For whisky aficionados, visiting a Scottish distillery is a must. The Scots have been making Scotch since at least the 15th century, and to say they take its production seriously is an understatement; the word ‘whisky’ comes from the Gaelic uisge beatha, or ‘water of life’.
There are over 100 distilleries throughout the country, but just a select few offer truly unique tours that cater to those with the most refined tastes. Forget simply sampling Scotch; these experiences involve exclusive meetings with master blenders, tastings of some of the world’s rarest bottles, and Michelin-starred meals within tartan-touched restaurants.
1. Rothes Glen Whisky Experience, Speyside
A turreted castle filled with whisky vaults, tasting rooms and bottles upon bottles of the finest Scotch – is this the ultimate whisky experience? That’s owner (and Founder of Whisky Magazine) Damian Riley-Smith’s ambition, anyway. The Speyside castle is only available on an exclusive-hire basis and comes with 14 lavishly decorated bedrooms, a Whisky Magazine-approved bottle selection from private collections (including a 54-year-old Glen Grant), in-castle tastings and dinners, and access to closed distilleries and whisky masterclasses.
Ask for: a stroll through the gardens, which are peppered with wooden barrels, each containing a bottle of the house blend and four glasses.
2. Brora Distillery, Highlands
Stepping through Brora’s wildcat-embossed gate is like stepping back in time. Founded in 1819 and closed in 1983, Brora reopened last year following painstaking renovations – and it still uses the same Victorian distilling methods. Learn all about it on an intimate, by-appointment-only tour, which begins in the present with a three-course, paired lunch that showcases the best of contemporary Scottish cuisine. You’ll then take a jaunt through the distillery’s history, including a tasting of the rare £30,000 (US$53,400) Triptych collection that contains expressions from 1972, 1977 and 1982.
Ask for: a bottling of the 41-year-old 1982 expression – available exclusively to guests of the distillery.
3. The Macallan, Speyside
One of Speyside’s oldest distilleries, The Macallan has been producing world-leading whisky since 1824 (it even scooped the title of the world’s most expensive whisky ever sold at auction in 2019 – US$1.9 million at Sotheby’s). Its state-of-the-art, partially subterranean distillery has also won awards – this time for its futuristic design – yet an experience here starts in the surrounding landscape, with a day of fishing and drams with The Macallan’s ghillie (fishing attendant), Robert Mitchell. You’ll then head into the distillery for a tour, tasting and sunset supper complete with paired wines and whiskies.
Ask for: a booking at the brasserie, where the tasting menu offers a delectable variety of local specialties, paired with The Macallan’s best whiskies.
4. The Glenturret, Perthshire
Secluded on the banks of the River Turret, The Glenturret has been turning water into whisky since 1753. Explore its heritage – and blend your own bottle – on a distillery tour, before setting your sights on its Michelin-starred restaurant. Despite the cascading Lalique chandeliers, the 26-seat dining room feels pretty laid back, with fun dishes that make the most of Scottish produce; we loved the langoustine (lobster) ‘taco’ topped with caviar and a refreshing lemongrass sauce. At the bar, you’ll find 230 rare single malt expressions from each of Scotland’s whisky-producing regions.
Ask for: a whisky tasting in the ghillie’s hut – a remote, barrel-filled cottage overlooking Loch Turret.
5. Glenmorangie House, Highlands
In honor of its latest limited edition single malt whisky, ‘A Tale of the Forest’, Glenmorangie has launched a new immersive experience at its boutique Highland hotel, Glenmorangie House. The nine-bedroom house was revamped in 2021 by designer Russell Sage to subtly reflect different elements of the whisky-making process; the golden-hued morning room, for example, is inspired by fields of barley. Available on select weekends in 2023, the ‘Tale of the Forest’ experience includes a tour and tasting of the nearby Glenmorangie distillery, a cocktail-making masterclass, and a five-course dinner created by Head Chef John Wilson.
Ask for: a guided walk through the surrounding Scottish woodland, chased with a wee dram of Glenmorangie.