Image by Yves Cosentino
Did you know that whisky accounts for roughly a quarter of all UK food and drink exports around the world? That adds up to an astonishing £3.95 billion in revenue each year; or a mind-boggling £125 every second.
Although these statistics about Scotch whisky exports make interesting reading, it’s ‘Scotland’s worst kept secret’ that the best whisky never leaves the Highlands. And for this reason, the only way to experience Scotch whisky at its absolute finest is fresh from source.
So, with that thought in mind, here’s everything you need to know about Scotland’s national drink and discovering the Highlands’ perfect whisky.
What is Scotch whisky?
Scotch whisky – often referred to simply as Scotch – is a malt or grain whisky made in Scotland. The ingredients of Scotch whisky are protected by The Scotch Whisky Act 1988, and must contain water and malted barley from Scotland. Furthermore, all whisky classified as Scotch must be distilled within the country’s borders.
The main difference between Scotch and bourbon whiskey (spelt with an e) is geographic. However, where Scotch is made mostly from malted barley, bourbon whiskey is distilled from corn.
A brief history of Scotch whisky
The word whisky originates from the Gaelic phrase ‘uisce beatha’, which translates as ‘water of life’. Irish Monks, who first brought whisky to Scotland and distilled the alcohol for its medicinal qualities in the Middle Ages, were the first to provide the drink with this name.
Ever since, whisky has formed an intrinsic part of Scottish life. First, living up to its original name by being widely prescribed for a range of ailments such as palsy and smallpox, before later providing the liquid stimulant for many Scots’ social life.
It wasn’t until the Phylloxera beetle single handily destroyed French wine production in 1880, however, that Scotch whisky became a worldwide success.
Today, Scotch whisky exports stretch to over 200 countries across the world. Yet, because whisky needs a cool, damp or moist environment to mature properly, no whisky tastes quite as good as Scotch whisky made and consumed in the Highlands.
Scottish whisky in the Highlands
Image by Giuseppe Milo
Whisky distilleries have found their natural home in the Highlands because of the abundance of exceptional ingredients in close proximity. For instance, the area is famous for the quality of its clear spring water and golden barley that, in combination, are crucial to the production of high quality Scotch whisky.
The undisputed hotbed for Highland whisky production is the area of Speyside, which boasts over half of all Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries.
The Highlands' Malt Whisky Trail
The Highlands’ renowned Malt Whisky Trail in Speyside offers you the chance to see, smell and taste Scotch whisky produced at working distilleries.
In total, the trail visits seven distilleries that uphold their own traditions in relation to recipes and distilling techniques, which defines each of them as unique among their kind.
For example, Strathisla Distillery is the oldest working distillery in the Highlands, and producer of Chivas Regal – one of the most famous whisky brands in the world. Benromach is Speyside’s smallest working distillery and producer of a string of award-winning handcrafted single malt whiskies. Cardhu is the country’s only single malt distillery founded by a woman.
Each stop along the Highlands’ Malt Whisky Trail offers a behind the scenes look at how whisky is made and the chance to treat your palate to a number of fine blends. However, traversing the trail also allows you to experience some of the Highlands’ most picture perfect landscapes and quaint villages – it’s a win-win situation.
The Famous Grouse Experience
Image by Paul Watson
Outside of Speyside, there are still many high quality whisky distilleries that are well worth a visit. Arguably the most famous of these is the Glenturret Distillery – home of the Famous Grouse Experience.
Recently named Whisky Visitor Attraction of the Year at Whisky Magazine’s 2015 Icons of Whisky Awards, The Famous Grouse Experience provides an authentic understanding of Scotland’s oldest working distillery.
Located in the heart of Perthshire, the tour offers visitors an inside look at the distillery’s warehouse and distilling techniques. But, best of all, there’s ample opportunity to sample a selection of The Famous Grouse’s finest malts.
Highland Park Distillery
Highland Park is another distillery that aptly illustrates the distinctive nature of Scotch manufacturing in the Highlands. Established in 1798, to this day the philosophy embedded deep into the core of Highland Park’s distilling methods remains a focus on traditional values.
That said, Highland Park doesn’t reject the use of modern techniques for the sake of it. In fact, their traditional approach has earned the distillery several of the industry’s most prestigious awards – including The Best Spirit in the World award in 2009 and 2013 for its Highland Park 25-year-old single malt whisky.
Do you want to experience the Highlands and Scotch whisky in ultimate comfort?
In combination, Highland Heritage’s coach tours include luxurious accommodation, sumptuous banquets, full day excursions and trips to Highland distilleries including the Famous Grouse Experience. So browse our full range of tours now and discover the secret to the perfect whisky in the Highlands.