|A horny (antler-y) Stag|
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|
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 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|
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.
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|
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|
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'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.