Whisky, our national drink, has been crafted in Scotland for centuries and is today one of the biggest draws to our country! Whether people come to Scotland specifically to try the wide range of whiskies on offer or not, it usually finds a way into the itinerary. There are over 130 whisky distilleries, after all!
Scotch whisky is made in Scotland and comes in the form of malt whisky or grain whisky, or a beautiful blend of both. For those who haven’t tried it, it has a distinctive taste and each one is unique in its characteristics.
In colour, whisky can range from light golden to rich brown. A darker colour indicates an older whisky and one where the malted grain content is higher. It is said that the older the whisky, the better it tastes and many people seek out the older bottles as collectors' items. You can often find the date of them on their label which will indicate how old they are.
Whisky has a strong aroma too, and taste can be described as peaty and smoky, dry and sweet. The best way to learn about all of this is to try a whisky tasting in a Scottish distillery. Most are open to the public where you can go on tours to find out all about the process of production and you will most likely be offered a tasting session too!
Fun facts about Scotland’s whisky
- The first evidence of whisky in Scotland dates back to the 15th century in Fife.
- It is said that the art of distilling could have been brought to Scotland by Christian missionary monks.
- The oldest distillery in Scotland is Genturret Distillery, in Perthshire (1775).
- The term ‘whisky’ derives from the Gaelic ‘uisge beatha’ meaning ‘water of life’.
- Scotch whisky is divided into five categories: single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain and blended scotch.
- All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years and you cannot call it Scotch unless it has been 100% made in Scotland.
- There are over 130 distilleries in Scotland.
To find out more about the area in which whisky originated, check out our guide to the kingdom of Fife.
The best whisky regions in Scotland
Where are the best whisky regions in Scotland? If you are coming to Scotland to specifically sample and experience Scotch whisky, it is good to know where the hot spots are. Here are some of the best regions in Scotland for experiencing the world-famous drink. 100% Scottish, there is no other drink that deserves the same attention!
Famous for its beautiful glens, romantic woodland, welcoming community and the River Spey, Speyside is one of the more densely populated whisky regions in Scotland. Amazingly, this part of Scotland is home to 50 whisky distilleries (around 50% of Scotland’s distilleries!) and is famed for its impressive whisky production. Speyside offers up great weather conditions for growing barley, whisky’s key ingredient, as it’s the driest and warmest part of the country. Cuddled by the Highlands, Aberdeenshire, Moray and the Cairngorms, it is a lovely location for a holiday which can be based around your interest in whisky.
The malt whisky trail, the only trail of its kind, runs through Speyside and takes you on an adventurous tour to some of Scotland’s best distilleries. It is the ultimate scotch experience! Here are some that you can experience along the way.
Find yourself a whisky distillery map which highlights all of the establishments throughout Scotland, and plan your trip today!
A romantic land of rolling mountains, forests and woodlands, rivers, lochs and coastline. This region is home to 47 highland whisky distilleries (this includes some of those in Speyside too) and they can be a fun addition to the itinerary amongst exploring the beautiful scenery and fascinating history. Whilst there isn’t a set trail like the malt whisky trail in Speyside, there are plenty to go between and make up your own route. From inland Highlands to the east and west coasts, there are myriad distilleries to discover. Here are some of our favourites…
To find out more about this amazing part of Scotland and other things you can do here, check out our helpful guide to the Highlands. We have featured Torabhaig Distillery on the Isle of Skye, but there are even more Skye whisky distilleries to discover too.
If you like a smoky peated Scotch, head to this lovely Scottish island. Islay is an island off the west coast of Scotland where the majority of its population are involved in whisky production. Famous for heavy peated, fiery whiskies, the 25-mile-long island welcomes you to come and visit its eight fascinating distilleries. Islay is Scotland’s most prolific whisky-producing island which is impressive as it has retained a small-town feel which visitors and islanders love. Here are a few distilleries to discover:
There is so much to do on this island, so when you are not sampling scotch, take on some walking, beach days, wildlife boat tours and bask in the history of this amazing place.
This lowland area encompasses the southernmost parts of Scotland including the central belt and south of Scotland – Edinburgh and The Lothians, Glasgow and the Clyde Valley, Fife, Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders. Here there are not as many distilleries as the northern parts of the country and most of them are not as old either. As lowland whiskies tend to be produced with unpeated malt, the whiskies produced in this region tend to have a dryness about their taste. They also tend to be lighter in colour! Here are some to keep an eye out for:
Whether you are looking for a whisky distillery in Edinburgh, or Glasgow, or somewhere in the borders, the lowlands of Scotland is where you want to be. Come and stay in our Scottish Borders cottages which offer the perfect base for explorations.
Home to a modest three distilleries, Campbeltown lies on the southern Kintyre peninsula in Argyll and Bute. You pass amazing coastal scenery to reach this hidden gem of a place and it would make a lovely holiday destination for those looking to get away from it all and soak up some of Scotland’s best landscapes. The characteristics of Scotch whisky produced here are sculpted by the gorgeous coastal location – a hint of sea salt to the smell and a briny taste to the palette. These are the three distilleries to visit:
With all the distilleries being set close together, you can easily visit all of them in a day! What else is there to do in Campbeltown? It is the largest town on the peninsula and offers up nice places to eat, lovely scenery to immerse yourself in and a bay to relax on when the sun is shining.
How to have a whisky experience in Scotland
The best way to have the full whisky experience in Scotland is to find a distillery that offers both a tour of the establishment and a tasting session at the end. The tour guides are full of knowledge and will be able to tell you all about the history of the distillery as well as share information and facts about the distilling process. This is where you can really learn where it all happens.
The great thing about a tasting session is that you often get to try all the varieties of whisky that are distilled there. There is often a gift shop where you can buy yourself (and your friends) a bottle to take home and enjoy.
If you want to know about some of the more interesting pubs to sample a drink in, take a read of our guide to the oldest pubs in Scotland.
We hope you have enjoyed this guide to the whisky regions of Scotland. Perhaps it has inspired you to come and explore them for yourself; if so, make sure you check out our great range of holiday homes which provide the perfect base for Scottish adventures. You can even find ones within walking distance of a pub, and Scottish pubs ALWAYS have whisky on the shelf!
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.