Scotland is known for many things, but one of the most obvious is it’s whisky. For me, whisky was very much an acquired taste and one that definitely took me some time to appreciate, although I had lots of encouragement from my predominantly whisky loving family! Not entirely surprising then that they ended up taking an annual trip to Scotland, especially considering they are also rather partial to a round of golf (massive understatement) and Scotland is also fairly well known for some pretty awesome golf courses (so I’m told). Danny is a keen golfer and whisky lover, so we passed the testing criteria for an invite to the trip!
With the renowned Gleneagles hotel as our base (a 45 minute drive from Edinburgh airport), we wanted to stay in the area, so planed to do whisky distillery tours around Perthshire. This was absolutely not a problem, as with plenty to choose from, it was hard to decide! Some of Danny’s favourite whiskies have distilleries outside of Perthshire, so we are planning a trip to Northern Scotland next summer. I am in process of trying to persuade him that Talisker is his favourite so we can have a little diversion to the Isle of Skye, somewhere I have had my eye on for a while!
We have all done whisky distillery tours in Scotland before and if I’m honest, they are all pretty similar. The standard blueprint is an introduction to whisky, how it is made, a tour around the distillery and a tasting. If you haven’t done one before, I would recommend selecting one to go on, but unless you are a die hard fan, I wouldn’t really advise doing more than one in a day.
Planning our Whisky Distillery Tour of Scotland
For us, this was the annual whisky stockpile and according to the whisky fanatics in my group, there is nothing better than buying from the distillery itself! We therefore wouldn’t be doing any tours this time, so I have only given information on them rather than opinion. May the shopping trip commence!
The guys are quite strategic with what they want to get out of the visits; I have honestly never seen this level of organisation from any of them, particularly Danny and my Dad! Each of them have a copy of the latest Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible and use this to compile a list of whiskies to try. This is a bit hardcore, but whiskies can vary dramatically and everyone has different tastes. As the primary intention was to buy, we didn’t want to get hammered in the process by tasting a load of whiskies it was unlikely we would buy!
Full disclosure, I am very far from a whisky expert. The below is a guide to some of Perthshire’s whisky distilleries and hopefully all you need to know to have great whisky themed day!
We began from Gleneagles in Auchterarder and the journey took 25 minutes (17 miles).
Deanston is more than just a distillery, it is an entire village. Originally opened in 1785 as a cotton mill, the village surrounding the building was created out of a requirement for accommodation to house the workers. In 1965, the declining cotton trade closed the mill and it was turned into a distillery.
Deanston offer 7 different tours from 50 minutes to 2 hours ranging from £9 to £35 per person. Most of them consist of a guided tour of the distillery, a tasting and £5 off any purchase of a 70cl bottle of Deanston from the shop. My favourite of the options on description alone was definitely the “Whisky and Chocolate Tour”, a match made in heaven!
The shop is relatively small and was very busy, but there were some really great staff there who helped us pick out various whiskies through complimentary tastings.
On site is Coffee Bothy that serves a great looking breakfast menu, including my all time favourite of poached eggs, smoked salmon and avocado on toast with hollandaise. The lunch menu looks almost as appetising (I’m pretty obsessed with breakfast) and there is an extensive cake selection on the main bar.
Booking is required for some of the longer tours and recommended for the medium length ones.
From Deanston, the journey takes around 45 minutes (24 miles), however if you want a particularly scenic route (it really is beautiful) go via the town of Callander in Loch Lomond National Park. Callander is also a very picturesque town, so go for a stroll if you can.
Next was the Glenturret whisky distillery, near Crieff. Established in 1775, Glenturret is Scotland’s oldest working distillery. It was also well known for being the home to The Famous Grouse experience until the parent company Edrington sold the Glenturret distillery to a French wine producer in 2018. They are also one of the few distilleries that still make their whisky the traditional way.
We went straight to the shop on arrival where we spent a very pleasant hour browsing, tasting whisky and chatting to the very friendly staff. The shop was the largest of all of the distilleries we visited and had everything whisky related possible. It also had some great products from local companies; for years my Dad has been buying me whisky honeys, marmalade and even soaps from the amazing Highland Soaps company.
Glenturret Distillery offer a variety of tours ranging in length between one and 2.5 hours. The basic one hour ones start at £10 per person and the £75, 2.5 hour “Blending Experience” included an extensive tasting, guidance in creating your own whisky blend and a cake and hot drink in the café afterwards. They also have a rather delicious sounding “Fusions of Fudge Experience” which matches a variety of locally produced fudge to Glenturret whiskies. There is also a complimentary fudge gift bag to take away with you!
Glenturret also serve lunch in their on-site café with both self-service and à la carte options available. Come on the weekend and they do a fairly spectacular looking brunch….afternoon tea is also available!
This was my favourite distillery on our trip and the one we spent longest at. The staff were brilliant in answering our many questions, were very generous in their tastings and just very nice people. It is no coincidence that we spent the most here with many bottles of whisky bought. I was a bit worried that if we carried on we would run out of space in the car!
Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery
From Glenturret, Dewar’s is around a 45 minute drive (27 miles).
The distinctive smell of whisky hit us before we even entered the car park at Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery. Production began there in 1898 when the distillery was built by the Dewar’s family. Now they mature their product off site in Glasgow as their production has exceeded the site’s capacity.
Dewar’s offer 6 different tours ranging from a 1.5 hour standard tour at £10.50 per person to a day long “Dewar’s Immersion Luxury Whisky Tour” for £120 per person. The latter is only run on selected dates and includes lunch and a gift.
We headed straight to the shop which is in the same space as the Whisky Lounge and Café, located in the former malting house. It had a great atmosphere and the bar served whiskies from other distilleries as well as Dewar’s and Aberfeldy. They also had a rather fab looking whisky cocktail menu! The café serves a range of light lunches that you can combine with your whisky.
The set up at Dewar’s was superb and it was by far the most stylish venue we visited. However, Aberfeldy didn’t offer a complimentary “try before you buy” so nothing was purchased.
Advance booking of the the tours is strongly advised, but not required. For groups of 12 or more booking is mandatory.
Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery
Edradour Distillery is a 25 minute (13 miles) journey from Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery. If you have time, go for a wander in Pitlochry, another gorgeous old Scottish town.
One of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, Edradour was founded in 1825 and is in the very picturesque town of Pitlochry.
Edradour distillery was a bit different from the other 3 as it didn’t really seem to encourage visiting unless you were going on a tour. The shop was large but very busy and this was the only distillery we went to where there were tour buses there. The shop was also distinctly less personal and there were no complimentary tastings on offer, so consequently we didn’t buy anything. Toilets also aren’t available unless you are going on a tour and then you have to pay £2 per person to use them (although this is donated to charity). This was also the only distillery where children under 12 weren’t welcome anywhere on site. It felt very commercial and after such a great experience at Deanston and Glenturret, I wasn’t such a fan!
Edradour offers a standard one hour tour of the distillery for £12 per person and £6 for those aged 12 – 17 years, which includes 2 whisky tastings for the adults. Bookings aren’t required for groups under 8 people. There are no refreshments available on site.
Opening times and days vary with the season, so always check before you travel. Also be aware that often the café and shop on site operate different opening hours as well. Make sure you follow the booking advice of each distillery; the general rule of thumb is the standard tours run every hour or so and you can just turn up to, but the longer and more tailored ones run less frequently and have smaller maximum numbers, so booking for these is a good idea. We went in May, which is not as busy as summer, so keep this in mind when booking as well.
There are some great little towns on this route, we really enjoyed Pitlochry and Callander. They tend to be really traditional towns with independent shops, including boutique whisky stores. Interestingly, a lot of them seem to have branched into gin as well as whisky. The majority offer tastings before you buy and our whisky haul was heavily supplemented by these shops. The staff are real experts and able to suggest new whiskies to try based on what your preferences are.
One thing I really learnt from my trip to Scotland was how heavily what you are eating influences the taste of the whisky. A couple of the distilleries talked to us about it and then one night after dinner at Gleneagles, I had a Glenfarclas 15 year old that was just amazing and the best whisky I ever tasted. I had another the following night and while still great, wasn’t nearly as mind blowing. Plus I really want to try the “Fusions of Fudge Experience” at Glenturret!
I also enjoyed the less commercialised distilleries more, it felt like a much more personal and traditional “Scottish” experience. Previously, most distilleries provided a complimentary tasting for most of their whiskies. However, some of the distilleries have become more commercialised, perhaps as a result of the increasing popularity of whisky. In turn, this may be what has driven the removal of complimentary tastings which for us, just reduces the appetite to buy at a distillery.
You generally pay a premium to buy at a distillery and the reason we choose to do so is the reduction of risk that we buy something we don’t like, particularly as whisky can get quite expensive. Having said that, the airports and even our local Costco offer tastings now! I don’t go to Scotland nearly as frequently as the rest of my family, but they all commented on how every year they visit, more distilleries have stopped their complimentary tastings. As we now go primarily to shop rather than tour distilleries, we may have to rethink our approach going forwards.
I hope you find my whisky distillery tour of Scotland helpful, please ask if you have any questions!