May is Whisky Month in Scotland and there are many reasons why this ancient, distinct and varied tipple should be celebrated.
Produced in Scotland for centuries, the ‘water of life’ (uisge beatha in Gaelic) is a much-loved and iconic national drink. There are three different types of Scotch whisky (malt whisky – or single malt, grain whisky and blended whisky). While the liquid gold has an illustrious history dating to late Medieval times, today there are over 130 working distilleries, each making whisky in their own unique way.
Pour yourself a wee dram (ideally in a tulip-shaped glass to trap the aromas) and prepare to visit a whisky distillery or whisky-themed festival:
Scotch Whisky Experience
Located at the top of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and thought to be home to the world’s largest whisky collection, the Scotch Whisky Experience offers a range of tours and tastings which tell the tale of Scotland’s national drink. Learn about the history of Scotch whisky production, sample some drams in the vaults, peek inside the blender’s room and enjoy a barrel ride. The impressive whisky collection is home to over 3,000 bottles of Scotch! The Platinum whisky tour includes a three-course Taste of Scotland experience in the award-wining Amber Restaurant.
Stay nearby aboard Edinburgh’s floating hotel Fingal or at boutique bolthole Dunstane Houses which has an extensive whisky bar, complete with a vintage cabinet featuring over seventy varieties, including some rare single malts and blends. Whisky and cheese tastings, martini masterclasses and cocktail making classes are available.
Glen Ord Distillery
Nestled near Muir of Ord on the Black Isle peninsula in the Scottish Highlands, Glen Ord Distillery is the home of the rich and warmly spiced Singleton Single malt Scootch whisky. Founded in 1838 by Thomas Mackenzie of the famous Scottish Clan Mackenzie, the distillery still uses barley from the Black Isle peninsula in the production of Glen Ord single malt, with water from nearby Loch nam Bonnach and Loch nan Eun. Guided tours of the distillery are followed by whisky tastings.
Stay at The Torridon, a grand Scottish lodge on the shores of Loch Torridon. The Whisky Bar is home to 365 malts, from old favourites to rare finds, and offers a Whisky Tasting Experience which provides an informative introduction to single malt whiskies.
The tall, slim copper stills at the Tomatin Distillery produce a collection of delightful mellow and fruity drams. Established in 1897, the cool climate high above sea level lets the subtle character of this distinctive Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky emerge. Choose from a variety of insightful Scotch distillery tours that take you on a journey through the distillery’s unique legacy and experience a tutored nosing and tasting of the diverse collection in the company of fellow whisky lovers.
Stay just a few miles away at Ness Walk in Inverness where you can sink into a snug at The Torrish bar and indulge in a wee dram of Scotch whisky or a Ness Legend cocktail.
Royal Lochnagar Distillery
A historic distillery on the edge of the Balmoral estate, the Royal Lochnagar Distillery at Crathie sits at the foot of the Cairngorm mountains, fed by the crystal-clear water of the Scarnock springs. As well as distillery tours and warehouse tastings, for chocoholics, there’s an opportunity to pair hand-crafted local chocolate with Royal Lochnagar whisky.
Stay nearby at The Fife Arms in the Highland village of Braemar which has launched its own blended malt Scotch whisky in partnership with indie bottler Adelphi. The hotel’s Bertie’s Whisky Bar (named after Queen Victoria’s eldest son, King Edward VII) is a dram-lover’s dream where you’ll be enveloped in the warm glow of hundreds of back-lit whisky bottles.
A stone’s throw from the sea, nestled beneath a steep cliff overlooking Oban on the West Coast, the Oban Distillery is one of Scotland’s oldest – and smallest – sources of single malt whisky. Established in 1794, it was built before the town of the same name, which sprung up later in the natural windswept harbour. Tours and tutored tastings provide an insight into the whisky making process and you’ll get to explore the Mill Room, Old Filling Store and Dram Room.
Stay nearby at Airds Hotel and Restaurant which overlooks Loch Linnhe near Oban. The Whisky Bar here is home to a wide range of carefully selected whiskies for you to try, from sweet-toffee Glenfarclas to slightly smoky Dalwhinnie.
The west of Scotland and the Hebridean islands are home to many world-famous whisky distilleries, from Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig on the eastern side of the remote Scottish Isle of Islay to Kilchoman distillery on the west coast. With ten distilleries, the Isle of Islay is home to the greatest concentration of whisky distilleries in the world. Many of the island distilleries from Arran to Islay and Jura welcome visitors and often provide a wonderful lunch to accompany a warming dram.
Ardbeg distillery on the Isle of Islay
The world-famous Ardbeg distillery has been carefully crafting whisky for over 200 years. A range of tours and tastings are available. Sit on maturing barrels in the dunnage warehouse while tasting rare drams and cask-drawn samples or sip drams in the Chairman’s Study. Produced in small batches and released year on year, Ardbeg Traigh Bhan is an exceptionally rare and ever-changing 19-year-old inspired by Islay’s Traigh Bhan beach, known locally as the Singing Sands.
Fèis Ìle, The Islay Festival (27 May to 4 June) is a gathering of whisky and Islay fans from across the world. After a two-year hiatus, the festival is returning with 10 days of music, song, dance and, of course, Islay whisky.
Stay at Glenapp Castle, a baronial pile which stands high above the dramatic Ayrshire coast. The hotel has its own boat which can be booked for a unique journey to the Ardbeg distillery.
Lochranza Distillery on the Isle of Arran
This independent whisky distillery in Lochranza on the Isle of Arran is close to Loch na Davie which provides a special source of fresh water for distilling. Tours and tastings led by knowledgeable whisky guides are available seven days a week and will appeal to both newcomers to Arran whisky and enthusiastic Arran Malt fans!
See the Lochranza Distillery on a Pearls of the Clyde trip abroad the Hebridean Princess, which sails from Greenock and takes in the hidden gems of the Lower Clyde.
Whisky cocktail recipe from Ness Walk
Monarch of the Glen
Take a healthy measure of Dalmore 12yo and add bitters and sugar, stirred over ice. Present with a Rosemary vapour filled dome and serve with homemade Scottish tablet.