There's nothing quite like sipping your favourite whisky when the weather starts to dip. Autumn is a great time to investigate Scotland's most famous distilleries, where you can taste some of the finest whiskies while enjoying the beauty of the Scottish countryside.
But where to begin? Scotch whiskies are divided into five regions, and each region has something different to offer. Most distilleries charge a small fee for a quick tour, while some give visitors a more in-depth experience. Here's a sampling of the possibilities.
Speyside, in the Spey Valley, is home to the two top-selling single malt whiskies in the world (Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet) as well as the official Scotland Malt Whisky Trail . This makes the valley's forests and rolling hills a great starting point to any distillery tour.
Benromach — The smallest distillery in Speyside also boasts the distinction of being home to the first certified organic single-malt whisky in the world.
Cardhu — If being the only malt distillery pioneered by a woman isn't enough to draw you in, maybe its connections to the Johnny Walker brand will.
Glenfiddich — No visit to the area would be complete without stopping in at Glenfiddich, maker of the world's best-selling single malt, for a tour and a taste of what the whole world is enjoying.
The Glenlivet — This recently expanded distillery, surrounded by beautiful grounds, is one of the few distilleries offering free admission for tours — not to mention a dram of your choice of one of its world-class single malts.
Speyside Cooperage — The only working cooperage (barrel manufacturer) in the UK not only gives you a first-hand look at the barrel making process, it also gives you the chance to build your own mini-cask.
Production has decreased markedly in this region of southwestern Scotland formerly known as the "Whisky Capital of the World," and there are now only three distilleries in operation. But the area itself, home to some of Scotland's earliest distilling, boasts a rich whisky history worth investigating.
Springbank — The oldest family-run distillery in Scotland, it has been in operation since 1828.
Glengyle — The first distillery to be opened in the new millennium in Scotland, this was the first new one to open in Campbeltown in 125 years.
The best-known whisky region in Scotland, the mountainous Highlands is where to head if you're looking for whiskies that come with a lot of history.
Ben Nevis — One of the oldest in the country, this distillery at the base of Britain's highest mountain has been in operation since 1825.
Dalwhinnie — High up in the highlands, it boasts a history rife with roadblocks and setbacks well worth hearing about.
Famous Grouse — One of the most recognized brands in the world, it's worth a stop for the BAFTA Award-winning interactive entertainment alone.
Glenmorangie — Boasting the tallest stills in Scotland, this beautiful old distillery is home to the whisky Scots love best (at least according to sales for most of the last 30 years).
Oban — This charming little distillery was built in 1794 and sits at the heart of the harbor town of Oban, known as the "Gateway to the Isles" for its proximity to the Inner Hebrides islands.
With only three distilleries currently producing (three others are in operation but have yet to bring whiskies to market), Lowlands is easy to overlook. But the tradition of triple-distillation means that fans of lighter-tasting spirits would be well served to take a trip to the south to test the "waters of life" on offer there.
Auchentoshan — Located just outside Glasgow, this "breakfast whisky" is sweet to taste and easy to visit from Scotland's largest city.
Bladnoch — The southernmost distillery in Scotland has had a back-and-forth history, with its latest iteration hitting the markets only three years ago.
Glenkinchie — This distillery halted malting on site in the late 1960s and turned the malting floor into a museum of malt whisky.
Alisa Bay, Annandale and Daftmill — Though none of these three currently has a whisky on the market (too new!) they are worth keeping on your radar as it could be any day now and you want to be the first to know.
Islay is home to eight distilleries, each more respected than the last. A tiny region with a big taste for whisky, it focuses on peaty whiskies. Take a look at the Islay Whisky Society's website for general information.
Ardbeg — There's only one way to find out if its claim of being "the peatiest Islay whisky" is true, and you'll be glad you did.
Bruichladdich — Steel yourself for their "X4." According to legend, "One sip and you live forever; Two sips and you go blind; Three sips and you expire on the spot."
Bunnahabhain — When the peaty, heady tastes of the Islay whiskies get to be a bit much, this milder whisky is a good break from the Islay norm.
Lagavulin — Consistently ranked as one of the best whiskies in the world, Lagavulin's strong, peaty taste is one you're sure to remember.
Laphroaig — Become a member of the Friends of Laphroaig and you'll own one square foot of Laphroaig property. Annual rent is one dram, obtained when visiting.
Whether you're a purist about your single malts or looking to explore the history of Scotland through the life cycle of a distillery, a whisky tour of Scotland promises something for every (whisky loving) taste.
by Leigh Bryant
Top: Visitors taste whisky (and buy at the source) at the Oban Distillery in the Scottish Highlands region. (Photo by Rod Edwards/VisitBritain)
Middle: The Glenfiddich distillery is one of Scotland's most popular. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)
Lower: Many distilleries give tours. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)