No matter how far or not so far you are into your whisky journey I would strongly recommend visiting a distillery. I had previously visited the Jameson distillery but that was just a token visit as part of a weekender away in Dublin, on reflection I wish I took much more notice. I tried a variety of Jameson’s including the Gold Reserve, which at that the time I did not really take time to appreciate. Anyway, now I am well onto my whisky journey and am somewhat wiser thanks to the wealth of information available on the internet. Eventually you will get to a point where you will not be able to find all the answers to your questions online. This prompted me to plan a trip to Scotland and go on a few distillery tours. On a tour you have the opportunity to ask all the questions you want of those that make the whisky and also get to try a fair amount of whisky along the way but besides those two points it also provides an opportunity for you to actually see the production processes you have read about first hand.
I will write about the distillery tours I have been on in my next article but for now I will provide a short explanation of how I approached planning my tour with the hope that you will find some it useful for when you plan yours.
Decide on your budget, how you are travelling and how long for
I was travelling on my own from Birmingham, had 3 days and was not taking my car. If you are taking a car then you will need carefully think about whether you want to drink on the tour or not. For me it was a must do, whisky just tastes better in a warehouse full of barrels. So I would be relying on trains, coaches or flights. My budget for travel, accommodation and tour tickets amounted to approx. £300.
Choose your distilleries but also be flexible
So I started of listing my favourite whiskies and then plotted the distilleries on Google Maps. I started of with Glenmorangie, Balblair, Clynelish, Aberlour, Glenfarclas, Old Pulteney, Glen Scotia and Ledaig. It didn’t take long to realise that this will be a logistical challenge, mainly because my list covers the Campbeltown, Island, Speyside and Highland regions. Scotland isn’t a large country but when you are relying on public transport and only have 3 days to travel then things become tricky. The numbers dictated that I discount Glen Scotia and Ledaig and stick to Speyside and the Highlands.
Check your timings……carefully and then consider going back to the drawing board
Using a combination of Scotrail and Traveline Scotland to plan my travels I realised that I may have been a bit too optimistic trying to fit in distilleries across Speyside and the east coast of the Highlands in 3 days. This was mainly due to local bus times. Some would only turn up once an hour and they did not always sync with distillery tour times so you could find yourself with a fair amount of time to spare before and/or after your tour. In addition to that, you may also have to walk a fair distance to get to and from the distillery to your bus stop. In the 3 days that I had I found that I would have too much downtime just for travelling alone and I would only be able to fit one distillery tour for 2 of the 3 days.
At this point, reality kicked in and I had to accept that my original idea was not possible with the budget and amount of days I had available to me. I would take a trip to any distillery at this point.
Edinburgh or Glasgow?
Given the difficulty I had in planning transport between distillery visits I opted to stick to the major cities in Scotland. Edinburgh or Glasgow? By default this would mean that I would be visiting lowland distilleries (kind of). I was slightly surprised by the lack of distilleries near Edinburgh, given that it is the capital of Scotland. Glasgow has Glengoyne, Auchentoshan and Clydeside distilleries to offer in comparison to Glenkinchie near Edinburgh. I opted for Glasgow on that basis. Deanston is also nearby but I found it too difficult to find public transport to get there within a reasonable amount of time. The other benefit to visiting Glasgow is the Bon Accord and the Pot Still pubs which are well known for the range of whiskies on offer.
This was a lot easier now. Trains from Birmingham to Glasgow are regular, there are lots of cheap hotels you can book and Glengoyne and Auchentoshan were easily accessible via public transport from Glasgow town centre. I did attempt to fit in a trip to Oban but the distillery tour timings meant that this was not possible. I still could not fit 2 distillery tours in a single day – mainly because I was using public transport and the timings did not quite work out.
I will be planning a trip based on my original idea, still sticking to public transport but giving myself more days and a slightly bigger budget.
In my next post I will be writing about my trip to Glasgow.