Looking for the best whisky in Scotland? My husband and I recently returned for a second trip with the hopes of finding the best whisky distilleries in Scotland.
My husband developed a passion for whisky during our first trip, I blame it on the 5 days we spent on Islay. The island was breathtaking and the fact that it’s home to 9 of the most famous whisky distilleries in Scotland was mere icing on the cake.
We enjoyed our time in Scotland so much that we returned in less than a year. At this point, we plan to return annually because we fell in love with the scenery, people and — you guessed it — whisky.
But what are you, my therapist? Let’s get back on topic.
All told, we visited 25+ different distilleries and quickly learned that not all of Scotland’s whisky distilleries are created equal. Far from it, but you can easily learn from our triumphs (and mistakes). Read on for a roundup of the best whisky in Scotland, hope you enjoy!
Quick Tip: Scotch vs. Whisky
Knowing the proper terms (scotch vs whisky) seems to trip folks up, so let’s get it out of the way. Scotch is a type of whisky (other types of whiskies include bourbon, Japanese whisky, Irish and Canadian whiskies, etc).
In order to be labeled scotch, the whisky must be entirely produced and bottled in Scotland. Here’s how it works: when you’re visiting Scotland for whisky distilleries the locals will be referring to this liquid gold as whisky, not scotch.
Just like we don’t say “American bourbon” when ordering bourbon at the bar, the Scots doesn’t say “Scotch Whisky” when ordering drams.
Know Before You Go: There’s 3 Types of Whisky Tastings in Scotland
- Distillery Tour: Guests get full access to the magic. You’ll be in the heart of the action, overseeing the whisky making process from start to finish. But not all distillery tours are created equal, some are way better than others (I’ll make sure to highlight the standouts below).
- Cask Tasting: Whisky straight from the cask is stronger than the bottled versions you pick up in stores. While exploring the various whisky distilleries in Scotland you’ll have an opportunity to sign up for some cask tastings, which I recommend you do. They’re very fun, especially when accompanied by knowledgeable (and entertaining) experts.
- Tasting Flight: The tasting flight is probably the most classic whisky tasting experience in Scotland. You’ll typically get to try 3-5 drams for a nominal fee. This will give you a pretty good understanding of a distillery’s range.
Best Whisky Distilleries Scotland
Founded in 1839, Balvenie Distillery is known for offering the best whisky tasting in Scotland, but getting reservations will require a miracle.
Giving visitors are chance to tour the facility in small groups led by personable guides, you’ll get to see a cooperage and malting floor in one fell swoop. These well known tastings book out months in advance, so if you’re serious about visiting the distillery, you’ll need to book ASAP.
Located in Speyside, Balvenie is unique because most of the whisky making process is done in house. Everything from the malting to the cooperage, which is unheard of nowadays.
Visitors will also get a chance to fill up to three bottles from different casks to take home. As for the tastings? Folks don’t consider this one of the best whisky distilleries in Scotland for nothing! Offering six generous drams, you’ll be privy to the core collection and a hand-selected warehouse pick from the guide.
Lagavulin Distillery (Islay)
Lagavulin is no stranger to the limelight, largely thanks to their highly applauded 16-year. This bad boy has received double gold medals from San Francisco World Spirits Competition four years in a row.
Much like the other great whiskey distilleries on Islay, the locale is beautiful. Sitting right on the bay, the interior is perfectly cozy but the tasting warehouse is very chilly.
I suggest opting for the Warehouse Experience at Lagavulin. It was by far the most memorable part of our time on Islay. The tour is run by Iain McArthur (legendary name in the Islay whisky world) and his wit is only out-shined by the velvety pours coming straight out of the cask. Grab a coat or you’ll be freezing.
The definitive Islay malt—intensely flavoured, smoky and rich. The windswept Isle of Islay instils a strength of character into everything it produces and it’s here, nestled in a small bay that the beloved Lagavulin whisky has been made for over 200 years.Lagavulin
While searching for the best whisky distilleries in Scotland’s Speyside region, we were quite impressed with Glenfarclas. One of the few independent, family-owned whisky distilleries in Scotland, Glengarclas is new to us but it seems we’ve been living under a rock this whole time.
The distillery has been making some of the best whisky in Scotland for 150+ years and doesn’t show signs of slowing anytime soon. Thankfully, this beloved distillery in Scotland is keen on providing tours that will inspire those new the world of whisky (welcome!) and avid enthusiasts alike.
These Speyside whisky tours have come across as intimate, sharing the distillery’s and family’s rich persona history. The core range includes 10, 15, 21, 25, 30 and 40 year single malts — each one full-bodied and heavily sherried.
The in-depth Connoisseurs Tour is a favorite, offering a tour of the distillery and warehouses, guests have the opportunity to sample five unique expressions, including two rare single-caste bottlings.
If price is not an issue (lucky you), I highly recommend the Five Decades Tasting, which is considered one of the best whisky tours in Scotland. Lasting up to 3 hours, you’ll get a full distillery tour before sampling five impressive drams from the Family Cask Collection.
Each cask is tied to a decade (from the 1960s to the 2000s). For many folks, tasting a 1960s dram is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a fact confirmed by the steep (albeit justified) price tag of £150.00 per person.
These are some of the rarest whiskies around and the breathtaking tasting profiles ensure that those walking in as amateurs will walk out as avid enthusiasts. Hence the logic behind adding this to our list of the best whisky tours in Scotland.
Founded in 1881, Bruichladdich is best known for their unapologetic and staunch reliance on traditional production methods. From traditional floor malting and direct-fired stills, the only thing that has changed at this cherished Scotland whisky distillery is the expansion of their ever-growing production.
Bruichladdich uses a variety of barely to create their distinctively unique whiskies on Islay. They’ve built a successful fan base around complex flavors that ripe with notes of vanilla, fruit and earthy peat.
Unlike the other great whisky distillaries on Islay, Bruichladdich doesn’t offer formal tasting flights. Rather, it’s more of an open bar concept where you can choose a pour of any bottle (including Botanist Gin).
But fret not. If you’d like to see how the magic happens, you can sign up for a warehouse tasting or guided whisky distillery tour. I don’t consider this one of the best distilleries on Islay for nothing, book a tour and see what all the fuss is about.
When it comes to the best whisky tours in Scotland’s Speyside region, Aberlour can’t be missed. This popular Scotland whisky distillery has been producing scotch since 1879. Using local ingredients alongside soft water sourced from Ben Rinnes (the nearby mountain).
This whisky is matured for a minimum of 12 years in Oloroso sherry butts and American Oak barrels, which results in a rewarding and rich range of single malts. Being fans of these drams, we opted for the Single Casks Explored tour and weren’t disappointed.
The tour focuses on the art of maturation and offers drams from four casks. The pours were generous, the host entertaining and the whisky top-notch. Nor hard to see why so many folks consider this one of the best whisky tastings in Scotland!
tarted by two brothers in 1815, Laphroaig is arguably the best distillery in Scotland for those that love smoky scotch. Most scotch drinkers are no strangers to Laphroaig. A household name for those that consider a proper pour akin to drinking in a campfire, my husband has been stocking this stuff for as long as I can remember.
This beloved whisky distillery in Scotland has a handful of great whisky tastings, you can’t go wrong with any of them. If you’re new to the whisky world, sign up for the intro “Experience Tour.”
You’ll get an opportunity to tour the historic malting floor and see the peat get fed to the fire. From there, you’ll watch the liquid gold cascade from copper kilns before getting the chance to try 3 whiskies.
Our favorite part about the Laphroaig Experience Tour was having an opportunity to scoop the malt in our hands. This comprehensive tour is a very hands-on experience where you get to watch the peat smoke infuse the grain before heading downstairs to see the peat get fed to the fire.
But seriously, those searching for the most memorable whisky tastings in Scotland can’t afford to miss the Water to Whisky Tour at Laphroaig.
Glenlivet Distillery (Speyside)
Founded in 1824, Glenlivet Distillery has been operating continuously for nearly 200 years (closing only during World War II). For American scotch enthusiasts, Gelnlivet is a household name, being the biggest selling single malt whisky in the US and all.
Their range consists of 14 whiskies so the best way to get acquainted with the various tasting profiles is to sign up for a tour. Glenlivet offers 4 different whisky tastings in Scotland. You can either embark on a tour of the facility, or simply skip to the tasting part.
We opted for the Single Cask tastings and got to sample four exclusive drams (we enjoyed our time immensely). Since we’re now getting more interested in whisky, we plan to sign up for the Archives Tasting next time around to sample some of the rarest drams on offer.
Fun Fact: Barley seeds from Glenlivet Distillery traveled aboard the Space X Rocket in May 2021 to the International Space Station to test extreme conditions of outer space. These seeds will be distilled into a single malt in due time.
Glen Scotia is considered one of the smallest single malt whisky distilleries in Scotland. Dating back to the 19th century, this distillery is keen on maintaining much of its original design (this includes the stillroom, fermenters and even the warehouse).
This beloved Scotch distillery in Scotland produces two types of whisky: peated and non-peated. The peated variety is made over a 6-week period every year, which means non-peated whiskies are most common.
Famous for producing some of the unique whisky in Scotland, Glen Scotia is known for a commitment to time-tested techniques, maritime roots, unity of cask finishes and the complex (yet harmonious) flavors.
Check out the lineup of the Scotch whisky tours on offer, I highly recommend the tasting at this distillery though. We did the cask tastings and consider it one of the best whisky tastings in Scotland, loved every second of our time! The guide had a killer sense of humor.
Glengoyne Distillery seems to be one of the favorite whisky distilleries in Scotland for many visitors. Located at the Highland Line (divides Highlands from Lowlands), just north of Glasgow, we signed up for the Master tour and found it to be excellent. We enjoyed the tour so much, we instantly ranked it as one of the 5 best whisky tours in Scotland.
This Scotch whisky distillery has been in continuous operation since its founding in 1833 (imagine!). This is one of the most unique whisky distilleries in Scotland because they produce Highland single malt whisky that’s matured in the Lowlands.
Glengoyne’s stills are in the Highlands while the casks remain across the road in the Lowlands. Laying claim to having Scotland’s slowest stills, this Scotch whisky distillery is all about letting time do its thing.
Glengoyne offers 6 impressive tours to choose from, check out the roundup on their website. As mentioned, we participated in the Malt Masters Experience and loved every second of it!
The Glenturret Distillery
Apart from making some of the best whisky in Scotland, Glenturret has another impressive claim to fame: producing single malt whisky since 1763, this is the oldest working distillery in Scotland.
With a strong dedication to traditional whisky making methods like slow batch production and slow distillation in hand-beaten copper stills, it’s no wonder folks consider this one of the best whisky tours in Scotland.
Working with the natural elements (this distillery in Scotland is known for saying “work with the wood, not against it”) the spirits are top-notch, winning awards and accolades left and right. In regards to tours, sign up for the traditional The Glenturret Tour if you’d like to learn about making whisky.
A helpful guide will walk you through the art of whisky making using hand-operated tools while covering the history of this beloved whisky distillery in Scotland. Tours end with drams from the core whisky range.
For those more interested in how the magic happens, the Whisky Makers Tour should fit the bill. You’ll get a chance to try your hand at an in-depth blending experience and tasting while learning the skills required to make whisky at a professional level.
Guests have the option to create a unique 100ml blend and bottle it to take home, which is super cool. But, if you’re like most of us, and you just want to try the damn drams, opt for the tasting flight to sample three impressive pours from the core range.
Fun Fact: Glenturret’s Triple Wood was rated the world’s top single malt Scotch whisky at the 2023 International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) Awards, winning an Outstanding Gold medal.
Highland Park Whisky Distillery (Highland)
Highland Park is considered one of the most exclusive whisky distilleries in Scotland due to its remote location. Located on the island of Orkney, getting to this distillery will require effort and most folks visit the island for this award-winning distillery alone.
Dating back to 1789, Highland Park is all about tradition. They remain one of only a handful of Scotland distilleries to turn malt by hand (without the use of machinery). Barely generates a substantial amount of heat while it malts, so every 8 hours the folks turn it by hand to maintain constant airflow and desired moisture levels.
This painstaking endeavor doesn’t go unnoticed though. The turned barley fully absorbs the intense peat smoldering in the ancient kilns below. As the casks mature they imbue the essence of the island’s harsh climate that attributes to the whisky’s unique tasting notes. This in turn produces some of the best whisky in Scotland!
Why I love it: Highland Park not only produces some of the most interesting whisky in Scotland, but they also have the coolest looking whiskey distillery in Scotland. Touring the grounds feels like being on a movie set. Very cool!
More Scotland Whisky Distilleries (Honorable Mentions)
Macallan Distillery (Highland/Speyside)
For those that love Scottish Whisky, Macallan distillery needs no introduction. Producing whisky since 1824, Macallan accounts for the the second-highest sales of single malt scotch of all the whisky distilleries in Scotland.
Macallan amassed a serious reputation with enthusiasts because of their commitment to maturing whisky exclusively in sherry casks. But as with most good things, it didn’t last forever. The distillery has since introduced the Fine Oak series which includes bourbon casks as well.
Fast forward to today and it seems Macallan has become a victim to its own success. With great sales came greater streamlining and production. Today, Macallan offers one of the most commercializing whisky tastings in Scotland. It’s nothing special, per se, but that doesn’t stop folks from visiting the new state of the art tasting room.
Macallan is a household name and you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to partake in a tasting while exploring Speyside. This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful distilleries in Scotland and you probably won’t regret popping in. Plus, the central bar is definitely worth a gander.
The first thing you’ll notice about this popular whisky distillery in Scotland is its unusual look. Sitting on the banks of the River Teith, Deanston Distillery doesn’t look like traditional whisky distilleries in Scotland, largely thanks to the building’s past.
What originally started as a cotton mill in 1785 was eventually renovated to become a whisky distillery in 1966. The close proximity to the river ensures an endless supply of pure water for whisky and the opportunity to generate power using an onsite hydro-energy facility. Today Deanston is the only whisky distillery in Scotland to be self-sufficient in electricity, which is pretty cool.
What makes this some of the best whisky in Scotland is the small-production and humble nature of the distillery. The single-malt whiskey is handmade by 10 local craftsman that rely on traditional distilling techniques. There’s no technology (like computers) being used at any step in the process.
The end result is a beautiful carefully curated whisky using Scottish-grown barely exclusively. Everything is as natural as can be from the lack of color additives to non chill filtered casks left to mature in the original weaveing shed that dates back to 1830.
Fun Fact: In 2000, Deanston became one of the first whisky distilleries in Scotland to produce organic whisky.
Dalwhinnie Distillery (Highlands)
Named after the charming Highland Village of Dalwhinnie, for which this Scotland distillery is named, there’s some debate over whether this is a Highland Whisky or Speyside. As such, we’ll defer to the distilleries preference, and Dalwhinnie Distillery labels itself a Highland Whisky.
Dalwhinnie is derived from Gaelic and translates to “meeting place” in reference to the meeting spot of cattle drover’s routes as they passed through the mountains. This specific site was chosen for the distillery because of its prime location to clear springs and an abundance of peat bogs.
The distillery itself dates back to 1897 but production didn’t start until 1898. Dealing with brutal winter temperatures, Dalwhinnie is known as the coldest whisky distillery in Scotland. Some argue that the bitterly cold climate contributes to the brand’s unique flavor profile.
See for yourself by signing up for a fully guided whisky masterclass experience. You’ll get a chance to sample six drams (including the Distillery Exclusive & Special Release) paired alongside locally made chocolates.
Royal Lochnagar Distillery (Highlands)
Found a mile from the late Queen’s favorite residence, Balmoral Castle, Royal Lochnagar IS beloved whisky distillery in Scotland. Expertly combining traditional techniques with an unwavering commitment to perfecting the art of whisky making, they offer one of the best whisky tours in Scotland.
The distillery dates back to the early 19th century but was destroyed three times (yes, seriously) by suspicious fires. The building you see today was built in 1845. Three years later Lochnagar was awarded a Royal Warrant by Prince Albert (the husband of Queen Victoria) after visiting the distillery from his nearby estate, Balmoral Castle.
So impressed, he returned the next day with the Queen and his three eldest children in tow. Honored, the distillery changed their name from Lochnagar to Royal Lochnagar shortly thereafter.
This Scottish distillery produces a small amount of whisky (most of the casks are used by Johnnie Walker), but they do offer two tours — the signature tour and tasting and a warehouse tasting. We opted for the warehouse tasting and were completely smitten by the complex, yet smooth, whiskies churning out of this charming Scotland whisky distillery.
Fun Fact: In June 2022 Royal Lochnagar released a special edition whisky in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee called the Balmoral Platinum Edition. Needless to say, the bottle sold out in record time and can be found at auction starting at $1,600+.
The 5 Regions of Scottish Whisky
There are more than 130 whisky distilleries in Scotland, so priority is the name of the game. It’s best to focus on 1-2 areas that interest you most. Here’s a quick breakdown of the five main whiskey distillery regions in Scotland.
Each region is known for varying flavor and taste profiles, as the areas are influenced by climate and resources (peat, fresh water streams, etc.)
Located in a prime location full of crystal-clear rivers and fertile soil, Speyside is the largest producing (and most famous) region in Scotland for whisky. Don’t just take my word for it – Speyside is home to almost half of the whisky distilleries in Scotland, which is why it’s the most visited area for whisky lovers.
Flavor profile of Speyside whiskies: The dry and warm climate create ideal conditions for growing barley, producing smooth, sweet, spicy and fruity whiskies. These whiskies tend to be lighter and sweeter while producing elegant (and complex) finishes.
Worth Knowing: The Speyside region is located within the Scottish Highlands. As such, distilleries within that region can call themselves either Speyside OR Highland whisky, it’s completely up to the distiller.
Islay (Peated Whiskies)
Islay is an island in Scotland that is home to the smokiest Scotch whisky known to man, this is the promised land of peat and barley. Indeed, the island is home to 9 impressive whiskey distilleries specializing in peated whisky boasting awards that could make the most ardent connoisseur blush.
You May Enjoy Reading: All 9 Epic Whisky Distilleries on Islay (Ranked)
Similar to Islay, Campbelltown is known for producing smoky whiskies known the world over. The area is home to three notable whisky distilleries in Scotland, Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia. Drams churning out of Cambelltown tend to be classified as smokey and briny with fruit-forward, vanilla notes.
Whisky being made in the Highland region spans the gamut. From the coastal influences of scotch produced on the islands (like Orkney) to the distinct rural farmland of the Speyside region, you’re bound to find a scotch that will please any palate.
Lowland malts don’t get the same acclaim as the other scotch producing regions in Scotland. Whiskies from this region tend to lean on the gentler and lighter side, with notes of grass, ginger and toffee.
Best Whisky Tastings Scotland (Let’s talk about Diageo)
Diago is a company that was founded in 1997, they own 28 whisky distilleries in Scotland. Their roster of distilleries includes some of the biggest names in the industry, like Johnny Walker, Talisker and Lagavulin.
Whisky connoisseurs seem to have a love-hate relationship with Diageo. Some accuse distillers of selling out, while others appreciate the benefits of global reach Diageo possesses. In any case, you’ll probably notice a difference when visiting whisky distilleries in Scotland owned by Diageo because the tours feel more commercial.
Distillery tours run by Diageo owned brands tend to be cookie-cutter and standard. There’s no denying that production is a corporate affair, which is why some serious connoisseurs prefer to visit locally operated distillers.
Speaking from personal experience, the tours we’ve done at Diageo-owned distilleries were great, even if a bit commercialized. So don’t hesitate signing up, even if some serious folks will tell you otherwise. We enjoyed our time immensely and considered these some of the best whisky tours in Scotland.
Best Whisky Distilleries Scotland (Post Overview)
In sum, here’s a roundup of the best whisky distilleries in Scotland.
- Balvenie (Speyside)
- Lagavulin Distillery (Islay)
- Glenfarclas (Speyside)
- Bruichladdich (Islay)
- Laphroaig (Islay)
- Glen Scotia
- Aberlour (Speyside/Highland)
- The Glenturret Distillery
- Highland Park Whisky
- Cadenhead’s Warehouse
- Dalwhinnie Distillery (Highlands)
- Royal Lochnagar (Highlands)
Map of the best whisky tours in Scotland
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I hope you enjoyed this roundup of the best whisky tastings in Scotland. We had a blast on the trip and highly recommend it for any Scotch enthusiast or connoisseur. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions (don’t want all this knowledge to go to waste!) we’re more than happy to help!
What do you think?