It was only a week ago that I co-led a fantastic tour to Scotland with my friend and co-leader Matt Ferguson from 9 Maple Ave. This was the first distillery tour for 9 Maple Ave, a classic whisky and Jazz bar located in Saratoga Springs, NY. The purpose of the tour was to explore the vast world of whisky and the distilling process of scotch. In total, we visited 11 unique distilleries throughout the Highlands and Speyside regions of Scotland and everyone really enjoyed the journey. Not only did we visit many distilleries, but we also spent time enjoying the culture of Scotland and visiting many historic spots. Here are some of the highlights of our trip.
The tour began in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. The first two days were spent exploring this beautiful city and we were lucky with the weather! Not often do you have consistent blue sky. Some of the sights that we visited included the Rosslyn Chapel – famous for the Da Vinci Code, the Edinburgh Castle – the mighty fortress above the city, the St. Giles Cathedral, the Holyrood Palace, the New Town and the Grassmarket areas.
Besides the pubs in the evening, the first true whisky-tasting opportunity happened at the Scotch Whisky Experience, a tour and museum of everything scotch. It houses the largest collection of scotches found in the world, featuring 3,384 bottles, most extremely rare and looking rather old… After the tour, we sat in the tasting room and really got to work trying various malts from all over Scotland. The jet lag seemed to disappear quickly!
After two nights in Edinburgh, we headed northwest to Oban, visiting the Inverary Castle along the way. The drive took us through the beautiful Loch Lomond area. It is hard to describe how peaceful this area is reminding me of Middle Earth. Arriving in Oban, we quickly grabbed some seafood on the pier before heading to our first distillery visit, the Oban Distillery. Oban was one of my first favorite single-malts so it was fitting to begin our distillery visits here. It was a great tour.
The following day we headed north along the coast and had a very special visit to the Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William. Since we were taking many notes on the tour, our tour guide gave us some VIP treatment. After the tour concluded, our guide took us upstairs to taste some of the best whiskies I have ever tasted. It was a truly special moment on this trip and reminded me of why I love traveling so much. You just never know when these moments come around.
After Ben Nevis we continued north along the famous Loch Ness with a constant eye on the water in search of Nessie. Unfortunately Nessie must have been sleeping because she didn’t appear. But the Urquhart Castle did. What a beautiful location for the remnants of this castle overlooking the Loch. It was a nice place to take a break from the drive.
Our day ended at the Tomatin Distillery where we also had a great tour and tasting.
This became the theme of the trip over the next few days: multiple distilleries and multiple tastings. Hard to complain since it was a Monday. We based ourselves in Aberlour at The Dowans Hotel for 4 nights which was the perfect base for exploring the Speyside region, the heart of whisky making.
Over the next three days we visited 7 different distilleries. The first day included the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown, the Glenlivet Distillery near Ballindalloch in Moray, and the Glenfarclas Distillery also in Ballindalloch. All were very different from each other, some independent and others owned by large global beverage companies. Our favorites always seemed to be the independent family-run distilleries.
The second day included a drive north to visit both the Dalmore Distillery in Alness, 20 miles north of Inverness, and the Glenmorangie Distillery in Tain. Another beautiful drive. The location of the Glenmorangie Distillery was probably my favorite, with its vast views over the Dornoch Firth or waterway leading to the North Sea. I regretted not purchasing a cask-strength bottle at Dalmore which will require me to return soon!
The last full day in the Speyside region included the Aberlour Distillery, a 5-minute walk from the hotel in Aberlour, and the Macallan Distillery in Craigellachie, Moray. A great way to end our four-night stay in this region.
Leaving Aberlour, we headed south through the Cairngorms National Park to our last distillery visit at the Dalwhinnie Distillery, unique for its location and climate (highest in elevation and coldest). Brrrr. We had a nice visit and tasting with chocolate before heading back south to Edinburgh for our last night. We closed out the tour with some shopping and a nice pub crawl before calling it a night for our early morning wake-up call and departure back to the States.
Overall it was a great success for our first 9 Maple Ave Whisky Tour. We visited more distilleries than we planned and built a base for many more adventures to come. Individual write-ups on each distillery visit are in the works, so please stay tuned! Also, if you are interested in our next 9 Maple Ave tour, we will be heading to Ireland in July, 2016. Here are more details: 9 Maple Ave Distillery & Brewery Tour July, 2016 Cheers!