Did you ever wonder where your preferred tipple came from? How it was produced? Or even the history behind it? The world of whiskey (and whisky) is one of heritage and craft, of idyllic natural water sources in scenic settings, of good times and lifelong memories.
Care to pay a visit to the best distilleries on the planet? Here’s our guide to where to go for a trip that’s guaranteed to leave a bold taste in your mouth and a smile on your lips.
A note about spelling: We’re using both whiskey and whisky in this guide. But the terms are not perfectly interchangeable as they are a reference to where the spirit is made. W-h-i-s-k-e-y with an “e” is how you spell it when it’s a product of Ireland or the US. Scotland and the rest of the world spell it w-h-i-s-k-y without the “e.” Every once in a while you might come across an American whiskey bottle with whisky without the “e” on the label (Maker’s Mark and George Dickel for example) which can be assumed as an homage to Scottish heritage.
If you’re looking for the mother lode of quality whisky, make for the motherland. Many of the world’s best whiskies are of Scotch origin and whatever your palate’s preference there’s a dram waiting for you. There are also scores of distilleries offering tours and more in Scotland, and probably just as many great whisky bars, with a scenic and rugged landscape for a backdrop and some of the friendliest folks you’ll ever meet to chat with while taking it all in.
Speyside in northeastern Scotland is home to the most distilleries in the country, including some of the best selling and top award winning labels such as Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. A cluster of distilleries are located in charming setting of Dufftown where walking tours between distilleries are a main draw for visitors. The Speyside Cooperage is a must-see attraction as the only operating cooperage left in Britain today.
Fans of extra peaty whiskies know of the fabled island of Islay where mighty malts like Lagavulin, Ardbeg, and Laphroaig are distilled with pride and singular style.
The whisky region known as the Islands refers to a few Scotch producing islands on the west coast of Scotland as well the far north, such as super scenic Skye (home of Talisker) and the far flung Orkneys (home of Highland Park). For a get-away-from-it-all vacation, a visit to the island Jura fits the bill with its population of 4,000 deer, and 200 humans, plus a church, restaurant, pub, shop, distillery – and little else.
Whiskies from this broad swath of the country vary in style and flavour. Generally though, Highland whiskies are known for being full-bodied and smoky. Even in the most seemingly removed areas of the Highlands you’re never too far from a distillery.
Perhaps the least celebrated of Scotch whiskies, the “Lowland Ladies” of southern Scotland are nevertheless memorable for their light and floral profiles.
Remote Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula was once the epicenter of Scottish whisky production with almost as many distilleries as there were families in town. These days there are only three distilleries left. But all three offer tours not to mention insight into an important chapter in the story of Scotch whisky.
It’s no surprise that whiskey is big business in America with distilleries across the states with most of them in Kentucky.
When you think American whiskey, you think Bourbon. And when you think Bourbon you think Kentucky. One great way to experience this largely rural state’s most famous product is to hit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail for visits to a number of its distilleries big and small.
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Tennessee is, of course, the land of Jack Daniel’s. A visit to the hollow where Jack is made replete with guided tour of the facilities is a real treat – even for teetotalers. The town of Lynchburg, where the Jack Daniel’s distillery is, has an authentic small town feel about it. Of course, if you’re heading to Lynchburg for a drink, remember that the distillery is in Moore County, that’s still a “dry county” to this day. Not too far up the road from Lynchburg is the other Tennessee sipping whiskey distillery, George Dickel, which also offers tours.
The other big whiskey producer is Ireland. Irish whiskeys are known for their triple distilled smoothness and for packing a potent punch. A dozen distilleries are in operation across the island, mostly in the Republic with a couple in Northern Ireland. Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland near the Giant’s Causeway is one of the highly rated Irish whiskey-related attractions.
Rest of the World
For a few decades, Japan has been wowing the world with a range of award-winning whiskies. Among the most popular and lauded is Suntory Yamazaki. Its distillery, located between Kyoto and Osaka, is open for tours and seminars.
Canada is famous for its flavourful rye whiskies and top global brands such as Crown Royal, Canadian Club, and Seagram’s. The major players and micro-distillers across Canada are open to the public for visits.
Traditionally, whiskies from Australia haven’t been sought out by connoisseurs. That’s starting to change though with promising and dramatically improving drink being made Down Under. Of particular note are the distilleries of Tasmania, notably the award-winning Sullivans Cove brand.
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Believe it or not India is one of the world’s biggest producers and consumers of whisky. Much of it wouldn’t be categorized as top shelf stuff but a surprising amount of Indian whisky is. One world-class whisky to be on the lookout for is Paul John distilled on the west coast of India in the state of Goa.
What’s your favorite whiskey? Have you ever visited a distillery? We would love to hear from you in the comments section below. Cheers!