Scotland conjures images of vast green rolling highlands, wailing bagpipes, risqué tartan kilts, mouth-watering haggis and one of the world's warmest and most charismatic accents - and, of course whisky, its most famous and celebrated export. With so many whiskies to taste and experience, travellers who visit Scotland should do themselves a favour and be sure to visit their favourite distilleries to learn about the process of making some of the world's finest whisky by coaxing different smells, tastes and colours from a mixture of yeast, barley, peat and water.
The four main whisky producing regions in Scotland are the Highlands, Lowlands, Islay and Campeltown, with Speyside and the Islands generally being accepted as sub-divisions of the Highlands region. Each of these regions produces its own unique brand of whisky with varying flavours, though the geographical characteristics have little to do with the final flavour of the whisky as this is determined more by the equipment and methods used in the distillery.
Take a ferry to Islay, which boasts eight of Scotland's most recognised distilleries and is the home of 'whisky tourism' in Scotland. Islay hosts a Festival of Malt and Music in May, where events, plenty of tastings, and general celebrations of cultural heritage take place. Here one can visit the home of Ardberg, Bunnahabhain, Bruichladdich, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Kilchoman. Other island distilleries include Talisker, Arran, Isle of Jura and Highland Park.
On the mainland, the Grampian Highlands area is famous for its malt whisky, and travellers who venture here are spoilt for choice. Following a whisky route is a must, be it self-drive or guided, to the eight distilleries of the region, including Glenfiddich, Dalmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenmorangie and Oban. Some distilleries can only be visited with advanced bookings, but most offer tastings and tours of some kind.
In Edinburgh, visitors can enjoy a 'wee dram' at the Scotch Whisky Experience to uncover the master art of brewing Scotland's world-famous whiskies, known locally as 'the water of life', including a barrel ride through the history of whisky, a tutored tasting, and a choice of more than 270 whiskies to enjoy at the bar. The nearby whisky-producing region of Speyside, set along the banks of the Spey River and home to the Malt Whisky Trail, is home to half of Scotland's distilleries, including famous labels such as Aberlour, Cragganmore, The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, The Macallan and Strathisla, the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland. The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival takes place here during the first long weekend each May and features over 200 events.