Although many have continued to distil spirit during the coronavirus pandemic – whether to fill casks or turn into hand sanitiser – Scottish distilleries are taking a more cautious approach when it comes to reopening their doors to visitors.
The priority remains the safeguarding of staff to ensure the continued smooth running of the working areas. As a result, while Scotland boasts over 130 operational whisky distilleries, only a handful have been able to safely welcome back guests while observing social distancing guidelines. Those that can have introduced several measures to ensure visitors still have an educational and enjoyable experience.
In most cases these include the mandatory wearing of face masks at all times (apart from in tastings), small tour groups of one household or ‘social bubble’, temperature checks and the provision of hand-sanitiser stations.
Unfortunately, most island distilleries and those within city centres remain closed to visitors for now. Edinburgh’s popular Scotch Whisky Experience will be offering tours, dining and shopping from 17 August, however, and the picturesque Glengoyne distillery, just a 40-minute drive from Glasgow, re-opened its doors on 1 August.
Most of the more rural distilleries that are welcoming visitors are doing so to their on-site shop and café only, offering tastings, lunches or food and drink for takeaway – essentially a pit stop to grab a bite and browse the whiskies on offer. There are several, however, that are conducting partial tours of production areas.
Below is our guide to some of the best Scotch whisky distillery experiences currently on offer – although bear in mind this list is subject to change. You’re advised to contact the distillery well in advance of your trip and book ahead to avoid disappointment. And for more ideas for visits, check out the Scotch Whisky Association’s guide.
Hawick has a proud history of manufacturing cashmere and tweed, but now it can add whisky and gin to its hall of fame. Borders Distillery was opened in 2018, bringing whisky-making back to the region for the first time since 1837.
The distillery is offering limited tours and tastings for groups of 4-6 people from a single household or social bubble.
Tour times: Monday-Friday at 10:00, 11:30, 13:00, 14:30; 16:00
Bookings: Tours must be booked at least one day in advance. The shop remains open for walk-ins.
Kingsbarns restarted guided tours of its distillery in the East Neuk of Fife – the heart of golf country – on 1 August, offering tastings of its new-make spirit and ‘Dream to Dram’ whisky. Visitors can upgrade their experience to a Dream to Dram or 19th Hole Tour by booking in advance. All tours come with a voucher to spend on a bottle of whisky or gin from the Kingsbarns shop.
Tour times: Daily at 10:30, 13:00, 15:30
Bookings: All tours must be booked in advance. The on-site café and shop remains open for walk-ins.
If you’re fascinated by the history of Scotch whisky then a tour of its spiritual home at Lindores Abbey in Newburgh, Fife will appeal. The distillery is now hosting small pre-booked whisky and history tours and tastings within the visitor centre and abbey ruins, although parts of the distillery itself remain closed to visitors.
Tour times: Friday, Saturday, Sunday at 11:30, 13:00, 14:30.
Bookings: All tours, tastings and tables for lunch or drinks must be booked at least one day in advance.
This Speyside stalwart is already welcoming visitors to its Robbie Dhu outdoor terrace restaurant, gift shop and new whisky lounge for lunch, afternoon tea or tutored whisky flights with the option of a virtual tour. From 24 August, Glenfiddich will also introduce a new experience designed to immerse visitors in the distillery’s history, with guided tours through some production areas, culminating in a guided tasting.
Tour times: TBC. The restaurant, shop and lounge are open Wednesday to Sunday 09:30-16:00.
Bookings: All tours, meals and tastings must be booked in advance.
For something a little different to a standard distillery tour, Speyside Cooperage offers the chance to experience the craftsmanship that goes into making oak casks. The popular site, situated in Craigellachie, will reopen from 19 August for tours.
Tour times: Monday-Friday on the hour between 9:00-15:00.
Bookings: All tours and visits to the cooperage, café and gift shop must be booked in advance.
The home of blended Scotch whisky brand Chivas Regal is situated in Keith, in the heart of Speyside. Renowned as one of the prettiest distilleries in Scotland, Strathisla is reopening to visitors from 7 August. While tours won’t be on offer, you can visit the on-site shop and book one of two hands-on whisky experiences in its ‘Emporium’ – a blending masterclass, or a tasting of exclusive cask strength single malts.
Tour times: The distillery is open to visitors Friday to Sunday 12:00-16:00pm, with tastings conducted at 13:00 and 15:00.
Bookings: Pre-booking for a tasting is essential.
Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery, situated on the outskirts of picturesque Aberfeldy, makes for a perfect day-trip from Edinburgh. The distillery offers a range of tastings and experiences to suit whisky novices and connoisseurs alike, from tours of the warehouse and an insightful heritage exhibition, to tastings direct from the cask. There’s also an on-site café and whisky lounge serving drams and light lunches.
Tour times: Tours take place regularly throughout the day. Check website for opening hours.
Bookings: All tours must be booked in advance.
The home of Bell’s whisky in Pitlochry at the foot of the Grampian mountains is now open and offering a whisky tasting experience with (£16) or without (£12) a distillery tour. Within one of the most popular Scottish distilleries to visit, enjoying a whisky at Blair Athol’s bespoke mashtun bar is something of a right of passage.
Tour times: Tours take place every hour on the hour between 10:00-16:00.
Bookings: Sessions are capped to 4-6 people from mixed households, so while booking is not mandatory, it’s advisable to avoid disappointment.
This west coast distillery situated on the beautiful Morvern peninsula is about to launch its first single malt Scotch whisky. It’s now also taking bookings for distillery visits, which, until 17 August, are restricted to those staying on the peninsula. Due to its layout, tours will not include the distillery itself, but August visits are complimentary and guests are welcome to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy the stunning views. Tastings of Nc’nean’s botanical spirits will cost just £5 per person.
Tour times: Available on request.
Bookings: Contact the distillery to arrange a visit.