spread over the floor and hot air from the heat source below the floor passes up through the holes over a 24 to 48 hour period.
It is usually at this point that one of the key flavours of some whiskies is imparted. If peat is used as the fuel for the kiln, the peat smoke imparts a distinctive flavour to the barley, which will be noticeable in the whisky. Peat is basically partially decayed vegetation or organic matter, which has been used a fuel source for thousands of years in Scotland.
Not all distilleries use peat, some use other more conventional types of heating source to dry the barley.
Regardless of the heating source, the end result is the same – dried malt which is ready for the next phase of the whisky making process.
When you visit a whisky distillery, you should be aware that not all distilleries malt their own barley. This is because it takes up a lot of space, and so limits the volume of whisky that the distillery can produce. As a result, many distilleries buy their malt from speciality malt houses, who mass produce malt for whisky and beer production.
Under the Scotch whisky regulations, it is permissible to use malt from an exterior source, but the remainder of the process up to maturation must take place in the same distillery.
The next stage of the whisky production process is known as mashing. The goal of mashing is to extract the sugar from the dried germinated malt so it can be fed to the yeast.
Before mashing, the dried malt is ground up into a coarse flour known as grist. It is then mixed with hot water in a huge container known as a mash tun. The sugar in the grain dissolves in the hot water, turning into a substance known as wort.
The quality of the water at this stage of the process is said to be important, which is why most distilleries are located near to a pure water source like a spring.
The temperature of the water is also important. Most distilleries in Scotland will do multiple mashes, starting with water at around 67C / 152F which is then mashed and drained as wort into containers known as washbacks. Hotter waters are then added to the mash tun and drained in 2 or 3 additional mashes, to extract more sugar.
Differences in time, water temperature, number of mashes, and stirring can all effect the final whisky flavour.
Once the wort is cooled in the washback to around 20C / 68F, it’s ready for the next stage of the process—fermentation!
To create alcohol, yeast is added to the washback. Traditionally, washbacks were huge barrel shaped containers made out of wood, but modern distilleries often use stainless steel.
In Scotland, most distillers hold the view that the yeast used does not make a big difference to the flavour of the whisky. As a result, most of them use the same yeast which is known as distiller’s yeast. Interestingly, many distillers in the United States and Japan are of a different opinion, and in those countries the choice of yeast can vary from distiller to distiller.
Once mixed with the wort, the yeast feeds on the sugar in the wort. This creates alcohol and carbon dioxide in a process known as fermentation. The process also produces heat, and during fermentation the temperature in the washback will increase to around 35C / 95F.
Fermentation is at the heart of all alcohol production. For whisky, the fermentation process takes from 2 to 5 days, depending on factors like temperature, as well as how long the distillery prefers to do it for. Different periods of time can affect the final whisky flavour.
Once fermented, the mixture is known as a “wash”, and usually has an alcohol content which can vary from 5% – 9%.
Up to this point, the process of whisky production has been very similar to the process of making beer. However, the next stage of the whisky making process, distillation, is very different!
Distillation involves the heating of the wash to a point where the alcohol evaporates. This is done in a container known as a pot still.
A pot still is a type of still which only allows for one batch of product to be made at a time. In Scotch whisky making, copper pot stills are used. As well as being very pretty, the copper serves an important function. It removes the sulphuric compounds from the whisky, which would negatively affect the flavour.
Once the wash is in the pot still, it is heated. Alcohol normally boils at 78.4 °C (173.12 °F), which is much cooler than the boiling point of water. Thus the alcohol evaporates into the narrow neck of the still, from where it travels down a sloping pipe (the lyne arm) into a condenser. Here it cools, into a product known as low wine. This process usually lasts a few hours.
What is left in the pot still, a product known as pot ale, is usually converted into animal feed.
Low wine has an alcohol content of around 25-35%. As Scotch whisky needs to have a minimum alcohol content of 40%, the low wine then goes through a second distillation to further increase the alcohol content. This is usually a slower and more careful distillation process than the first distillation.
The spirit that comes out of the second distillation will have a much higher alcohol content, starting as high as 85% ABV. After condensing, it enters the “spirit run”. The spirit now passes through what is known as a spirit safe. This is a sealed box with windows and various outlets that the distiller controls.
The spirit safe is sealed because once a spirit reaches such high levels of alcohol content, it is subject to taxation. In order to stop illegal siphoning of untaxed spirits before the quantities can be measured, the spirit safe was invented. This allows the distiller to manage the spirits and control the final output, without having actual access to them.
At this point the distillers goal is to capture only a part of spirit that will be used to make the final whisky. This part is often referred to as the heart, and it has an alcohol content that varies from around 75% ABV through to 60% ABV.
The very strong first parts of the distillation (known as the head and/or foreshots), and the last weaker part of the distillation (known as the tail or feints) are separated out in the spirit safe. They are not wasted but instead they will be added to a later first distillation process.
As with the other processes, there are a number of factors in the distillation process that may affect the final flavour of the whisky. Everything from the length and angle of the lyne arm, to the shape of the pot stills themselves, through to the amount of head and tail that is cut from the process.
The final product of the distillation, known as the “new make”, is then usually watered down to around 63% ABV, before going to the final stage of the process—maturation.
The final stage in Scotch whisky production is maturation. To qualify as a Scotch whisky, the “new make” must be placed in an oak cask and allowed to mature for no less than 3 years in Scotland. The maturation doesn’t have to take place at the distillery, and for safety, many distilleries mature their casks at separate locations to mitigate the risks of fire.
During maturation, the liquid develops additional flavours and color from the oak. Whilst three years is the minimum, many distilleries age their whisky for much longer, resulting in different flavour profiles and darker colors.
Different types of oak impart different flavours, with distillers often using ex-bourbon or ex-sherry casks for additional flavour. Many barrels are re-used from America as well as France and Spain. Whisky is sometimes moved between different types of barrel over the years, to adjust the flavour profile.
During maturation, a part of the whisky is lost to evaporation, in the region of 2% to 4% per year. This is known as the Angel’s Share, and is why maturation warehouses tend to smell so good!
Finally, once the whisky is deemed matured, it is ready to be bottled or blended. Normally it will be diluted down to between 40% and 46% (bottling strength), although some whiskies are sold as “cask strength” whiskies, with an ABV of over 60%.
And that’s it – the whisky is now ready to be enjoyed!
What Are the Main Scottish Whisky Regions?
According to the Scotch Whisky Association, Scotland has five main whisky producing regions. The whisky from each region has its own distinctive flavour profile. The regions are as follows:
- The Lowlands
- The Highlands
This map image shows you where these all are in Scotland for reference.
Here’s a quick overview of each region, the flavour you might expect with a whisky from each region, as well as some popular single malt Scotch whiskies from each area.
The Lowlands Whisky Region
Covering the southern part of Scotland, the Lowlands whisky region includes Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Scottish Border region, Dumfries & Galloway, and Fife.
The area is currently home to around 18 whisky distilleries, including well known brands like Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie and Bladnoch, as well as newer distilleries like the Glasgow Distillery Company and Clydeside Distillery.
Lowlands whisky is usually described as floral, light and sweet with grassy flavours. Lowlands whisky is also a popular addition to many blends, as the flavours are not overpowering.
Lowland whisky makes for a good starter whisky for those who haven’t tried Scotch whisky before. In addition, many of the Lowland distilleries are easy to visit on day trips from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The Highlands Whisky Region
Stretching across the northern half of Scotland, the Highlands whisky region is the largest of all the whisky regions. It is home to 47 distilleries, including Oban, Tomatin, and Glenmorangie.
The Highlands region includes the majority of the Scottish islands with the exception of Islay. This is not a formal region, but is often referred to as “The Islands”. Island whisky distilleries, of which there are 17, include Talisker, Jura, and Highland Park.
Highlands whisky is described as fruity, sweet, spicy and malty.
Speyside Whisky Region
The Speyside Whisky region is found in a small region of north eastern Scotland, between Aberdeen and Inverness. Speyside gets is name from the River Spey which runs through the region. It is surrounded by the Highlands Whisky region, however due to the sheer number of distilleries here (50!), it is its own region.
Speyside is home to some of Scotland’s most famous single malt whiskies, including Glenfiddich, The Macallan, The Glenlivet, Dalwhinnie, and Balvenie. Around half of all whisky production in Scotland happens in the Speyside region.
Speyside whisky is generally described as lighter and sweeter than whisky from other regions, and is a popular whisky for those trying whisky for the first time. As you might imagine though, with so many distilleries to choose from, there’s a huge range of flavours, with caramel, fruit and spices being the primary characteristics of a Speyside.
Speyside is also the home of Scotland’s Malt Whisky Trail. This is a tourism imitative that links a number of distilleries as well as the Speyside Cooperage into a trail. If you are doing a self-drive whisky trip and love Speyside whisky, the trail is a good option for planning your trip. Or you can leave driving to someone else and join a tour like this or this.
Campbeltown Whisky Region
Found on the Kintyre Peninsula to the west of Glasgow, the Campbeltown Whisky Region is the smallest in Scotland. For a time, this small region was home to over 30 distilleries, and was labelled the whisky capital of Scotland.
However, this success led to over production and a reduction in quality, with many distilleries failing. Today, only three distilleries survive in Campbeltown: Springbank, Glengyle, and Glen Scotia. Dating from 1828, Springbank is the oldest and perhaps most well known of the three.
The whisky from Campbeltown is unique, with fruity, peaty, sweet, and smoky notes.
Islay Whisky Region
Last, but by no means least, the Isle of Islay is the fifth of Scotland’s whisky producing regions. There are nine distilleries on the island, the majority of which are well known brands. These include Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, and Bruichladdich.
Islay whisky is famed for being heavily peated and smoky, and is definitely a divisive flavour. Peated water and peat fired kilns, combined with the sea-side location, definitely contributes to the distinctive flavours of an Islay single malt.
However, with nine distilleries to choose from, there are whiskies here to suit most palates. Peated Islay single malt whisky is actually my favorite kind of whisky; however, it can be quite an overwhelming flavour for first time whisky drinkers!
Which are the Most Popular Scottish Whiskys?
There are over 100 distilleries in Scotland, and each of them produces a number of different single malt whiskies. In addition, many of these distilleries also contribute their whisky to blended whiskies, meaning there are literally hundreds of whiskies to choose from, with a huge range of flavour profiles.
Like wine, individual preferences will vary and there is no “best” whisky. One of the fun things is to discover what you enjoy drinking most.
My personal favourite whisky is Laphroaig 10 year old, which has a very strong peat and sea flavour. I’ll admit, it’s not for everyone. Famous whisky drinker Winston Churchill favoured Johnny Walker Red Label, which remains one of the best-selling blended whiskies in the world.
By sales volume, the following distilleries sell the most single malt Scotch whisky according to Scotch Whisky Magazine:
- The Glenlivet
Single malt sales pale in comparison to blended whiskies though, which account for over 90% of Scotch whisky sold around the world. These are the top five blended whisky brands by sales according to the Spirits Business:
- Johnnie Walker
- Chivas Regal
- William Lawson’s
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Over a billion bottles of whisky are exported from Scotland each year!
Can you Visit a Whisky Distillery in Scotland?
You absolutely can visit a whisky distillery in Scotland. Many of the distilleries across the country offer tours and tastings. In fact, the hardest part will be deciding which distillery or distilleries to visit!
Of course, there are some ways to narrow down which distilleries you want to visit.
First, if you already have a favourite single malt Scotch whisky, then you might prefer to visit the distillery where it’s made. You should be aware that while many distilleries offer tours, not all of them do. In addition, many only run tours on specific days or require advance booking. So definitely check ahead before just turning up!
Second, where you are visiting in Scotland will likely make a difference to which whisky distillery or distilleries you visit. Of course, whisky aficionados will be planning their Scotland trip around distilleries, or taking a multi-day whisky distillery tour like this. However, I think many visitors will want to visit somewhere near where they are already planning on going.
With this in mind, this post includes a guide to which whisky distilleries you can visit based on popular destinations in Scotland. So wherever your Scottish adventures are taking you, you should be able to easily find a distillery or two!
How To Visit Scottish Whisky Distilleries
Before I dive into individual whisky distilleries you can visit in Scotland, I want to go through some practicalities for how to visit whisky distilleries in Scotland.
The majority of whisky distilleries in Scotland are located in beautifully scenic but relatively remote locations. There are some newer distilleries which are within city boundaries, such as The Clydeside Distillery in Glasgow and the Holyrood Distillery in Edinburgh. These city distilleries easily be visited on foot or by public transport by those staying in the city.
However, most whisky distilleries in Scotland are located rurally, and so you will need to do some planning in order to visit them. Here are your options.
Driving to Whisky Distilleries
First, you can of course drive to the distilleries yourself. You can hire a car or use your own vehicle. If you are looking to hire a car, we usually use and recommend Rentalcars.com or Enterprise. For motorhomes in Scotland, we recommend Spaceships.
Driving yourself though has a big disadvantage though in not being able to take part in the tastings. Personally I think one of the nice things about visiting whisky distilleries is sampling the whiskies in the surrounds of the distillery. Because Scottish drink driving rules are very strict, this isn’t possible (at least for the driver!) if you drive yourself.
The good news if you drive yourself is that the majority of the distilleries are very accommodating for drivers and cyclists, and will let you take your whisky samples with you, for consumption at a later point. So this is still an option.
Of course, you can also consider visiting distilleries by public transit or as part of a tour.
Public Transport to Whisky Distilleries
Due to their often remote location, the majority of whisky distilleries aren’t easily accessible by public transport, especially from the larger cities in Scotland.
However, some of the distilleries are accessible by public transport, both by bus and train.
Some examples of whisky distilleries accessible by train in Scotland are as follows:
- Blair Athol – Pitlochry train station, 1hr 50 minutes from Edinburgh
- Dalwhinnie – Dalwhinnie train station, 2hr 20 minutes from Edinburgh
- Auchentoshan – Kilpatrick train station, 30 minutes from Glasgow
- Oban – Oban train station, 3hrs 5minutes from Glasgow
- Glen Ord – Muir of Ord train station, 20 minutes from Inverness
- Strathisla – Keith train station, 1 hr 5 minutes from Inverness
- Glen Moray – Elgin train station, 40 minutes from Inverness
- Glenmorangie – Tain train station, 1hr 20 minutes from Inverness
As you can see, it is certainly possible to visit a number of distilleries by train. It’s also possible to visit a number of distilleries by bus, although buses to the more remote parts of Scotland can be somewhat irregular.
Honestly though, in our experience, you will have a better time taking either a private or guided group tour to visit a whisky distillery. A tour will take you door to door, let you visit a number of distilleries and other attractions, and often aren’t much more expensive than taking a train for a couple of hours!
Tours of Whisky Distilleries
Our preferred option for visiting whisky distilleries in Scotland is to take a guided tour. There are a huge number of guided tours of whisky distilleries in Scotland, departing from locations around the country. These will either be group guided tours, or you can also arrange a private guided tour. Private tours are often customisable, so you can adjust what you visit depending on your interests.
Tours offer a number of advantages. First, someone else handles all the transport, so you don’t have to worry about drink driving laws or public transport schedules. You also get a knowledgeable guide who will entertain and inform you. Most tours also include additional attractions in the area. All you have to do is turn up at the meeting place and enjoy!
Tours run from the major cities around the UK. There are half day, full day, and multi-day tours of Scotland that include whisky distilleries. Some tours will be purely whisky focused, whilst others might include a distillery or two as part of an overall sightseeing experience.
You can take a half-day tour from Glasgow or join a 8-day guided tour from London
We always recommend comparing tours to find one that suits. Tours vary by group size, sights visited, and also by what is included. Some tours for example will include the distillery tours, whilst for others this might be a separate payment.
We’ve taken a lot of tours in Scotland, including to many whisky distilleries. Our favourite small group tour operator in Scotland is Rabbie’s, who run a wide range of tours. They can also arrange private tours. You can see all of their whisky tours of Scotland here.
Here are some tours to consider which include whisky distilleries in Scotland, from a variety of operators. I’ll start with day trips, and then share some multi-day trips as well.
Whisky Tours from Edinburgh
- This full day tour small group tour from Edinburgh visits Glengoyne Distillery, Loch Lomond and Deanston Distillery
- This full day small group tour from Edinburgh visits Glengoyne Distillery, Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle
- This 1 day small group tour from Edinburgh visits Aberfeldy Distillery as well as Dunkeld, Pitlochry and Loch Tay
Whisky Tours from Glasgow
- This private full day tour is available for multiple locations around Scotland and can be totally customised to meet your needs
- This 1 day small group tour from Glasgow visits Deanston Distillery, Glengoyne Distillery and Auchentoshan Distillery
- This full day small group tour from Glasgow visits the Clydeside Distillery and Loch Lomond, with an optional cruise on the Loch
- This private tour from Glasgow can be customised, with a suggested itinerary including Auchentoshan and Deanston distilleries
Whisky Tours from Aberdeen
- This 1 day small group tour from Aberdeen visits the Strathisla Distillery, Speyside Cooperage and Cambus O’May forest
- This private tour from Aberdeen visits Cardhu, Cragganmore and Royal Lochnagar Distilleries
- This private tour from Aberdeen visits Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and the Macallan Distilleries
Whisky Tours from Inverness
- This full day small group tour from Inverness visits Tomatin Distillery as well as Loch Morlich and the Cairngorms National Park
- This full day small group tour from Inverness visits Benromach and Glenfiddich Distilleries, as well as Elgin and Strathspey
- This 1 day small group tour from Inverness visits the Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye, as well as photo opportunities at the Fairy Pools, Urquhart Castle and Eilean Donan Castle.
- This full day tour from Inverness visits Glen Ord, Dalmore, Glenmorangie and Balblair distilleries
- This whisky focused full day tour from Inverness visits Tomatin, Glen Moray, The Macallan, Aberlour and Glen Ord distilleries, and includes entry and tastings at all of them
Multi-Day Whisky Tours in Scotland
If you want a more thorough immersion into the world of Scottish whisky, you might consider a multi-day whisky tour. These will let you experience more distilleries, as well as see more of what Scotland has to offer. Some suggested tours are as follows.
- This 3 day small group tour from Edinburgh focuses on the Speyside distilleries, as well as a number of other sights in the region
- This luxury private 3 day tour from Inverness includes 17 distilleries, covering the Highland and Speyside whisky regions.
- This 4 day small group tour from Edinburgh includes many of the Islay distilleries, as well as sight seeing in Oban, Loch Lomond and parts of the Highlands
- This private 4 day tour is available from multiple destinations around Scotland. It focuses on the Islay distilleries
- This is another 4 day small group tour from Edinburgh which includes the majority of the Islay distilleries
- This 8 day small group tour includes time in Edinburgh as well as both the Islay and Speyside whisky distilleries.
- This 8 day small group tour from London includes the Lake District, Loch Lomond and Edinburgh, as well as many of the Islay distilleries. This similar 7 day tour from London swaps Islay for Speyside.
One thing to mention for all the tours is that tour schedules can change due to distillery operations or for other factors. As such, if you are booking a tour and want to visit a specific distillery, it is worth confirming it is definitely visiting the distillery!
Whisky Distilleries in Scotland
I’ll now go through some of the whisky distilleries in Scotland you can visit. To make this easier to navigate, I’ve divided this up by popular destinations in Scotland.
So if you are visiting Edinburgh for example, I’ve put some distilleries together that you can visit easily as a day trip from Edinburgh. Where possible, I’ve also included suggested guided tours that include each of our recommended distilleries.
Whisky Distilleries You Can Visit from Edinburgh
Edinburgh is one of the most well known and popular cities to visit in Scotland. That said, it is not home to a great many whisky distilleries. It is however a good base from which to visit a number of Lowland distilleries, and there is one operational distillery you can visit in the city, as well as an excellent whisky themed attraction.
In the city itself, you can visit the Holyrood Distillery. This opened in 2019 in a former railway goods shed, and is around 10-15 minutes walk from the city centre. Because it’s so new, their whisky is still maturing. However, you can tour the distillery and learn about the whisky making process.
Two other excellent options in Edinburgh city centre are the Scotch Whisky Experience and the Johnnie Walker Princes Street venue. Neither of these venues create whisky, however they are both good options for learning how whisky is made and its history.
The Scotch Whisky Experience isn’t tied to a particular brand, and the interactive visit is a lot of fun. It’s a great place to learn about the history of whisky, how its made and the various regions and associated flavours. There’s also an excellent tasting session, as well as the opportunity to see the world’s largest whisky collection. A great first-stop on any whisky tour of Scotland.
The Johnnie Walker Princes Street venue was opened in 2021. It also offers an overview of how whisky is made, but has more of a focus on the history of Johnnie Walker and their brand. So fans of this blended malt whisky might prefer this. It’s a very modern experience which is well done, and of course, there’s plenty of whisky to try.
If you’d prefer to visit an older working distillery, there are some excellent options available as part of a day trip from Edinburgh. I wrote about one experience visiting whisky distillers from Edinburgh here. I’d generally recommend booking a guided tour with transport like this one if you plan on visiting distilleries outside the city so you don’t need to worry about driving. Here are some distilleries and associated whisky tours from Edinburgh to consider.
- Glengoyne Distillery – founded in 1833, this picturesque distillery is one of our favourite whisky distilleries near Edinburgh. It’s around a 90 minute drive to the west of Edinburgh, and offers tastings and tours. Glengoyne is right on the border of the Highlands and Lowlands regions, and produces an unpeated Highland single malt using traditional methods. You can visit it on this tour and this tour from Edinburgh.
- Deanston Distillery – around an hours drive northwest of Edinburgh in the town of Doune, this distillery is found in an old cotton mill which was converted to a whisky distillery in 1966. Today it is open for tours and tastings of it’s Highland Single Malt. You can visit it on this tour and this tour from Edinburgh.
- Aberfeldy Distillery – just under two hours drive north of Edinburgh, this distillery was founded in 1896. It produces three Highland single malts and is open for tours and tastings. You can visit it on this tour from Edinburgh.
- The Glenturret Distillery – about a 90 minute drive to the north west of Edinburgh, this is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. Founded in 1775, and surrounded by beautiful landscapes, the distillery produces a range of Highland single malts. To visit Glenturret distillery from Edinburgh you will need to arrange your own transport, or take a private customisable tour like this.
- Glenkinchie Distillery – just a 35 minute drive to the south east of Edinburgh, this distillery creates Lowland single malts. It’s also branded as the home of Johnnie Walker, so lovers of that blended Scotch will definitely want to make a visit! You can visit on this tour from Edinburgh.
So those are some of our favourite distilleries you can visit from Edinburgh. For more inspiration for your visit to the city, see our guide to things to do in Edinburgh, as well as our favourite day trips from Edinburgh.
Whisky Distilleries You Can Visit from Glasgow
Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city, found around an hour to the west of Edinburgh. Like Edinburgh, it’s also in the Lowlands whisky region. The city itself was once home to over 100 whisky distilleries!
Today, there are only two whisky distilleries in Glasgow itself. Both are relatively new, but both are open for visitors. There are also quite a few within easy reach of the city on a day trip. Here are some whisky distilleries we think you should consider visiting when you’re in Glasgow.
- The Clydeside Distillery – this lowland whisky distillery opened in Glasgow on the banks of the River Clyde in 2018. It’s a wonderfully picturesque location, and the tour is a fantastic way to learn about all the different Scottish whisky regions, as well as try some whiskies from different regions. This one is easy to get to from Glasgow city centre, either on foot, or on Glasgow’s Hop on Hop off bus. It’s also included on this day tour to Loch Lomond.
- Glasgow Distillery – opened in 2014, this was the first independent single malt whisky distillery to operate in Glasgow for over 100 years. They offer a range of lowland single malts, as well as gin and vodka. Tours are offered but not as regularly so be sure to check ahead. It’s located around 40 minutes by public transport to the west of the city centre.
- Auchentoshan Distillery – about ten miles west of Glasgow, this distillery has been producing whisky since 1823. It is known for it’s smooth triple distilled lowland single malt, which has a more delicate, sweet flavour than many other whiskies. It’s open for tours, and can be reached by public transport or car from Glasgow. You can also visit on this group day tour, or you can take this private tour which includes Auchentoshan.
- Tullibardine Distillery – found around a 45 minute drive to the north east of Glasgow, this highland distillery has been producing whisky since 1949. It’s open for tours, and you can visit it on this private tour from Glasgow.
Whisky Distilleries You Can Visit from Aberdeen
Found in the north east of Scotland, the city of Aberdeen doesn’t always make the shortlist of places to visit for folks visiting Scotland. Which is a shame, as it has a wealth of sights, a great food scene, is surrounded by fantastic castles, and is a jumping off point for the North East 250 driving route.
Whilst Aberdeen is within the Highlands whisky region, it’s also pretty close to one of Scotland’s most famous whisky producing regions—Speyside. As a result, there are plenty of whisky distilleries you can visit from Aberdeen! Here are some to consider:
- Glen Garioch Distillery – the most easterly of all the Scottish distilleries, this is also the closest whisky distillery to Aberdeen at a 30 minute drive away. It’s been distilling Highland single malt whisky since 1797 and is open for tours and tastings. You can take a bus from Aberdeen which takes around an hour, or you can visit it on a custom private whisky tour like this.
- Strathisla Distillery – established in 1786, this is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the Scottish Highlands. They produce a highland single malt, and are also regarded as the home of Chivas Regal, one of the world’s most popular blends. You can visit on this tour from Aberdeen.
- The Macallan Distillery – one of the world’s most popular single malt whisky brands, The Macallan has been distilling Speyside whisky since 1824. A spectacular new visitor centre was opened in 2019, and the modern building is almost worth the price of the tour alone. It’s open for tours and tastings, and you can visit on this private tour from Aberdeen.
- Cardhu Distillery – this Speyside distillery has been creating single malt whiskies since 1824. It was also the first distillery to be bought by the Johnnie Walker company. You can visit on this private tour from Aberdeen
- The Glenlivet Distillery – operating since 1824, the Glenlivet is the most popular single malt whisky in the USA. They produce a range of Speyside single malts, and offer tours and tastings. You can visit the Glenlivet distillery on this private tour from Aberdeen.
Honestly, this is just a small sample of the distilleries that you can visit from Aberdeen. With over 50 distilleries to choose from within a 2 hour drive of Aberdeen, you are going to be spoilt for choice.
We can also recommend taking the time to visit the Speyside Cooperage when you are in the Speyside area, where you can learn all about the art of wooden barrel restoration – a key part of the whisky making process. You can visit as part of a tour like this.
Whisky Distilleries You Can Visit from Inverness
Described as the capital of the Highlands, Inverness is another wonderful city to explore in Scotland. It’s the start point of the spectacular North Coast 500 driving route, and is also very close to Scotland’s famous Loch Ness.
Inverness is also close to a great many whisky distilleries. These include distilleries in the Highland region and the Speyside region. In fact, of all the cities in our guide, Inverness probably has the most whisky distilleries surrounding it. Here are a few to consider visiting.
- Glenfiddich Distillery – currently the world’s most popular single malt whisky, a visit to Speyside’s Glenfiddich distillery is definitely on the wish list of many visitors to Scotland. They produce a range of Speyside single malts, and tours and tastings are available. You can visit Glenfiddich on this group tour, as well as on this private tour.
- Glen Ord Distillery – the only distillery on the Black Isle, Glen Ord has been producing whisky since 1838. They are also one of the whisky distilleries that produces the popular Singleton brand single malt whiskies for the Diageo drinks company. You can visit Glen Ord on this group tour and this private tour from Inverness.
- Dalmore Distillery – 30 minutes drive from Inverness (or an hour by bus), Dalmore distillery has been producing highland single malt whisky since 1839. It’s open for tours, and can be visited on this three day tour from Inverness.
- Tomatin Distillery – 25 minutes drive to the south of Inverness (also accessible by public bus), it’s believed that whisky has been distilled on this location since the 16th century. The distillery was founded in 1897, and produces a range of single malt whiskies. It’s open for tours and tastings, and you can visit on this small group tour from Inverness.
- Dalwhinnie Distillery – found up in the Scottish highlands, around an hours drive south of Inverness (approx. 90 minutes by train), Dalwhinne is the highest distillery in Scotland that you can visit. It was founded in 1898, and is technically in both the Highland and Speyside whisky regions, although Dalwhinne refers to its whisky as Highland whisky. It’s open for tours, and can be visited on this three day tour from Inverness.
- Dallas Dhu Distillery – last on our list of distilleries you can visit from Inverness is Dallas Dhu. This was a working distillery from 1899 until 1983, and has since been turned into a centre showcasing the craft, history, and traditions of Scottish whisky making. Great for those interested in the history of whisky making.
You can also visit other distilleries we’ve already mentioned in our section on Aberdeen. For example, this tour from Inverness includes the Macallan and Aberlour distilleries (along with a few more!).
You are definitely spoilt for choice when it come to whisky distilleries near Inverness!
Whisky Distilleries on the North Coast 500
The North Coast 500 is one of Scotland’s most famous driving routes, and one we’ve driven many times. You can see our guide to planning an NC500 trip here, as well as a suggested 5 day NC500 itinerary and 7 day NC500 itinerary. If you’re looking for a tour of the NC500, we recommend this one departing from Inverness.
The good news for whisky lovers is that there are a number of whisky distilleries along the NC500. These are primarily along the east coast of the route, between Inverness and Thurso. I think we’ve visited all of the ones open to the public.
Here are some you can visit:
- Wolfburn Distillery – found in the town of Thurso, and the most northerly distillery on mainland Scotland, Wolfburn was originally founded in 1822. However, it closed in 1877, and only reopened in 2013. They don’t have a formal visitor centre, but you can visit and get a fantastic hands on tour of the workings of the distillery, accompanied by tastings.
- Pulteney Distillery – located in Wick in far northeastern Scotland, Pulteney started producing Old Pulteney highland single malt whisky on this location in 1826. Today they have a full visitor experience along with a wide range of whiskies to taste.
- Clynelish Distillery – just over an hours drive north of Inverness near the town of Brora, Clynelish distillery was originally established in 1819 as a whisky distillery. It produces a single malt, and is also where a great percentage of the whisky that goes into Johnnie Walker is produced. In addition, some of the rarest whisky in the world, Brora, was also produced on site for a number of years. The Brora distillery is next door to Clynelish and reopened in 2021. As such, there’s a lot of whisky history here, making this a good place to visit for whisky lovers. Tours and tastings are available.
- Glenmorangie Distillery – one of the world’s most popular single malt whiskies, Glenmorangie, is found along the North Coast 500 route around 45 minutes drive north of Inverness. Opened in 1843, Glenmorangie is a highland distillery known for having the tallest stills in Scotland. It’s open for tours and tastings.
- GlenWyvis Distillery – found in Dingwall, half an hour from Inverness, Glenwyvis was founded in 2015. It’s the first distillery in Dingwall since 1926. Currently, Glenwyvis produces both whisky and gin, and you can take guided tours of their operation.
Of course, there are more distilleries in the area that you can visit before or after your NC500 experience, including the Speyside distilleries and the other Highland region distilleries around Inverness.
We have a complete guide to whisky distilleries on the North Coast 500 if you’re interested in visiting distilleries along the route.
Whisky Distilleries on Skye
Skye is the most visited of the Scottish islands. It’s famed for its beautiful landscapes, but it’s also the home of a small number of Scottish whisky distilleries which you can visit, which fall within the Highlands whisky region. These are as follows:
- Talisker Distillery – founded in 1830 and tucked away on a beautiful bay on the Isle of Skye, Talisker is the most well known of Skye’s distilleries. They make a wide range of highland single malts, and offer tours and tastings. You can visit Talisker on this tour from Inverness.
- Torabhaig Distillery – Skye’s newest, and currently, only other distillery is Torabhaig. This started distilling in early 2017, and is now open for tours and tastings. A good option if you are looking for a quieter whisky distillery experience on Skye.
If you would prefer to escape the crowds of Skye (it is a popular place!) then you might consider taking the 20 minute ferry from Skye to the Isle of Raasay. As well as having a more peaceful and laid back feel, whisky lovers will be pleased to hear Raasay now has it’s own distillery – the Isle of Raasay Distillery.
This only started distilling whisky in 2017, but it’s open for tours and tasting, and even has some lovely ensuite rooms if you want to stay overnight.
For more ideas on what to do on Skye, see our guide to photography locations on Skye, as well as our guide to escaping the crowds on the Isle of Skye. We also have a suggested 5 day Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye itinerary.
Whisky Distilleries on Islay
For a relatively small island, Islay sure has a lot of whisky distilleries. At it’s height there were actually 23 distillers on Islay! Today this has reduced somewhat, although there are still an impressive nine active distilleries on the island.
The whisky of Islay is famous for it’s heavily peated flavour, and the isle forms its own whisky region. However, not all the whiskies of Islay are quite so strong, so I think you’ll find a whisky that matches your palate.
Here are some of the whisky distilleries you can visit on Islay.
- Laphroaig Distillery – my favourite Scotch whisky, this has a heavily peated flavour. Some have likened the taste to petroleum! Established in 1815, Laproaig is one of the best known Islay whiskies. I really enjoyed the tour of the distillery, which includes the malting floor, peat kiln and delicious tastings of course.
- Lagavulin Distillery – a mile along the coast from Laphroaig is Lagavulin, another whisky famed for it’s strong smoked peat flavour. This was founded in 1816. Tours and tastings are available.
- Ardbeg Distillery – a mile from Lagavulin (meaning there are three distilleries within two miles of each other on the coast here) is the Ardbeg distillery, which was founded in 1815. Again, it’s famous for it strong peat smoke flavour. It can be visited for tours and tastings.
- Kilchoman Distillery– founded in 2015, Kilchoman is the newest distillery on the island. It’s also the only independent distillery, and is rare in that it grows and malts all its own grain on site. So if you want to see a true field to bottle whisky distillery, Kilchoman would be a good choice! Open for tours and tastings.
- Bowmore Distillery – from the newest distillery, to the oldest working distillery on Islay. Bowmore was founded in 1779, making it one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. They produce a range of single malt whiskies with a fairly smooth peat flavour. It’s open for tours and tastings.
If you stay in Port Ellen, you can easily walk or take the public bus along the coast to Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries. There are also a number of tour operators on the island who offer tours of the distilleries, such as Islay Whisky Tours and Islay Taxis. Alternatively, you can take a multi-day tour to Islay like this or like this from Edinburgh.
From Islay, it’s also a ten minute ride to the wild and sparsley populated Isle of Jura, where you can visit the Jura distillery. More on this in our next section, but Jura is well worth visiting for its wonderful hiking and wildlife watching opportunities.
There’s lots more to see on Islay than whisky distilleries of course. For some ideas see our complete guide to things to do on Islay, which covers all the highlights as well as lots of practical information for planning your visit.
Whisky Distilleries on Other Scottish Islands
Of course, there are many more islands around the Scottish mainland beyond Skye and Islay. Some of them have distilleries on them as well, and these fall into the Highland whisky region.
If you plan on visiting some of Scotland’s other islands, here are some of the distilleries you might consider including in your itinerary. I’ve ordered these in a counter-clockwise direction around Scotland, from the Isle of Arran in the south west to the Orkneys in the north east.
- Lochranza distillery. Found on the Isle of Arran, Lochranza Distillery opened in 1995. It draws on a rich history of whisky distilling on the island, but was the first legal distillery to open since 1837. Today it produces a range of highland style single malt whiskies which are not peaty. It’s open for tours and tastings.
- Lagg distillery. Also found on the Isle of Arran, and opened in 2019, Lagg aims to produce a heavily peated whisky. Lagg is the sister distillery of Lochranza, both are owned by the Isle of Arran Distillers company. It’s open for tours, with tastings also available.
- Isle of Jura distillery – a short distance from the Isle of Islay, the wild Isle of Jura is home to the Isle of Jura distillery. Originally founded in 1810, the current distillery has been operating since 1963. They produce a range of single malt whiskies, both peaty and non-peated, so have something for every palate.
- Tobermory distillery – found on the Isle of Mull, there’s been a distillery producing whisky here since 1798, although it has seen closures and changes in name over that time. Today, the Tobermory distillery produces both a peated and unpeated single malt whisky. It’s open for tours and tastings.
- Highland Park distillery – the most northerly single malt distillery in the world, Highland Park is found in the town of Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands. They’ve been distilling whisky here since 1798, and are today one of the most well known single malt whisky brands. The whisky is peated with Orkney peat, lending it a unique smokey flavour. It’s open for tours and tastings.
- Scapa distillery – the second distillery on the Orkney Islands is Scapa. Originally founded in 1885, Scapa was reopened in 2004 and has been producing whisky ever since. Their single malt isn’t peated. It’s open today for tours and tastings.
Map of Scottish Whisky Distilleries
To help you visualise all the distilleries we’ve talked about, we’ve added them all to the map below. You can also see this map on Google maps here.
Whisky Hotels in Scotland
As there is so much excellent whisky in Scotland, you might also want to plan your accommodation to include some properties which are known for their extensive whisky collections. Here, you’ll usually be able to choose from a wide range of whisky options, and also chat with the bartender who will be able to advise you on something you suit your own preferences.
Some hotels might even do special tastings, or be conveniently located close to (or even within!) current distilleries. You can also find hotels and restaurants that serve meals based around whisky pairings.
Here are some options to consider.
- Dornoch Castle – this 500 year old castle makes for a great stop on the NC500 driving route. Whisky lovers will love its award winning whisky bar, which is home to hundreds of malts. Tastings are available.
- Raasay Distillery Hotel – if you visit the Isle of Raasay, then you can actually stay in a distillery. The distillery is also a four star hotel with lovely rooms and of course, a well stocked bar!
- The Craigellachie – this well located 19th century 4* Speyside hotel hosts the Quaich bar, one of Scotland’s foremost whisky bars. With over 900 single malt whiskies available from around the world, you are sure to find something to suit
- The Torridon – one of our favourite luxury hotels on the NC500, the Torridon offers the perfect surroundings to enjoy a wee dram or two. And with over 300 malts on hand, as well as knowledgable staff, you’ll have no shortage of choice!
- Glenmorangie House – this 4* country house hotel, is owned and operated by the Glenmorangie Distillery, which is found 8 miles away. Fans of Glenmorangie will definitely want to try the many varieties they have on offer here, or even consider booking one of their whisky tasting weekends.
- Gables Whisky B&B – found in the heart of Speyside, this well rated B&B has a whisky lounge featuring almost 500 bottle of single malt whisky. Tastings are of course available!
- Whisky Vaults – well located for exploring Oban (and it’s distillery!) this townhouse hotel offers comfortable accommodation and an excellent whisky bar
Where to Buy Whisky Online?
If you’re looking for a whisky as a memento of your travel in Scotland, or perhaps in preparation of your adventure, then you have a few options.
First, we recommend you check out The Whisky Shop. They have a number of retail locations around the UK, as well as an online store, and they offer a huge range of whiskies. Naturally, these include whiskies from many of the North Coast 500 whisky distilleries.
Of course, as you travel around Scotland you will find that the majority of distilleries you can visit have shops so you can also pick one up as you go direct from the distillery!
Hopefully our guide to Scottish whisky distilleries and whisky in Scotland has helped you plan your own whisky tour of Scotland! We also have a lot of other Scotland content that we think you will find useful in planning your trip around this wonderful country.
- For Edinburgh, check out our 2 day Edinburgh itinerary, our guide to things to do in Edinburgh, and our guide to the best day trips from Edinburgh to get you started. We also have a guide to getting from London to Edinburgh.
- For Glasgow, see our Glasgow and Loch Lomond itinerary, our guide to the best day trips from Glasgow, and our guide to things to do in Glasgow
- For Aberdeen, we have a guide to things to do in Aberdeen, our favourite restaurants in Aberdeen, a suggested 2 day Aberdeen itinerary and a guide to the best day trips from Aberdeen.
- From Aberdeen you can also tackle the North East 250! This is a newer driving route which covers spectacular scenery, many Speyside distilleries, and the wonderful Moray Firth coastline. See our 3 day NE250 itinerary for advice on that one.
- For more road trip inspiration, check out our detailed guide to the North Coast 500 and North Coast 500 Accommodation Guide, as well as my photography highlights on the North Coast 500 for some inspiration for your trip. If you’d like an itinerary for the North Coast 500, check out our detailed 7 Day North Coast 500 camping itinerary.
- We have a guide to Loch Ness as well as some of our other favourite day trips from Inverness for some inspiration. We also have some detailed guides to other attractions near Inverness, including a guide to the Black Isle and tips on visiting the Cairngorms
- We have a detailed guide to visiting Glen Coe which has everything you need to plan your trip
- We’ve got an itinerary for visiting Skye and the Highlands
- If you’re driving in the UK for the first time, check out my tips for driving in the UK for some advice. We also have a guide to how much it costs to travel in the UK.
- For wider UK trip planning, we have suggested one week and two week UK itineraries as a starter, plus lots more UK content to help you plan your trip.
- If you’d like a guidebook for your time visiting Scotland, we recommend the Rick Steves’ Scotland guide
And that’s it! As always, we’re happy to hear your feedback and answer any questions you might have. Just let us know in the comments below!