Our team make regular trips to the distilleries of Scotland on their days off, and we love hearing back from them on what they discovered and what to expect on the various whisky distillery tours. This week, marketing team member Rosie writes about a visit to Dalwhinnie Distillery…
“Having lived in Scotland for three years, I’m ashamed to say I’ve not done enough of exploring the Highlands, despite them being on the proverbial doorstep. Every so often when a weekend is free, it’s amazing how quickly you can escape the city and get out into the countryside that makes Scotland so Instagram-worthy, whether you’re using public or private transport.
Naturally, a distillery tour’s got to be on the itinerary when you venture into the Highlands, and Dalwhinnie Distillery has long been on my list to visit.
Set 351 metres above sea level, Dalwhinnie Distillery sits on the southern edge of the Cairngorms national park and is currently the highest whisky distillery in Scotland. Visible from miles around due to the lack of trees or vegetation on the windswept hillsides, the tagline for the distillery’s NAS Winter’s Gold single malt is – very appropriately – “Crafted by the cold”. Indeed, when we visited in late September, temperatures had dropped to freezing overnight, and the tops of the highest hills (that’s hills, not Munros!) had seen a dusting of snow. Luckily for us, a day of warm winter sunshine had melted the snow by the time we arrived for a 2.30 tour.
Whisky tours at Dalwhinnie Distillery run every half an hour from 10am until 4.30pm, Monday-Sunday. They can be booked in advance (always advisable, especially on the weekends) by emailing or phoning the distillery, and there are a couple of main tour options depending on your preference for whisky: –
- Standard tour: A full distillery tour followed by a tasting of two whiskies matched with a Highland chocolate truffle, in their new custom-built bar area
- Connoisseur’s tour: After your main tour and two tastings, you’ll receive an additional four single malt whiskies from the Dalwhinnie portfolio, each matched with a hand-crafted chocolate made by chocolatier Iain Burnett. The whiskies come with their own set of tasting notes and a flavour map to help you choose your preferred style.
Best of all? If you’ve drawn the short straw and are the designated driver, you’ll receive all the tasting drams in a neat wee driver’s pack (including the chocolates), to conduct your own tasting when you get home.
One of the most fascinating things about Dalwhinnie Distillery is its rich history. In an area where very little infrastructure or big industry is limited (like many regions of Scotland, it’s true), distilleries found themselves as the main employers – and the lifeblood – of whole villages, particularly during the winter months when other industries are quieter. Our tour was conducted by Angela, who was with the distillery during the whisky industry’s tougher period of the 1980s, which saw many Scotch whisky distilleries close: some for just a few months or years, others forever. As well as a warm and friendly tour, Angela has some fantastic memories of what it was like to work in the Dalwhinnie community.
Dalwhinnie itself closed briefly in 1986 due to the industry downturn but reopened a few years later. In 1989 it was purchased by United Distillers (now Diageo), and the distillery’s iconic 15 year old single malt became one of the famous Classic Malts portfolio that’s now loved the world over.
Other iconic moments in the distillery’s vibrant history are dotted throughout the distillery. Look out for photos on the wall of distillery workers looking abashed in 1934 when the whole building burned to the ground when a lamp was accidentally kicked over (electricity was installed in the village for the first time shortly afterwards!) Or the team photo from the 1980s in which, as Angela points out, everyone is related, married, next-door neighbour or best pals with everyone else in the picture. It goes to show just how much of an institution the distillery was, and is, for the local community.
Dalwhinnie is unusual in that it produces very little whisky for blending (as it used to, back in the day): the vast majority of its production goes into single malts. Some whisky is matured onsite in the distillery’s bonded warehouse, and the distillery team themselves even had a hand in choosing the Dalwhinnie Distillery Edition, which forms part of the Connoisseur tasting. You’ll also get chance to try Lizzie’s Dram – Lizzie Stewart was the first female malt distiller in Scotland when she started at the distillery in 1987, and this whisky was produced to mark her retirement 31 years later.
The tour itself is well-structured and interesting, lasting about 40 minutes: don’t miss the chance to nose the fruity, flavourful aromas from the distillery’s washbacks, or to take a peek at the beautiful outdoor worm tub condensers (reinstalled in 1995 after the decision to move them indoors back in in 1987!)
Following your tour, you’ll have your tasting in the distillery’s warm and cosy visitor centre, a welcome treat following the tour of a site that averages 6°c *year round*. There’s the chance to buy the chocolates you’ve tried as part of the Whisky and Chocolate tour tasting, plus a selection of other whiskies from the Classic Malts portfolio.
In short? A distillery that’s well worth a visit, for the setting, the drams and most importantly the people. The warmest welcome that’ll make heading back out into the cold all the tougher…”
How to reach Dalwhinnie distillery
By car: take the A9 road straight up from Perth. The whole journey takes around 2 ½ hours from Edinburgh By train: trains run eight times per day from Edinburgh Waverley to Dalwhinnie station, and the journey takes between 2 ½ and 4 hours depending on your route. The station is around 10 minutes’ walk to the distillery. The last train back to Edinburgh during distillery opening hours is at 15:55 – it’s better to get that one or you’ll be stranded until 19:57 when the next train leaves!
- Standard Dalwhinnie Distillery tour (two whiskies): £12
- Whisky and Chocolate Tour (six whiskies and six chocolates): £24
- Whisky tasting only starts at £6
Find out more about visiting Dalwhinnie Distillery, including up to date times, tour types and ticket prices, here
Dalwhinnie Distillery features on our blog post from last year on Distilleries you can reach from Edinburgh by train – click the link to read