Moving Distillery Tours Beyond the Process, Basic Sample, Exit Through the Gift Shop

No visit to the Highlands, or any other region renowned for its whisky production, would be complete without a tour of a working distillery.

Whisky distilleries are fascinating places. They’re typically, but not always, buildings centuries old, that are steeped in history and are responsible for some of the most popular whisky on the planet. While touring the facilities, you get to see where the whisky’s made, how it’s made, and will hopefully get to learn about it too. If you’re especially lucky, you’ll get to enjoy a wee dram or two in the process.

Because of their popularity, you’ll often find that whisky distillery tours are a bit, shall we say, samey, and all seem to follow the same format. Here at Great Drams, we’re always on the lookout for something different and innovative in the world of whisky, and that includes distillery tours.

The Problem with Old-School Whisky Distillery Tours

We here at Great Drams are big Still Game fans. As fans of the show will know, the two main characters Jack and Victor, are massively into their whisky. Especially single malt. As luck would have it, in one specific episode they find themselves lucky enough to win a free whisky distillery tour. Excited at the prospect of plenty of free samples, they end up bitterly disappointed when, at the end of the tour, all they receive is one measly sample and a polite invite to exit through the gift shop.

‘Is that it?’ Jack exclaims. ‘I was just getting a b****y taste for that, there’.

‘Aye, it’s a con ain’t it’ says Victor. ‘Show you a couple of stills, give ye a couple of halves, then boof! Bounce you into the gift shop and fleece ye!’

Now, I may have paraphrased the dialogue from that episode slightly, and left out a few naughty words, but you get the idea. That part of the episode in particular really resonated with me because it sums up the mentality of so many whisky distillery tours these days. They’re all the same. You get a quick tour around a dusty distillery, get a tiny of sample of their basic releases, and are then punted into the gift shop, which in itself is bigger than the distillery, and is vastly overpriced, and are expected to spend yet more money. There’s no heart or soul in them.

If you’re new to distillery tours, or are looking for a way to spend a drizzly afternoon on holiday, that’s fine, but for whisky purists, it’s simply not enough. Whisky distillery tours should allow you to feel and experience whisky, not just buy it and any merchandise associated with it. While most generic tours are all the same, there are a select number of tours up and down the UK, particularly the Highlands, that offer incredible tours that will captivate you from start to finish.

Below, you’ll find just a few of our favourites here at Great Drams.

Cardhu Guess DHU Tour & Tasting Challenge

The first tour we’ve got for you today is one of my favourites, without question.

Known as the Speyside home of Johnnie Walker, the Cardhu Distillery was founded in 1811 by Helen Cumming. Initially, it was an illicit distillery before becoming fully licenced in 1824. It is also the first distillery to be pioneered by a woman.

In 1872, Elizabeth Cumming, who was the founder’s daughter-in-law, took charge and began tweaking the whisky, refining its flavour and character to bring it closer to the whisky globally adored to this day.

The Cardhu DHU Tour and Tasting Challenge is the perfect day out and is fantastic for those of you who love a challenge, and want to see just well you really do know your whisky.

After receiving a guided tour of the distillery, where guests will get to learn all about the rich history of the distillery, and indeed, Speyside as a whisky-producing region, you can end the tour with a nosing and tasting challenge.

Here, guests will take part in a mystery whisky tasting challenge in the Cardhu Collection Rule. The aim is to correctly identify as many whiskies as possible. Those with the most impressive score will earn a spot on the Guess DHU Hall of Fame, going down in history as a whisky genius.

This is an epic tour and one which every whisky fan, especially those who enjoy Speyside releases, has to try at some point. It is a fully immersive experience which utilises special effects, lights, media, music, and sensory moments to really set the scene.

With prices from just £22, and a duration of 1 hour and 90 minutes, get this experience booked, you won’t regret it. Just be sure to arrive at the distillery at least 15 minutes before your allotted time slot.

The Balvenie ‘Welcome to the Distillery’ Tour

There are several reasons why Speyside whisky distillery tours are so popular, and the reasons aren’t just the fact that Speyside whisky, with its mellow and fruity notes, is so popular. Speyside also happens to be one of the most stunning regions in all of Scotland, and is one steeped in whisky distilling history.

With its golden barley fields, dense trees and forests, rolling hills, lush green countryside, and ambling streams and rivers, it’s a region full of charm and character, much like the whisky produced here.

The Balvenie Distillery is one of Speyside’s most popular, as is the single malt they produce here. If you find yourself in the area, their whisky distillery tour is well worth a visit and is a fantastic way to spend the best part of 2 ½ hours.

This isn’t just a quick look at the stills, a wander around the warehouse, and then a fleecing in the gift shop, this is one of the most intricate, interesting, and enjoyable tours you’ll ever experience, and is certainly a must for any whisky connoisseur.

On the tour you’ll get a detailed look at the whisky making process and will learn all about the five rare crafts of single malt whisky distilling that the distillery proudly maintains. You’ll get to meet and interact with the makers and see them in action. Everything from the in-house malting to the on-site cooperage will be covered here, and more besides.

You’ll even get to visit the world-famous Warehouse 24, before finally taking part in a group tasting, where you will get to sample a selection of the distillery’s whiskies, all for just £75 p/p.

Glenfiddich Solera Deconstructed Tour

Fewer symbols are more synonymous of the Scottish Highlands than that of a stag. Needless to say, stags feature heavily on a number of whisky distillery’s branding labels, particularly Glenfiddich.

The Glenfiddich distillery is located in Speyside, Dufftown to be precise, in a sweeping valley where stag and deer sightings are as common as blackbirds and robins. In Gaelic, the brand’s name literally means ‘valley of the deer’.

Glenfiddich whisky typically has all the characteristics you’d expect from a single malt from Speyside. There’s plenty of fruit, a slight burn, a creamy mouthfeel, a touch of oak, and a suggestion of smoke lingering in the background. Without question, their Solera 15 however, is one of their most popular.

The 15-year-old whisky is Solera vatted, which means that the distillery continually pours 15-year-old Glenfiddich whisky into a large oak vat. This allows it to blend, mingle, and mellow with 15-year-old whisky from prior batches. The barrel is never allowed to empty, and it means that each year, the whisky takes on new characteristics, aromas, and flavours.

The brand, which is family owned, was founded in 1886 by William Grant. Ownership of the distillery was passed down generation through generation, and to this day, the whisky is more popular than ever. If you’re a Glenfiddich fan, or simply wish to enjoy a Solera whisky, the deconstructed Solera tour, is ideal.

Lasting at least 2 ½ hours, the tour will allow you to get an in-depth look at just what it takes to create a world-renowned whisky. Following an extensive tour of the family-owned distillery, where you will learn the history of whisky, the brand, the region, and more besides, you’ll get to visit Warehouse 8. This is where things really become fun.

The distillery tour alone is worth it, but the deconstructed tour? That’s a whole other level of excitement entirely. In Warehouse 8, you’ll see the Solera process first hand and will learn about it and what it is that makes Glenfiddich 15 such a popular dram. Following that, you’ll visit the Malt Master’s blending room where you’ll get to enjoy four, yes, four, samples of the 15 year old cask strength whisky. Even Jack and Victor would appreciate that.

The real enjoyment, however, begins when you get to switch roles with Master Blender Brian Kinsman. You’ll get to prepare your very own Glenfiddich 15 Year Old version, by blending different cask samples together with one another. You’re in charge of the drams, and how you mix them is up to you. You will even be able to bottle a small sample of your own creation and take it home with you to enjoy at your leisure. Who knows, maybe it’ll be the first step towards a new career as a Master Blender?

Glengoyne Malt Master Tour

The experiences at the Glengoyne Distillery are like no other you’ll ever have, well, experienced.

As they say at Glengoyne, they do things differently to other distilleries. They take their time and take visitors on a whisky producing journey.

With a huge selection of experiences, including their ‘Fine and Rare Tasting’ where guests can sample their 25 and 30 Year Old Highland Single Malts, along with a wild card whisky, and the standard Glengoyne Tour and Tasting, it is the Malt Master Experience that first tickled our fancy.

The perfect way to spend 90 minutes, and indeed, £90 p/p, this in-depth tour provides a vast insight into the inner workings of the distillery, its history, and the whisky-making process, provided by the Distillery Ambassadors.

The tour itself is exciting enough, but that’s certainly not all. Glengoyne have arguably saved the best element of the tour for last. As the name implies, you get your chance to become a Malt Master Blender in their Sample Room.

Visitors will be met with an array of cask strength single malt whiskies from the Glengoyne warehouse. Immediately you will get to see the different colours of the whisky, and smell the different aromas. You’ll see just what a difference the cask used for maturation can make. Whether it’s an American Oak ex-bourbon, a European Oloroso Sherry cask, or any other, you’ll see how different casks can impart different colours and aromas.

That isn’t all, you’ll also get to taste each one to discover the differences. This is where you can really assume the role of Master Blender, as you can create your very own cask-strength single malt whisky. Prefer your whisky a little more oaky? No problem, the American Oak cask should have you covered. Like your drams a touch fruiter? Ex-Oloroso Sherry casks should probably be prioritised. Add as little or as much of each until you’ve created a whisky you’re happy with. Once you have, you’ll get to enjoy it at your leisure and take it home in a 200ml Glengoyne bottle, complete with a record of your recipe. How cool is that?

Aberlour Deconstructed Tasting Experience

Finally, last, but in no means least, we have the Aberlour Deconstructed Distillery Tasting.

This whisky tasting experience is fantastic for anybody looking to discover the true expertise and craftsmanship that goes into creating each expression offered by Aberlour. It’s also a great way to kill an hour or so (the experience is 45 minutes and is a tasting experience only) and is priced very reasonably at just £40.

Aberlour typically use whisky from Ex-American Oak bourbon and Ex-European Oak Sherry casks to create an expression which is double cask matured. Here, visitors on this experience will get to enjoy a new make spirit and enjoy it in its rarest form. Next up, you’ll get to enjoy an expression they created via double cask maturation. Moving on, visitors will get to enjoy two more drams produced traditionally, then moving onto a single cask edition, before finally finishing the deconstructing experience by sampling a limited edition finished expression.

This experience is fantastic because it allows you to really appreciate the artform that is whisky distillation. As you deconstruct the process and sample each expression you’re taken on a culinary journey and get to understand why each whisky is produced and finished in each way.

Each dram is 15ml, and if you are keen to tour the distillery as well, just be aware that as of February 2024, due to ongoing construction at the distillery production site, Aberlour are not currently able to offer tours. The great news is that there are plenty of tasting experiences to enjoy.

Looking for rare, award-winning, limited-edition, unique, and delicious Scotch Whiskies, just like the ones listed above? If so, then look no further than and be sure to take a look at the huge selection of fantastic whisky products that we have available.

Here you’ll find all manner of different whiskies, primarily Scotch, to suit all palates and budgets, that you simply can’t get on the high street. We also have an extensive array of whisky/whiskey-related information so you can learn more about your favourite drams, how they’re made, and the distilleries that produce them.

Whether you’re looking for a smooth and creamy Lowlands whisky, a heavily peated, harsh and smoky dram from Islay, a smooth and fruity Speyside expression, or anything in between, here at Great Drams we’ve got whisky from all regions, to suit all preferences.   

Tags: Distillery ToursGift ShopWhisky Distillers
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My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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