This past summer, our Sales and Marketing Director, Liz Murray took a trip to Scotland for a whisky tasting adventure and wrote a lovely travelogue about it! Here are her experiences with some snippets of really solid advice on how to enjoy a Whisky Tasting the right way, taking in several distilleries at once.
Take it away, Liz!
Armed with our trusty Scotland Whisky Distilleries Map print, my husband, daughter and I set off up north, to taste some whiskies! Now, I have to confess I’m not much of a whisky drinker myself, but my husband is and he was willing to take a hit (or three) for the team!
Pick a region, any region!
It goes without saying, we wanted to visit the top distilleries, but before we we could go anywhere, it made sense to have a really good look at a map. It became clear very quickly, that we would have a hard time enjoying ourselves, unless we focussed our efforts in a specific area. Whisky distilleries are located all across Scotland, from the Orkneys to the Isle of Skye, not to mention in and around the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. After some deliberation, we decided to fly to Inverness and focus on the Speyside region.
Not that that was the end of our deliberations, by any measure! In Speyside, there are more than 50 distilleries to choose from. Luckily, we timed the weekend to coincide with the Spirit of Speyside festival, which handily fell on early May Bank holiday weekend. It’s an annual festival that includes many events at local distilleries and in towns and villages around the area. Most of the distilleries would put on special tours and open their doors every day and for longer during this festival. It’s a great opportunity to ensure you can taste a variety of whiskies on your trip, so do look out for a festival close to when you’re booking a trip!
Start with what you know
The next step involved narrowing our trip down to specific distilleries. It’s generally works best to start with what you’re familiar with before moving on to ones who’ve never heard of. My husband first picked one or two distilleries that he had sampled before – Aberlour and Glenlivet. We visited each of them on a different day and even had time to add a visit to 2 additional distilleries in easy driving distance of them!
You could easily visit 4-5 distilleries on each day of your visit if you wanted to. We went about it at a more leisurely pace ensuring we included a nice long lunch each day. We drove up to Aviemore in the Cairngorm mountains one day and went off to find Nessie at Loch Ness (only about a 40 minute drive from the heart of Speyside.) Unfortunately no monster sightings this time!
Size does matter
So what were the distilleries themselves like? Well, we soon realised that the size of the distillery and ownership can be a factor in your entire tour experience. There are large mass whisky distilleries like Glenlivet (owned by Pernod) and smaller distilleries like Glenfarclas, that are still family owned. Glenlivet is situated on a larger site, with a buzzing visitor centre. It’s completely geared up for tours and they had multilingual guides taking tours off every 30 minutes. It’s slightly ‘theme park’ but it’s really good fun, great information and the whisky is amazing! You’ll even get to have a dram of some of the really old matured whiskies too, you’re a real aficionado.
If you visit the less commercial distilleries like Glenfarclas you get a smaller, more personal experience, but with just as much expertise thrown in too. Large and small distilleries are both great options, just make sure you mix them up. Whichever size you do choose, you can be sure that any distillery worth their salt, will have people happy to explain their history and techniques to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
We also visited Cardhu, Cragganmore and Glenfiddich on our trip, but unfortunately not all of them were running complete tours at the time. A lesson here is to check in advance that any distilleries you’d like to visit run tours or tastings. Not all of them remain open to the public all the time or without appointment as we found out the hard way!
All in all it was a great trip, and I really cannot stress enough how handy the Scratch Off Whisky Distilleries map was in all of this. Even for a whisky novice like myself, it helped get into the spirit (Hah!) of the occasion. My husband had great fun as well every evening scratching off the locations of all the distilleries he has now tried whiskies from!