Europe is home to some of the world’s finest whiskies, vodkas and gins, and many of the makers of these alcoholic delights offer tours of their distilleries, allowing visitors a chance to get a glimpse of how things work behind the scenes.The location where an alcoholic beverage is produced has a significant impact on its flavour, as each minute detail, from the water source to the weather to the existence of peat in the area, influences the taste. Other factors such as the use of traditional techniques also have a considerable effect. Perhaps the best way to appreciate a good drink is to taste it right at its very source, and so with that in mind, here are ten of the top distilleries for European residents or visitors to tour.
The Glenfiddich, Dufftown, Scotland
The Glenfiddich distillery is situated in Dufftown on the River Fiddich, the self-proclaimed “Whisky Capital of the World” and the biggest malt whisky producer of any town in Scotland. This northeastern part of Scotland called Speyside is famous for its single malt Scotch whiskies and numerous distilleries. Two of the world’s best-selling single malts come from here, The Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet.
The Glenfiddich is one of the few distilleries which opens its doors for tours throughout the year and allows visitors to view the entire process from barley to bar. Three tours are offered here – The Explorers Tour is a 90-minute journey through the entire Glenfiddich tradition and process. It begins with a short film about the five generations of family ownership, followed by an on-foot informative tour of the distillery including the still house, dramming centre, and warehouses where casks have been gently maturing for ages. The tour ends with a tasting of four of their famous single malts.
The Glenfiddich Solar: Deconstructed tour is an hour longer and also includes an opportunity to enter the Malt Master’s Suite where you can create your own blend of Glenfiddich 15-year-old by combining different cask samples. Guests can bottle and keep a small sample of their creation and also taste superior whisky blends on the tour.
The Pioneers Tour is four hours long and takes guests even deeper into the Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Selection, providing a tutored masterclass of their finest whiskies along with some delicious canapés from their head chef’s kitchen.
The Glenlivet, Ballindalloch, Scotland
Another of the famed Speyside single malts, The Glenlivet distillery is located near Ballindalloch in Moray, Scotland and has been operational since it was founded way back in 1824 (having only been closed briefly during World War II), and quite rightly proclaims itself to be ‘the single malt that started it all’. The distillery has grown considerably in the post-war period to keep up with the enormous global demand for the brand, making it one of the best-selling single malts in the world.
The distillery is open every year for tours from mid-March to November (check their website for exact dates and times when planning a visit). Free guided tours of the distillery and warehouse depart every 20 minutes and last for about 45 minutes, including a complimentary dram of The Glenlivet for visitors.
The Glenlivet Inspiration is a more detailed tour of the distillery, which lasts for about two hours and costs £35 per person (as of 2016 pricing). It requires pre-booking and includes tastings of special new and limited release versions of The Glenlivet. The Legacy Tasting Experience (£60 per person) is an exclusive tutored tasting of some of their most rare and aged single malts.
Lagavulin, Islay, Scotland
Located in a small bay near the south coast of the picturesque island of Islay, the Lagavulin distillery has been officially open since 1816, though illicit distillation began on the site as far back as 1742. With a slow distillation and long maturation process, it is known for its complex, rich character and unique peat-smoke aroma that it develops over time.
Distillery tours are offered year-round for six pounds per person, offering visitors a close look at their distillers at work and the unusual pear-shaped stills that are used. Tours also include a dram of the sixteen-year-old single malt, a complimentary glass and a voucher for five pounds off the purchase of a 70cl single malt.
Other offerings for visitors to this iconic distillery are a Mini Nips and Nibbles Tasting (either £6 or £10`), Warehouse Demonstration, Whisky and Chocolate Tasting (priced at £23 each), Sensory Tasting Experience (£35) and a Core Range Tasting Tour (£15).
Laphroaig, Islay, Scotland
Founded in 1815 and near Lagavulin on the south coast of the Isle of Islay, Laphroaig is known as one of the most strongly flavoured Scotch whiskies with a distinctive peaty and smoky taste. It is usually aged to ten years, while a fifteen-year-old whisky is not uncommon. The twenty-seven, thirty and forty-year-old varieties are the most rare and expensive and the eighteen-year-old was discontinued in 2015.
Distillery tours run year-round but are closed on weekends in January and February. A one-hour tour costs six pounds and takes you through the Laphroaig process while you appreciate the sights, sounds and aromas of the distillery, concluding with a tasting of a favourite blend. You also get to take home a commemorative Laphroaig glass at the end of the tour.
Distillers Wares is a two and a half hour tour costing 60 pounds that takes you from malting through to the maturation stages of the process. At the warehouse, you can taste directly from their casks and take home a 250ml bottle of your favourite selection. The Water to Whisky Experience costs 90 pounds and lasts four and a half hours. It is an extensive tour with a Laphroaig host offered on weekdays from March to September. It includes a distillery tour, picnic lunch, peat cutting, a visit to the Laphroaig water source, a tasting from the casks and a 250ml bottle of your selection.
Talisker, Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Talisker distillery was founded in 1830 and is situated on the Isle of Skye in the Scottish Highlands, with panoramic views of the Black Cuillin mountains from the shores of Loch Harport. The Talisker is a sweet, full-bodied single malt whisky that is available in a number of varieties from ten to thirty years old. Tours of the famous distillery are offered throughout the year for visitors.
The Talisker Classic Distillery Tour costs 8 pounds and takes around 45 minutes to complete, giving visitors the opportunity to see the 5 Copper Pot Stills and traditional worm tubs that give Talisker such a distinctive flavour. Visitors also get to taste some of the award-winning whisky and are given a discount voucher towards the purchase of a 70cl bottle in their shop.
Talisker Flight is a quick tasting tour that costs 20 pounds and takes about an hour and a half to complete, beginning at noon on weekdays. The Talisker Tasting Tour is a more formal and in-depth tour of the distillery, followed by a tutored tasting of five Talisker varieties. It costs 35 pounds, takes about two hours to complete and includes a complimentary nosing glass in addition to the discount voucher.
Jameson, Midleton, Ireland
Jameson is the largest Irish whisky brand and began operations in 1780 based out of its original distillery in Dublin. In 1975 they moved the entirety of their whisky-making operations to Midleton in County Cork, where all of the brand’s whiskies are now made. Guided tours are available throughout the year and follow separate schedules for summer and winter months, allowing visitors access to the interior and exterior of the distillery grounds.
The Jameson Experience Tour costs 15 Euros and takes about 75 minutes to complete. It includes a short film, guided walking tour and a Jameson signature drink. The Jameson Behind The Scenes Tour is an extended tour that takes about two hours and fifteen minutes and costs 49 Euros. It includes visits to the micro-distillery, Cooperage and Distiller’s Cottage as well as special samples of their best whisky blends. Premium tastings of Midleton Distillery whiskies are also available for interested visitors.
The Macallan, Craigellachie, Scotland
Founded in 1824 in the Speyside region of Scotland, the Macallan distillery is home to one of the world’s best selling single malt whiskies. While The Macallan was originally only matured in oak sherry casks brought from Spain, they introduced a Fine Oak series beginning in 2004 which use bourbon oak casks as well.
The Six Pillars Tour is an intimate guided experience that is limited to a maximum of ten people per group. You will be taken through the world of The Macallan, introduced to the ‘Six Pillars’ and the rich spirit of a working still house. You will see how the finest casks create the unique colours, aromas and flavours that distinguish The Macallan from other single malts. The tour costs fifteen pounds per person, lasts for roughly an hour and forty-five minutes and concludes with a nosing and tasting session of four of The Macallan whiskies.
Old Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Officially founded in 1784 on the beautiful northern coast, Old Bushmills is the oldest working distillery in Ireland, having been granted a royal license to distill as far back as 1608. Located in a small Northern Irish village called Bushmills, the distillery is a popular tourist destination, attracting around 120,000 visitors annually.
Guided tours run roughly every 15-20 minutes and take between 45 and 60 minutes to complete. The whisky here is triple distilled (as is usual for Irish whiskies) and then aged in former bourbon barrels that earlier had sherry, port and rum inside them. Visitors are shown each step of the entire process from grain to glass and can also enjoy a tasting of the smooth Irish whisky. Admission charges for adults are 7.50 pounds per person, while larger groups (of 15+ people) can make advance bookings, subject to availability.
Moscow Distillery Cristall, Russia
Established in 1901 as a state-sanctioned distillery for alcoholic beverages, it is known today for its world-famous line of premium Russian vodkas such as Stolichnaya, Putinka, Posolskaya and Priviet. In all, the Cristall distillery is home to 16 vodka brands and is the largest producer of the drink in Russia.
The Cristall Distillery tour acquaints visitors with its rich history and unique production processes. You can see how exclusive blends of grains and spices are used in the distillation process to achieve the signature smooth tastes of their products. The top line of vodkas are distilled here up to four times and then strained through charcoal made from indigenous Russian birch.
The tour also affords visitors the opportunity to taste from the variety of brands on offer before visiting the Cristall Souvenir Shop to get a memento of the visit to the famous Moscow Distillery.
Beefeater Home of Gin, London, England
London has produced several of the world’s finest gins, and the Beefeater Home of Gin distillery experience in Kennington is probably top of the list to visit. The Beefeater brand of gin was introduced in 1876 and moved to its current home here in 1958.
The self-guided tour allows you to explore the storied history of gin in London at your own pace, including, of course, the creation of the award-winning Beefeater brand by James Burrough. Visitors can stroll through a replica of an 18th century Hogarthian street and hire an iPad at the ticket office to view interactive exhibits as well.
In the guided part of the tour, you are escorted through to the nerve-centre of the distillery and explained the hand-crafted production process and ingredients that make the famous Beefeater Gin, Beefeater 24 and Burrough’s Reserve. The tour lasts about an hour and concludes with a complimentary G&T at the distillery bar. Visitors can end the visit at the gift shop, where you can purchase a variety of Beefeater-themed souvenirs and gifts, including a bottle of the limited edition Beefeater London Garden Gin.