Ben Nevis – Airds:
Ben Nevis Distillery was established in 1825, making it one of the oldest in Britain. The founder of this famous single malt was “Long John” MacDonald who named it after the mountain that provides its water. Water is one of the two essential ingredients of whisky, the other being barley but it is the supply of water flowing from two small lochans high up in the shoulder of Ben Nevis that makes this whisky so special. If you like the taste make sure you buy a bottle at the distillery. Ben Nevis is on sale at very few outlets.
After your visit, drive 20 miles west towards the sea and Airds Hotel, a delightfully restored Highland inn at Port Appin on the Airds promontory. This is one of Scotland's best boutique hotels with just eleven luxurious bedrooms, inside of which you'll find a decanter of Whisky Mac (a warming Scots cocktail of whisky and ginger wine) waiting in every room. In the evening enjoy whisky and canapés in the well-upholstered drawing rooms before enjoying dinner in the modern restaurant extension.
From here you can take a boat over to the islands of Mull or Skye and continue your exploration of Scotch whisky.
Old Pulteney- Forss House Hotel:
The Old Pulteney distillery in Wick is one of the most isolated and northern in Scotland. Since 1826 this rugged Highland landscape and Old Pulteney's unique stills have combined to create a whisky that has been described as “bursting with the power and subtlety of the sea”. The whisky's distinctive still-shaped bottle is screen-printed with a picture of traditional Wick herring drifter. These boats were used to ship in barley in the days when Wick was only accessible by sea.
The Forss House Hotel at Bridge O'Forss near Thurso lies 26 miles further north of Old Pulteney almost level with John O'Groats on Scotland's stunning north coast. This early nineteenth-century country house is hidden within 20 acres of woodland and decorated in a style that echoes its Victorian heyday under the Radclyffe family. Salmon fishing in the river that winds round Forss House Hotel has a long tradition. The largest fish ever caught here was a 42-pound cock salmon landed at the bottom of the garden. The hotel's whisky bar hosts a carving of this fish. Here you can drink Orkney beer as well as making a start on the hotel's collection of 300 malt whiskeys.
Glen Ord – Coul House Hotel:
The MacKenzies of Ord are the family behind this fine Highland distillery. The family was granted lands in the west of Scotland by King Alexander III in 1263 and in 1820 Thomas MacKenzie of Ord leased land for a distillery to be built. MacKenzie envisaged an industry where local men could have all-year round employment and also a ready market for his barley.
After a chequered history, the Glen Ord 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky, known as the “Whisky from the Black Isle”, brought home three international awards in 1994 including “Best Single Malt of the Year 1994-1995”.
Stuart and Susannah Macpherson have run Coul House since 2003. This gracious house with its octagonal dining room and open fires lies six and a half miles to the northeast of Glen Ord on the banks of the Blackwater river. Landing in the Highlands, it's a very pleasant 20 mile drive from Inverness Airport to Coul House via Glen Ord. Ring ahead to book a distillery tour then look forward to putting your feet up with a dram (as it is often referred to) from the exceptionally hospitable Stuart.
Talisker – Duisdale House:
Talisker, at the head of Loch Harport on the island of Skye, is one of the remotest distilleries in the world. In 1830 the MacAskill family built the Talisker Distillery despite protestations the Rev. Roderick Macleod, who declared this development "one of the greatest curses that... could befall it or any other place".
Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island, commended Talisker in 1880 in his poem The Scotsman's Return from Abroad. "The king o'drinks as I conceive it, Talisker, Isla or Glenlivet".
Apart from a disaster in 1960 when the still-room burned down, Talisker's story has been a happy and productive one. This is a complex Island single malt of dried fruitiness and smokiness that is often drunk with smoked salmon, kipper fillets, grilled smoked mackerel and oysters on the half shell.
Weaving 32 miles east along a number of Skye's lochs brings you come to Dusidale House with its 30 acres of lush gardens and ancient woodlands. The hotel was built in the 1860s as a hunting lodge for the Clan Macdonald. Inside Duisdale has recently been refurbished to guarantee contemporary standards of comfort but it retains many of its original fireplaces, Victorian cornices and a beautiful main staircase. Ask for a glass of Talisker before settling down to the hotel's excellent Skye seafood dishes.
Balmenach - Culdearn House:
In the very heart of glorious Speyside, the Balmenach distillery began its life illicitly in 1801. In fact it wasn't until 1824 that James MacGregor, a local farmer - and the original founder - decided to licence his "peat shed" as a distillery. In 1922 the McGregor family sold the distillery to United Distillers & Vinters who mothballed Balmenach for five years until it was revived in 1998. This Single Malt is a muscular drink, heavily sherried as a result of time spent in sherry casks.
Culdearn House, four and a half miles further up the River Spey, is a lovely privately-owned Victorian villa built in 1860. The hotel with its six luxury bedrooms has retained many of its original features: Victorian fireplaces, corniced ceilings and barley-twist panelled furniture. The hotel will arrange fishing on the River Spey for angling enthusiasts and also whisky tours not just of Balmenach but of all the other distilleries along this famous river.
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