The whisky coast
Argyll and The Isles is a whisky-lover's heaven, with 14 world-class distilleries dotting what’s known as the ‘whisky coast’. Follow this journey across Argyll, from Campbeltown in Kintyre to the Hebridean island of Mull, to discover the region’s whiskies. Along the way you’ll discover how the history, culture and landscapes of Argyll have shaped the distinctive whiskies. There’s nothing quite like sampling the product in the historic distilleries themselves, and most offer guided tours ending with a large dram.
Start your journey in Campbeltown at the southern end of the Kintyre peninsula. This vibrant town once had 34 distilleries, but today just three are left to maintain this regional subgroup of single malt whiskies.
A guided tour of Springbank Distillery is an absorbing experience. It’s the oldest independent family-owned distillery in Scotland and the only distillery in the country to carry out the full production process, from malting to bottling, on site. On one tour you can join whisky legend Frank McHardy on an historical whisky tour of Campbeltown followed by an in depth exploration of the Springbank and Glengyle Distilleries.
Founded in 1832, Glen Scotia is one of the smallest whisky distilleries in Scotland. The distillery still maintains much of its original design, including the fermenters, the stillroom and the dunnage warehouse dating from the 1830s. You can choose from a number of tours. The ‘Shop Tasting’ is great value. Relax in the Victorian-styled shop, learn about the history of Glen Scotia and enjoy five drams.
Campbeltown’s ‘oldest new’ distillery, Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery, is home of Kilkerran single malt. The distillery operated in Campbeltown from 1872 to 1925. Then in 2004, the owners of Springbank re-opened Glengyle. Tours can be arranged as part of a visit to Springbank.
There’s plenty of other things to see and do in Campbeltown. It’s full of character, with boats coming and going and streets packed with shops, cafés and restaurants. The town is brimming with history, and is home to the excellent Campbeltown Museum. It’s also an excellent base from which to explore the rest of Kintyre, with its Atlantic beaches, golf courses and excellent walking.
Your next stop is Islay. From Campbeltown head north up the A83 to Kennacraig on Kintyre’s west coast. Catch the CalMac ferry from Kennacraig on Kintyre to Port Ellen and Port Askaig on Islay. If you’re heading to Port Ellen, you’ll get a great view of three of Islay’s most famous distilleries, Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig, as you sail by the southern coast of Islay.
Islay & Jura
Islay is famed world-wide for its peaty malts and has no less than eight distilleries (together with one on Jura), many of them in stunning locations.
Start your whisky tour of Islay at Bowmore, one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries. Located at the centre of the island, it’s a great place to see traditional whisky-making from the malting of the barley to the peat-fired kilns. Next head west to visit Kilchoman, which opened in 2005. As well as being one of only a handful of distilleries practicing floor malting, barley is also grown on the farm. There’s a visitor centre and shop, as well as a lovely café. The distillery is near the beautiful sandy Machir Bay, which is well worth a detour. Also out west is Bruichladdich, which sits on the shore of Loch Lindal. The resurrection of Bruichladdich is one of the whisky industry’s great stories. Brought back from semi-dereliction in 2001, it began to make whisky the old-fashioned way, using the artisanal skills of people and much of the old machinery that had been installed when the distillery was built back in 1881.
Next head to the south of Islay to visit the southern distilleries - Ardbeg, Laphroaig, and Lagavulin. Located on the rugged shoreline, these distilleries are internationally renowned for their peaty whiskies. Using malted barley sourced from the maltings at Port Ellen, Ardbeg claims to produce the peatiest whisky in Islay. Try a dram or two in the excellent visitor centre. Ardbeg’s Old Kiln Café is a great place to grab a bite to eat. Laphroaig is another distillery oozing history. For nearly 200 years a small team of dedicated islanders have worked here to create what is considered by some to be the most distinctive single malt in the world. There’s a visitor centre with a museum, lounge bar and shop. Lagavulin Distillery sits in the beautiful bay of Lagavulin near the ruins of Dunyveg Castle. Find out more about the distillery’s history and processes and sample a few drams by taking a tour of the distillery. Lagavulin legend, Iain MacArthur, hosts some of tours. A great way to visit all three of these distilleries is to follow the Three Distilleries Pathway. The path runs for 5.5km and is fully accessible.
Now head north to Port Askaig on Islay’s east coast, where you can catch the ferry to Feolin on Jura. The crossing takes just 10 minutes and you’ll be treated to great views of the Paps of Jura! The Isle of Jura Distillery first opened in 1810 but fell into disuse. It was revitalised in the 1960s by two locals, Robin Fletcher and Tony Riley-Smith. Today the distillery produces a wide range of unique malts and you can enjoy a tour and tasting session.
Back on Islay, just north of Port Askaig is Caol Ila, Gaelic for ‘Sound of Islay’. The distillery’s name relates to its beautiful location. Sitting on the edge of the Sound of Islay, it looks out across the fast-flowing waters to Jura. A visit to this distillery allows you to see large-scale whisky production at its best. Watch the distillers at work, tending the six copper stills. Even further north is the remote Bunnahabhain Distillery. Bunnahabhain is Gaelic for river mouth, and the river runs just north of the distillery. It’s a glorious spot. The drive towards Bunnahabhain from Port Askaig along the winding road is stunning, with wonderful views of Jura and the sound of Islay.
The ninth distillery on the island, Ardnahoe, opened in October 2018, with the first cask filled on the 9th of November that year. Ardnahoe Distillery takes its name simply from the location in which it is set. Ardnahoe is Scottish Gaelic for “Height of the Hollow” which perfectly describes the beautiful setting in which the distillery lies, in Port Asking.
Catch the ferry back to mainland Argyll, head north through mid Argyll to the lovely Victorian resort of Oban. It’s full of life, with ferries to the Hebrides coming and going, convivial bars and streets packed with independent shops and cafés. It’s also home to Oban Distillery, which sits at the heart of the town overlooking the sea. A warm welcome awaits, with guided distillery tours running regularly throughout the year, an excellent exhibition and well-stocked tasting bar and gift shop. Oban is known as ‘Scotland’s Seafood Capital’, so make sure you check out some of the seafood restaurants when you’re in town! From Oban catch the CalMac ferry to Mull.
The Hebridean island of Mull has it all: a towering peak, ancient castles, sparkling sands and a rich cultural life. It also has Tobermory, considered the most attractive fishing port on the west coast of Scotland, where gaily-painted houses cluster around a sheltered bay. It’s here that you’ll find Tobermory Distillery. Established in 1798, it’s the only distillery on the island and one of the oldest commercial distilleries in Scotland. It’s packed with old-world charm. The distillery is unusual in that it produces two very distinctly different malt whiskies: the lightly peated Tobermory and the more robustly peated Ledaig. While visiting Mull, don’t miss Duart Castle, a 13th-century fortress perched on a rocky outcrop, or the white-tailed eagles at Loch Frisa.