Whisky lovers planning to visit three of Scotland's main whisky producing areas - Campbeltown, Islay and the Highlands - now have a new resource at their fingertips. West coast based ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne (also known as CalMac) has introduced the new £25 West Coast Whisky Pass. It entitles the holder to a range of discounts, promotions and added value offers at many island and mainland distilleries, bars, golf courses and specialist whisky tour operators.
Talisker, Ardbeg, Oban, Tobermory, Deanston, Springbank and Bruichladdich are among the best known names participating in the new scheme. More recently opened distilleries such as Ardnamurchan and the Isle of Harris Distillery, which only opened last October, have also signed up to the scheme.
Introduced in November last year, the West Coast Whisky Pass can be bought at CalMac's own tour shops at Fort William and Oban, onboard selected ships and port offices on the whisky routes (email firstname.lastname@example.org or freephone +44 (0) 800 066 5000) or via selected partners.
The pass is valid throughout the year until 30 September 2016 and may be used multiple times at participating partners. It doesn't include ferry travel, however. Although CalMac aims to promote travel onboard its ferries with the Pass, it can be purchased as a standalone product.
CalMac is the UK's largest ferry operator in terms of number of routes and the size of its fleet, and was awarded Best Ferry Operator in The Independent newspaper's Travel Awards 2015. The company serves island and mainland peninsulas on the West Coast of Scotland and carries around five million passengers a year. Its route network stretches from the islands of Clyde and Kintyre in the south, including Arran and Bute, to Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in the north.
Maggie Maguire, CalMac's UK Tourism Development Manager says, "Whisky tourism has always been popular and important and we work with the distilleries to promote visits through our UK and international partnerships, travel trade sector as well as to independent travellers via our own publications and travel products."
She adds, "We also work with distilleries across the West Coast in a number of ways, including enabling the transporting of raw materials and finished product as well as promoting whisky tourism. On board our ships we regularly promote the local whiskies, including offering on-board tastings, promoting Malt of the Month, and supporting Whisky Month each May."
The introduction of lower fares across all CalMac's routes from autumn 2015 has seen prices on some routes reduced by up to 65 per cent.
Maggie says, "There's a perception that it's expensive to get the islands, particularly the more remote destinations, but that's not the case. You can now travel to many of the islands for less than £10 as a foot passenger. We also have great value whisky trail tickets, our popular Five Ferries ticket, and island hopscotch tickets for those wanting to visit multiple destinations as part of their trip."
The offers and deals the Whisky Pass provides to purchasers differ according to the distillery or other type of partner. For instance, at Islay's Bunnahabhain the pass upgrades the holder to the distillery's Dram Tour, which boasts a tour and an additional complimentary second dram. Holders also get a 20 per cent price discount on the tour (£8 instead of £10).
Holders booking the Classic distillery tour at Talisker can claim a £5 discount voucher on any 70cl bottle of whisky purchased in the distillery shop and a free Talisker Skye lapel pin. With the distillery's Flight Tour, holders receive a 25 per cent discount on the price (usually £20) and a £5 voucher on any 70cl bottle sold in the distillery shop.
At Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown, three offers are available to pass holders: a free tour of Glengyle Distillery when travellers book a Springbank tour; a free tasting of Longrow and Hazelburn single malts in addition to the Springbank whiskies already included in the tour, and finally, £10 off Springbank's Premier tour, which normally costs £75 per person (a minimum group size of four needed for this deal).
Newer distilleries have also signed up to the scheme. For instance, Scotland's most westerly mainland distillery, Ardnamurchan, located spectacularly on the shores of Loch Sunart, only opened in July 2014. The distillery isn't producing whisky yet of course, but as its run by independent bottlers Adelphi, it does offer a free tasting (worth £7) to pass holders along with a free standard tour (a free souvenir lapel pin is also included).
Distilleries aren't the only partners to have signed up to the scheme. Glasgow's award winning Bon Accord whisky and real ale bar (see page 54), which stocks 380 single malt whiskies and was voted the UK's Best Whisky Bar in 2014, offers holders a 20 per cent discount on a sampling flight of six whiskies for six people (the normal price is £25). Any pass holder buying a whisky at the bar also gets a free half pint of real ale.
CalMac has big plans to expand the West Coast Whisky Pass scheme in 2016 with new partners and customer deals planned throughout spring and summer. Maggie says, "The aim is to develop the pass in terms of the number and range of partners and partner deals."