Scotland is famous for many things: dramatic mountain ranges, mythical lochs, historic castles and even folk in kilts. However, if one thing were to be considered a flagship of this beautiful nation it would, of course, be Scotch whisky.
The amber-hued liquor dates back to at least the 15th century, in Scotland at least, when tax records show King James IV ordered a monk to distill over 1,000 bottles of “aqua vitae” (Latin for “water of life”). Centuries later, whisky remains Scotland’s biggest export with more than 120 active distilleries dotted across five whisky-producing regions. When visiting the UK, no trip north of the border is complete without tasting this iconic spirit.
To help you sample the very best drams Scotland has to offer, Elite Traveler has rounded up the most exclusive Scotch whisky experiences. From the storm-swept Orkney Islands to the breathtaking Highlands these tours and tastings provide a chance to fully immerse yourself in the country’s rich and fascinating whisky-making history.
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Eras of Brora
Where better to begin our list of the best Scotch whisky experiences than the ruggedly beautiful Scottish Highlands? Here, on the remote northeast coast of Sutherland lies Brora. The legendary distillery operated between 1819 and 1983 before closing its gates. Since then, its elusive whiskies have been fetching huge sums at auction, with a bottle of 1972 40 Year Old single Scotch whisky selling for $69,848 in 2019.
To the delight of whisky lovers, 38 years after its closure, Brora reopened its doors last year. The distillery has undergone an intensive renovation and looks set for an exciting future.
The Eras of Brora experience is perfect for those eager to sample the iconic distillery’s finest drams. During the enthralling 4-5-hour day ($820 per person), guests will watch Brora’s craftspeople laying down casks for maturation, enjoy a gourmet three-course lunch, and attend a private tasting of the ultra-rare Brora Triptych.
Talisker Cask Draw Experience
No visit to the wild Isle of Skye off the western coast of Scotland is complete without a visit to Talisker, which goes down at the island’s oldest distiller. Set on the banks of Loch Harport on Skye’s Mingish Peninsula, the distillery is shaped by its proximity to the ocean and produces a premium range of whiskies characterized by their signature smoke and hints of saline.
While the distillery has long drawn visitors to enjoy one of its several Scotch whisky experiences, Talisker recently unveiled its reimagined visitor center and with it, a host of new interactive tours and tastings. Among them is the Cask Draw experience, which invites guests to draw whisky direct from the cask before embarking on a guided tasting.
[See also: Tracking Your Own Whisky Trail Through West Scotland]
The Macallan & Bentley
Next, we head to Speyside, nestled between the Highlands in the west and Aberdeenshire in the east. As the biggest whisky-producing region in Scotland, the area is home to over 50 distilleries including one of the oldest – The Macallan.
Founded by a barley farmer and school teacher back in 1824, the storied distillery matures its precious liquids in quality oak casks carefully watched over by the master of wood. In 2019, The Macallan scooped the coveted title of the most expensive bottle of whisky ever sold at auction when its Fine and Rare 60 Year Old sold for an eye-watering $1.9m at Sotheby’s in London.
When it comes to whisky experiences, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything as exclusive as the distillery’s tour of Speyside. During the day-long excursion ($6,780 for a group of four), you will be chauffeur driven across the stunning region in a Bentley Bentayga Hybrid sampling a selection of The Macallan’s rarest single malt whiskies along the way. The unforgettable tour includes a one-night local hotel stay, a private tailored distillery tour and a fine dining experience at Elchies Brasserie with a selection of wines and whiskies chosen by The Macallan Estate sommelier.
Speyside is also home to The Glenlivet – one of the most famous malts on the planet. Situated above the River Livet with sweeping views of Cardhu and the slopes of Ben Rinnes, the remote distillery was originally an illicit whisky site before its founder, George Smith, obtained his license in 1824. Since then, The Glenlivet has become a staple of countless drinks cabinets thanks to its signature smooth and fruity style.
Consider joining the Cellar Tasting ($475 per person) for a chance to sample some of the iconic distillery’s oldest and rarest 30 to 40 Year Old whiskies. And if you’re eager to discover more about the whisky-making process itself, The Archives experience gives guests the chance to take an exclusive tour of the distillery’s traditional bonded warehouse to learn about cask selection and the crucial role oak plays in adding complex layers of flavor during maturation.
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You’ll need to pack your waterproof jacket for the next exclusive whisky experience on our list. Located on the storm-swept Orkney islands (where winds often reach over 100mph in winter), Highland Park is Scotland’s northernmost distillery.
For over two centuries, the expert craftspeople have been smoking barley over heather-rich peat from the nearby Hobbister Moor giving their whiskies a distinctively smoky yet sweet flavor profile.
The three-hour Orcadian Vintages experience ($440 per person) gives guests an exciting opportunity to visit warehouse 12, which isn’t usually open to the public. Here, you’ll sample a dram straight from the cask of a rare 17 Year Old whisky that can’t be bought. After this, you’ll head to the cozy Eunson room where you’ll be guided through a tutored tasting of four limited-edition vintages – 1968, 1970, 1971 and 1976 – in front of the roaring open fire.
Johnnie Walker Princes Street
If you don’t have time to travel to the more remote distilleries, it’s worth dropping by Johnnie Walker Princes Street in the heart of Edinburgh city center’s West End. Set across eight floors, the recently opened visitor destination cost more than $251m to complete – the largest ever single investment in Scotch whisky tourism. Eco-conscious travelers will be pleased to hear the new building scooped the Green Tourism Gold Award (the UK’s top sustainability certification for visitor attractions).
While you’re here, head up to the rooftop bar to enjoy a cocktail with stunning views of Edinburgh Castle and book a tasting in the underground cellar to sample the best-selling Scotch whisky brand’s drams straight from the cask. There’s also a fully private Diageo client area, where the brand’s most knowledgeable whisky experts can conduct exclusive tastings and experiences.
[See also: The Difference Between Irish Whiskey and Scotch Explained]
The Glenturret Lalique Restaurant & Bar
Our roundup of the most exclusive Scotch whisky experiences would not be complete without mentioning The Glenturret. Situated on the banks of the River Turret in the heart of the breathtaking Perthshire countryside, the distillery has been producing spirits at this secluded location since 1753. During your visit be sure to take the Whisky Makers Tour for a chance to create your own unique bottle to take home, crafted under the watchful eye of the expert blenders.
The star of the show, however, is the luxurious restaurant (which has just been awarded a Michelin star), located at the heart of the distillery overlooking the old still houses. With space for just 26 guests, the intimate eatery is adorned with cascading five-tier chandeliers by esteemed French glassmaker, Lalique. The eclectic tasting menu takes inspiration from the surrounding Scottish landscape with plenty of locally sourced produce. Highlights include the moreish malted barley sourdough and traditional tattie scone served with winter truffle and caviar.
As for the bar, the drinks list is a whisky connoisseur’s dream featuring over 230 rare single malt expressions from each of Scotland’s whisky-producing regions. If a single dram isn’t enough and you want to sample a few of the rarest bottles, you can choose from a range of six whisky-tasting flights to help you figure out your favorites.