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'Visiting Distilleries'
Duncan & Wendy Graham
During these visits we were able to form lots of impressions as to how visitors are dealt with by the distillery owners. Not all of these impressions were favourable and at times we were struck by the lack of information on what to expect, and by the quality of the experiences which lie beyond the ubiquitous "Visitors Welcome" sign.

The quality and scope of the tour, the range of things to see and experience, the facilities available - varying from 'there is a public loo along the seafront' to a state-of-the-art visitor centre, the access for disabled visitors, and the warmth of the welcome (or lack of it) - all of these factors set us thinking that others might welcome a book of this type. In Visiting Distilleries our aim is to offer the kind of advice and information we felt we could have done with, together with simple guidelines as to what to expect, and the kind of questions (and answers) which can make the whole distillery visit worthwhile. And if any of you are asking, "but all distilleries are the same, aren't they?", believe us - they are not!

Friends often ask us, "Where on earth to you start?". Which distilleries are beginner friendly? Which ones within a given region are ideal for the children on a wet August afternoon? Which ones could be logistically strung together in a smaller or larger tour? And folk who know much more about whisky than we will ever know, have asked us where to go to see something specific to add to their already considerable experience. In this book we have tried to answer these questions.

Click here to order a copy of
'Visiting Distilleries'.

On planning this venture we accepted that there was no ideal way of gathering the information. Advance information gathered from distilleries was all very well, but the acid test was to visit all those distilleries (and a few other related facilities) open to visitors within a period of time short enough to allow us to fairly compare and identify the features folk ask about. In our house we have a tradition that no bottle of malt should remain unopened after it has been purchased. We are not "collectors" in that respect. We can offer visitors their pick of 20 to 30 bottles, all of them at varying levels of volume. Like all good ideas, the one behind this book gradually formed during a more extensive investigation of our stocks in the company of our publisher, Neil Wilson, himself no stranger to the joys of the cratur. As that session progressed the logistics of our mission seemed to ease considerably. Reality set in the next day as we pondered again our visit to 40 or more establishments ranging geographically from Orkney to Wigtown, from Skye to Huntly, and all within the space of one Scottish summer.

The next stage was to plan itineraries. In the end we came down to areas which do not correspond with the rather confusing pigeon-holing of the malt whisky industry - how can Glengoyne, with a Glasgow postcode (yet in Sitrlingshire) and Glenmorangie in Tain, on the shores of the Moray Firth, both meaningfully be "Highland"? The system we have chosen in this book is the result of some common sense logistics and the urgent need to find centres from which to foray forth. There are obvious "hot spots" such as Speyside, with ten distilleries (and a cooperage); Islay and Jura with seven; the far north with eight and the Central Highlands with seven. Elsewhere distances are greater and common factors more difficult to identify. The Islands and the West Coast cover a wide area, but there is a common feeling of remoteness that somehow links them together. The distilleries in the South of Scotland have little in common and are best visited simply when the opportunity arises.

Our travels involved a Fiat motor caravan, a BMW F650GS motor cycle, a Subaru Legacy estate car, sundry ferries and toll bridges, and some rather splendid b&bs. We dined on everything from lobster thermidor in Stromness to pasta salad in the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre in Edinburgh.

Click pictures for more detail.

Floor Maltings

Still Hous

Kiln & Malting Room

Mash House & Tun Room

Still House

Bonded Warehouse

Some of the best meals and snacks were enjoyed in distilleries, ranging from the Cordon Bleu standard at Glenturret, via Island home cooking at Ardbeg, to sandwiches from Eaglesomes, the grocers owned by Springbank, eaten on the seafront at Campbeltown. The sun shone most of the time (honestly), and the welcomes we experienced where invariably a credit to Scottish hospitality. The malt whisky business despite commercial rivalries, is a fairly close knit family with a degree of dedication which other industries might usefully emulate. Sadly, we found very, very, few people who expressed much sympathy for the ordeal to which we had subjected ourselves!

When we embarked on our expedition, we were not experts on whisky and it's distillation. We have however learned a fair amount, and have certainly widened our range of preferred drams. It has frequently been said that, "there are no bad whiskies, some are just less good!" To that we would add that nearly everything is down to personal preference, or the mood and ambiance of the moment. We have given you our personal views and those of some experts on the whiskies we sampled. On everything else, the opinions are our own - close enough to your needs, we hope, to help you and informed enough to give valid opinions. In future editions we hope to meld and moderate our views in the light of your experiences. To that end do take time to fill in and send us the Visitor Response Form (or photocopy it) at the end of the book.

Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy in factual details, and to be as up to date as possible. If you are in any doubt, please check with each distillery visitor centre - some of the quieter ones can be closed completely for the "silent season". Some errors are bound to have crept in and we apologise for them in advance. The views expressed are honestly held, based on our own experience and reliable advice from fellow enthusiasts. Enjoy Visiting Distilleries. Duncan and Wendy Graham, Appleby, Cumbria.

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