Whisky tourism is fantastic.  Hopping from Distillery to Distillery, breathing in the washbacks, marvelling at the mashing, and gazing lovingly at the gleaming Stills.  And best of all, tasting. (Responsibly of course.)

However, the tour guides and staff at Distilleries would like you to know a few things that can make your visit even better.  So here they are, the 13 rules for visiting a Distillery.

  • Firstly, when you arrive at the Distillery, follow the signs. There are usually signs.  Big ones, at Distilleries, to help you find your way to the right place to start.  Most Distilleries have old buildings with new machines in them, and fitting everything in means that quite often things are out of order. So following the signs helps you, and the staff, make sure you are in the right place, at the right time.
  • Always ask if you can wander around the Distillery.  And never go into a building without a member of staff.  I mean, who wants to get run over by a malt truck, or stuck under a mill whilst they are waiting for a taste of Old Pulteney.
  • Always ask if you can take photos.  Most Distilleries don’t allow it because of, well you know, the explosion factor. And, the insurance factor.   Filling out the forms of how a tourist dropped their phone on the Still Room floor causing millions and millions of pounds worth of damage takes days, and makes managers cry.
  • Ask questions.  Tour guides and the staff on shift at Distilleries are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet, and have a wealth of knowledge.  Every day they try to learn more, and they will pass that information on to you if you ask nicely.
  • Once on a tour, stay with the group.  Tour guides are basically your guardian for an hour.  They are responsible for your safety and care.  So if you need the loo, put up your hand instead of just running off!
  • Distilleries are the place where they make your favourite nectar, but they are also serious workplaces that use a lot of hot machines, And there are lots of ways you can do yourself harm. So make sure, that if you have that disease, where you have to touch things you are told not to, put your hands in your pockets, and keep them there. (That’s me by the way.)
  • Never assume that all Distilleries are the same, that once you seen one or two, you’ve seen them all.  They are as different as night and day. Take Talisker and Glenmorangie.  Talisker has squat Stills, wooden Washbacks, and Worm Tubs.  Glenmorangie has the tallest Stills, hard water, and giraffes!  They all have a different atmosphere, and they all have wonderful locations, with great things to do roundabout them.  The differences between the Distilleries is what makes visiting every single one, the fun – and right – thing to do.
  • Distilleries are very important to the history of Scotland.  So listen carefully to the different stories about the history of each one.  From illicit Stills, to staff doubling as firemen and fishermen, to the ghost dog that guards Tomatin.
  • During the tasting, remember that the tour guide has probably had a lot of training, and will know some tricks to help you identify what flavours might be there, and how to understand the character of each Whisky.
  • If possible, please book your tour in advance.  All Distilleries that allow visitors are very busy because they are so wonderful.  If you book in advance, it stops you being disappointed. And if for whatever reason you can’t make a tour – for example you are stuck in a lift with bagpipes and a haggis – ring and cancel.  That way somebody else might be able to enjoy the tour instead.
  • Most of the Distilleries that allow visitors are open all year round.  And Winter is a great time to view them.  Not only are they warm, they are deliciously picturesque in the snow.  And a Dram of your favourite Whisky will warm any heart.  (See my previous Winter article for details about all the Distilleries that are open all year round.)
  • Remember to bring your designated driver.  As you would expect, Distilleries have a very low tolerance of people who drink and drive. A lot of Distilleries are in out of the way places, and in villages where children might play.  And because they are sometimes in rural areas, quite often the local police lead quiet lives, and thus, love to catch those people who think it’s okay to have more than they should.  The drink drive limit in Scotland is .5, very low. And therefore, the best advice is that you don’t have any if you are driving.  Most Distilleries will provide a bottle for you to take your Dram away.  Or you can find them in my shop. If you would like more information on how to be responsible driver, please click on this link.
  • And lastly, Scotland was recently voted the most beautiful country in the world.  The best way to see a large part of it is to go Distillery hopping.  There are Distilleries in nearly every corner, on every coastline, town, city, and village. So go forth, and have fun, remembering to Drink Responsibly.

Copyright Gabrielle Balfour