For centuries, Scotland has been home to some of the finest whisky distilleries in the world, and Scotch whisky has become a premium beverage the world over. Recently, distilleries have opened their doors and arms to welcome tourists who want to meander peacefully around the Scottish Highlands and sample the delights of Scotch whisky in what has become fondly known as the Scottish whisky trail.
It should come as no surprise that whisky and tourism go hand in hand and like the French wine regions, Scotland has always benefitted from some tourism as a result of their Whisky output. In the last few years with the rise of social media and the trend to take holidays with a difference, the Scotch whisky distilleries have welcomed more guests than ever before. In fact, since 2017, they have welcomed almost 2 million tourists each year – a staggering 11% rise on previous years.
Investment in the whisky trail itself has been increased significantly with Visit Scotland helping whisky tourism by clearly signposting a complete trail and whisky distilleries keen to pledge further investment as they see their sales rocketing. So, what is the whisky trail? And should you take it?
First and foremost, you should know that even if you’re not particularly fond of the drink, the whisky trail offers wonderful titbits of cultural and historical information with the breath-taking backdrop of Scotland. You should also know that there are many “trails” and you can easily tailor your own trail by linking up a series of distilleries. And, you could thoroughly enjoy taking the trail and finding some of Scotland’s hidden treasures without even having a drop of whisky. If you prefer not to have a dry run, then the whisky will only enhance your experience, and by the end of the trail, you could consider yourself a bona fide expert in the nuances of whiskies.
As mentioned, there are a wealth of different trails to take, and you’re even at liberty to create your own. Some of the best trails have been co-ordinated by the distilleries themselves and Visit Scotland has helped put those trails firmly on the map. Here are our picks for the top 3 whisky trails.
Malt Whisky Trail – Set in the northernmost reaches of Scotland lies the malt whisky trail which spans from Inverness to Aberdeen. Famous distilleries like The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich are dotted on the malt whisky trail.
Highlands Whisky Trail – The Scottish Highlands are both jaw-dropping and beautiful, and they’re also home to some of the best Scotch whisky distilleries. West of the Speyside trail mentioned above, the Highlands trail offers a tour of the world-famous Glenmorangie distillery.
Edinburgh and Glasgow Whisky Trail (Lowlands Whisky Trail) – Eighteen distilleries make up the lowlands Whisky trail, and you’re more likely to find a sweeter less smoky whisky on your lowlands trail. Glenkinchie is perhaps the most popular of the eighteen.
Like France and their wine regions, Scotland has six distinctive whisky regions. The malt whisky trail is perhaps the most famous and is in the Speyside area. The Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown, Islay and Islands make up the remaining regions, with the latter regions being a little harder to reach.
Each region has different taste notes and the whiskies produced are extraordinarily different from one another. Different trails have different protocols as well with some trails being completely self-orientated while others are full package tours with lunch thrown in.
An awesome feature of any trail is that you are likely to stumble across a less-well-known brand along the way that sings to your taste buds. Taking a whisky trail not only broadens your scotch whisky horizons but it helps you fine-tune your whisky palette.
A significant benefit of the guided package tours is that they provide transportation to and from the distilleries as well as a local pick up and drop off point. This allows you to spend the day savouring the wonderful Scotch whisky world without having to worry about being the designated driver.
Package tours are available across most of the whisky regions, and the three highlights are the malt whisky trail, the Hebridean (Islands) whisky trail and the Islay whisky trail. The malt whisky trail encompasses a narrow range of whiskies, and you’re almost guaranteed to find a hidden treasure along the way.
The organised packages for the Islands and Islay whisky trail make transport arrangements much easier, especially in the case of island hopping between distilleries. Islay and the Islands also have some of the most distinctive and awe-inspiring flavours which are easy to get lost in.
Be prepared that with any Scottish whisky trail the weather is likely to be a little wet and a little cold – that shouldn’t dissuade you though, it just gives you more reason to sample more whisky and warm up as you make your way along the trails.
Some of the best trails and tours include other beverages (and food). Scotland is famous for its buttery shortbread, its wonderfully crafted ales and even its gin. That means that some amazing explorative tours take in a little bit more Scottish culture than just whisky. We like to think of these as the “blended tours” (poor whisky pun-intended) and they have visits to gin and whisky distilleries, craft ales and even chocolate and whisky pairings.
These tours are found traditionally in the lowlands with both Glasgow and Edinburgh having some truly wonderful foodie treats but they are available in the other whisky regions too. Our top picks for these tours are;
Glasgow Distillery + Tennents Tour – Whisky, beer and gin tasting in Glasgow. Bunnahabhain Warehouse No.9 Tour – Chocolate and whisky pairing.
Whatever your preference, however, you like to vacation, there is a Scottish whisky trail for almost everyone, and even if you start out hesitant about the drink, we are certain you will be scotch whisky converts by the end of your holiday. Now all you need to do is brush up on your whisky terminology and book your accommodation.