Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Stag Trip Ideas: Scottish Distillery Tours

A horny (antler-y) Stag
I don't think I am wrong in the fact that one of the first things a man thinks about when he hears there is to be a wedding is not the dress, flowers, cake, dress, bridesmaids dresses, the top table, who to sit Aunt Ethel next to or the car vs carriage conundrum (car btw), but where and when the stag do is going to be. I am sorry ladies, but us men are primal beings that know what we like, and  veils and train lengths sure aren't on the list.

There are all sorts of stag trip/party ideas out there; Prague, Amsterdam, anywhere in Eastern Europe, London, Newcastle, Manchester, Las Vegas, golf weekends, standard piss-up in fancy dress, poker evenings, there are all sorts of venues and concepts, but my favourite by far is a trip up to Scotland and a tour of whisky distilleries (perhaps with some golf thrown in).

One thing that seriously effects whisky is the location of the distillery - unfortunately they aren't all grouped in one area like an alcoholic's Disneyland. Scotland is on the big side to visit all the different whisky regions in one go, and so I have grouped together some little itineraries and ideas of the different areas, their styles and where is worth visiting.

Most distillery tours comprise a tour of the malting floors (if they have them), the kilns, stills and then a tasting in the visitor centre. You sometimes are given a discount for buying bottles from their shop if you've been on a tour as well!


Edinburgh and Glasgow are great to visit; they have history, culture, nightlife and are easily accessible. The distilleries in the area are known as Lowland distilleries - this area used to be teeming with large distilleries filling the cities with cheap booze for the industrial workforce, back when people stopped farming and steam engines became a thing. Lowland malts are generally lighter bodied in style than their Highland counterparts and are often triple distilled for extra smoothnessity.

Three stills at Auchentoshan
These drams are light, dry and unpeated coming from only one of very few distilleries left in the region. Auchentoshan is conveniently located close to Glasgow, only 25minutes from the centre by car, or 45 by bus. Distillery tours range from £6 per person up to £200, for £200 you get to visit the distillery out of hours and be the only group in the distillery. The tours are decent, but you pay extra for tasting that allow you to taste from the cask (£50) or bottle your own whisky (£100).

Auchentoshan ask you to book ahead and most tours require at least three people, but we're planning stag weekends here, not a romantic getaway for two!

Spirit safe at Glenkinchie
Glenkinchie is much like Auchentoshan in style; light, floral, slightly honeyed and sweet. The distillery is only 20 miles east of Edinburgh and bus routes run there, although there is a two mile walk to the distillery (taxis are available).

 Glenkinchie offer tours starting at £4 just to see their museum, £8 to tour and taste a dram or £12 for the tour, but with an extended tasting, however, more personalised tours are available on request if you go on a tour then you get a £3 voucher towards purchase of a bottle.

As well as the distilleries be sure to visit The Scotch Whisky Experience for tutored tasting and to see the world's largest collection of whisky and Royal Mile Whiskies to pick up some bottles from their excellent selection.


Speyside is technically an area within the Highlands, but is generally considered a whisky region in its own right due to the different style of the malts with many distilleries using sherry butts to flavour their whiskies.

This region has the largest amount of distilleries with loads all in a realatively small area. Speyside is a 3 hour drive north of Edinburgh, but can also be reached by train (into Aviemore) or by air to Inverness.

Aberlour warehouse doors
Aberlour is a distillery that I have only recently started to try due to their 12yr non cill-filtered bottling which is fantastic. This distillery produces fantastic sherried malts, A'budnah for example and they have a tour that matches their reputation.

For £30 for the Founders Tour you'll be taken on a two and a half hour tour of the distillery with some of the most amiable tour guides in the biz. There are around six different whiskies to try and you can bottle and label your own straight from the cask.
Book ahead as spaces are limited.

Balvenie distillery
Anyone who bas read my pieces over the last year will know that I'm a bit of a fan of Balvenie and as such I don't think that any trip to Speyside would be complete without dropping in on this distillery. This is one of the best distillery tours in Scotland and due to Balvenie doing their own malting and coopering (barrel making) you get to see all stages of the process.

You will be given the opportunity to taste whisky straight from the cask on your three hour tour and for an additional fee bottle your own whisky before having a whisky tasting of their fantastic range!

The Balvenie distillery tour is around 3 hours long and costs £35 (worth every penny) - be sure to book ahead.

Casks at Glenfarclas
Pretty much everyone I know associates Scotland with a certain historically inaccurate Mel Gibson film and as such has an affiliation with screaming "Freeeeedooooom!"

 Most distilleries these days are owned by big corporations, but one of the big dogs remains decidedly independent.

 Glenfarclas is one of the big names in Speyside due to the strength of its sherried drams, a key flavour and marker for Speyside. Glenfarclas is family owned and as such is a bit more chilled in respect to the feel of their tours, but they are no slouches - they were one of the first distilleries to open a visitor's centres back in the early 70s.

Glenfarclas offer three different tour levels ranging from £5 up to £85 based on how anorak-y you are and how in depth you want to go.


The whiskies of Islay are some of the most interesting and distinctive in style, typically having heavy peat (smoke or/and medicinal) influences which can be fantastically complex. Islay itself, whilst remote, is not too difficult to get to with flights twice daily from Glasgow starting at £30.

Laphroaig distillery painted in the typical Islay fashion
This is famously the distillery of choice for Prince Charles and is probably the most distinctive of the Islay malts due to the extremity of the medicinal nose and flavours it imparts. The tours here are fantastic, if you are a Friend of Laphroaig (have registered a bottle you bought online) you get to visit the square foot of land you have been allocated as part of your tour. You get to plant a flag representing your country and claim the rent owed you in the form of a dram. The staff are hugely knowledgeable and you get to see the whole process.

The standard tour is £6, lasts around an hour and you get to taste a dram and take away a commemorative glass. There are other options that allow you to taste from casks and bottle your own, however the most impressive is the Water to Whisky Tour. This takes you to the water source of Laphroaig where you have a picnic and a dram cut with the source water. From here you go to cut peat that is used in the flavouring and drying process followed by another dram. Then you tour the distillery, turning malt, stoking the kiln and taste from some casks before bottling your own whisky from the cask, all for £82, it sounds a lot, but is a real experience.

More info can be found here.

A wall of Ardbeg
Ardbeg for me is the whisky with the biggest flavour of Islay and with the best marketing machine with their yearly Feis Ile release (coming out end of May). The flavours are hugely smoke ridden, but in some cases the use of wood finishes just make the flavours bigger, brasher and so damn tasty.

Ardbeg's offer a range of tours allowing you to sample all their drams, some back to the 70s, visit and cut the peat, all sorts and at a slightly cheaper price than might be expected of such a powerhouse. Be sure to keep your eyes out for Shortie throughout your tour of the distillery, he will pop up in surprising places.
Information on the different tours can be found here.

We have only scratched the surface here - there are hundreds of distilleries most of which allow visitors, all with different tours and styles, but this should provide a cross section of the different styles and feature some of the more famous and interesting tours available.

The joy for me is trying different whiskies, seeing the process in action and getting to meet the people with the craftsmanship and passion to create the drink that I and so many others enjoy so deeply - it allows you to get up close and personal with a hero and makes for great experiences to share with friends and family.

All photos are used under the Creative Commons Licence

No comments:

Post a Comment