Scotland is stunning: more spectacular walks and more varied wildlife than anywhere else in Britain; picturesque towns and villages; historic baronial castles; outdoor activities of every imaginable variety; glorious beaches; fantastic cuisine including some of the world's best seafood and game - this
is what attracts 15 million tourists every year.
Whisky is, of course, a huge part of the appeal - ten per cent of visitors include a distillery tour in their vacation and most distilleries now open their doors to the public with facilities ranging from full-blown visitor centres with shops, cafés, and museums to private tours available only by arrangement. But that in itself poses something of a dilemma for anyone proposing a trip to Scotland - of the 70-odd distilleries you could visit, which do you choose?
Always here to help, Whisky Magazine has come up with a shortlist of 10. They're not necessarily the prettiest, nor the best-known; but we feel they're a good representative sample, and well-distributed geographically so that wherever your Scottish odyssey takes you, one of our recommended stop-offs will be within visiting range. And if new distilleries are slightly over-represented - well, that's because the whisky industry's current growth spurt is so very exciting!
A word of warning before you embark on your distillery adventure, though, always ring ahead. We
haven't printed details of opening and tour times for each distillery because they tend to change according to the season and other factors. Some distilleries require you to book in advance; but you should also ring those that don't to enquire about availability. You don't want to be turned away at the door!
8. Glen Scotia
Annan DG12 5LL
Tel: +44 (0) 1461 207 817
The nearest distillery to England, Annandale is also one of Scotland's newest: the first spirit ran in November 2014 and is still only available as Rascally Liquor new make. But if this is such a new distillery, you ask, how come it's so obviously old? Actually, Annandale was one of the rush of distilleries opened immediately after the 1823 Excise Act. In the 1890s it was extended, but closed in 1918. It then became a farm, using the maltings as a grain-dryer.
By 2007 the buildings were disused and nearly derelict. They were rescued by David Thomson and Theresa Church, who were looking for a site for their planned distillery and visitor centre and who spent over £10m on a long and painstaking restoration that includes a 'Burns' themed café.
Getting there: From Annan take the B722. Cross the A75 and after half a mile take a small left turning to the distillery.
Glenbeg PH36 4JG
Tel: +44 (0) 1972 500 285
Despite the fact that as the westernmost distillery on the mainland, it's miles from anywhere and very difficult to get to, Ardnamurchan was designed with tourists very much in mind.
Built by Adelphi, a Glasgow-based independent bottler, and opened in July 2014, it's proving a popular addition to the many attractions on the Ardnamurchan Estate on the shores of Loch Sunart, along with nature trails, outdoor sports and activities, and the delightful Glenborrodale Castle. The estate and surrounding holiday parks also offer accommodation.
The distillery itself is entirely newly-built but to a traditional design, and prides itself on its environmentally-friendly energy hydroelectric power and woodchip boilers. It includes a visitor centre but opening times vary, so ring ahead.
Getting there: From Tobermory take the ferry to Kilchoan; follow the B8007 to Glenbeg (10 miles).
Lagmore AB37 9AA
Tel: +44 (0) 1807 500 331
The 16th-century Ballindalloch Castle used to be one of the few Speyside attractions that had nothing to do with whisky. The castle itself, with its turrets and battlements; the landscaped grounds; the golf; the wildlife; the country sports - this is the Scotland you'd dreamed about.
In 2011 Guy Macpherson-Grant turned a 200-year-old farmstead on the estate into a distillery. The restoration was carried out by the estate's own tradesmen using local materials. The distillery uses Ballindalloch's own barley; the pot ale fertilises the soil on which it grew; and the spent grains feed the estate's Aberdeen Angus beef herd.
The first spirit ran from the stills in September 2014, and the next April Prince Charles and Lady Camilla cut the ribbon.
Tours: £35-£75. Art of Whisky Making £175.
Getting there: From A95 take a signposted lane immediately to the east of the Bridge of Avon.
Bruichladdich PA49 7UN
Tel: +44 (0) 1496 850 190
Facing Bowmore across Loch Indaal, Bruichladdich was built in 1881 to supply lightly peated fillings. It closed during Prohibition, but otherwise just plodded on. The corporate pass-the-parcel of the 1960s-1990s saw serial changes of ownership and in 1993 it was closed.
However in 2012 Rémy Cointreau took its first step into whisky and acquired the distillery for £58 million.
As a boutique distillery it specialises in individualistic and experimental short-run bottlings including the world's peatiest malt, Octomore. Bruichladdich also has its own cooperage, operates an open mash tun with rakes dating back to 1881 and has the only functioning Lomond still in the industry which is used to distill their gin, The Botanist, whose botanicals are all locally-sourced.
Getting there: From Port Ellen: A846 (14 miles) then A847 (6 miles). From Port Askaig: A846 (8 miles) then A847.
Balnauld, Pitlochry PH16 5JP
Tel: +44 (0) 1796 472 095
Pitlochry's two distilleries make quite a contrast. Blair Athol, spiritual home of Bell's, mashes more than 80 tons of malt a week. While Edradour mashes just one, and was Scotland's smallest until Loch Ewe stole its crown. Its still is only just big enough to be legal, and the whitewashed buildings housing the various processes look more like a cluster of cottages than a distillery.
Edradour has a shady past. It was founded by a consortium of farmers in 1825, and it may safely be assumed that they'd been making their own whisky long before becoming legal. In 1922 it was bought by an American company owned by New York mafioso Jack Costello, the Prime Minister of crime.
Edradour is one of the most-visited distilleries in Scotland with spectacular Highland views all around and you will understand why when you make your own visit.
Getting there: Off A924 just to the east of the town.
Forgue, Huntly AB54 6DB
Tel: +44 (0) 1466 730 202
In a district notorious for small-scale unlicensed distilling, a consortium of local landowners came together in 1826 to found their own legitimate concern in the grounds of a Georgian manor, Glen House. The group included the colourful James Allardyce, who popularised whisky in Edinburgh.
The whisky was also popular with blenders, because its richness meant they only needed a little of it; GlenDronach's stills generated caramel, and the spirit was made even sweeter and richer by ageing in sherry casks.
GlenDronach was the dominant malt in Teacher's, which owned the distillery for many years. Then in 2008 it was bought by the same consortium that owns BenRiach in Speyside. Under their proprietorship the visitor centre has been revamped and improved, and the whisky has been released in a huge variety of ages and expressions.
Getting there: On B9001 off A97 nine miles north of Huntly.
Tain IV19 1PZ
Tel: +44 (0) 1862 892 477
Glenmorangie is one of the most prestigious single malts in the world and was established in 1843 in a former brewery overlooking the Dornoch Firth, and was thriftily equipped with old gin-stills; replacements since then have been based on the same design. As you will see, contemporary gin stills were much taller than whisky stills and those at Glenmorangie are, at 16' 10", the tallest in Scotland. The taller the still the lighter bodied the spirit.
Since 2004 Glenmorangie has belonged to the French company LVMH, which has turned the original stillhouse into a visitor centre and museum whose prize exhibit is an 1880s steam engine.
Tours: £7-£120: must be prebooked.
Getting there: On A9 on northern outskirts of Tain.
The Hosh, Crieff PH7 4HA
Tel: +44 (0) 1764 656 565
Glenturret with its all-singing, all-dancing, visitor centre, The Famous Grouse Experience, is almost at the geographical heart of Scotland and is metaphorically just as close to the heart of whisky and its story.
Having closed in 1921 it was reopened in 1960 by James Fairlie, whose son Peter turned it into one
of Scotland's top tourist attractions, with annual visitor figures of 200,000 plus.As well as housing The Famous Grouse Experience, Glenturret is very much the archetype of the Highland malt distillery and is an absolute 'must visit'.
Getting there: From Crieff take the A85 westbound; turn right immediately after crossing Barvick Burn.
High Street, Campbeltown PA28 6DS
Tel: +44 (0) 1586 552 288
Glen Scotia's fortunes very much mirror those of the town once dubbed the whisky capital of Scotland. When it was established by two local businessmen in 1832, Argyll's days as a hotbed of moonshining were over.
As demand for Campbeltown whisky grew, Glen Scotia prospered and was much extended. But Prohibition in the US wiped out the key market and in 1928 Glen Scotia became one of Campbeltown's 20 casualties.
Tours used to be by arrangement only, but in keeping with the times the place has been thoroughly spruced up and the public are now very welcome.
Getting there: There are two routes from Glasgow either by road or by ferry.
St Ola, Kirkwall KW15 1SE
Tel: +44 (0) 1865 875 430
Built in 1885, Scapa has always been a workhorse. Apart from a brief period during World War I, when it billeted naval personnel from Scapa Flow, it chugged along quietly producing fillings almost without interruption. In 1959 it was largely rebuilt and was equipped with the newly-designed Lomond still, a hybrid that allows the creation of a broad range of styles.
Scapa isn't Scotland's prettiest distillery, but it enjoys a spectacular seaside location and a stroll along the front actually forms part of the tour!
Tours: £7.50. Must book.
Getting there: Take the A964 Old Scapa Road from Kirkwall. Where Old Scapa Road diverges to the left stay on the A964 and take the next left.