There are few things more synonymous with Scotland than its legacy of single malt whisky. So much so, in fact, that it's referred to simply as 'Scotch' in most places, and to order it is so often regarded with a sense of class that some people buy it just for the prestige of owning it. However, the true heart of Scottish whisky, and the refinement of it's flavours goes far beyond it's prestige - and to truly come to appreciate it for what it is, and the journey it has made to come to your glass you must make a journey to it's homeland to sample it for yourself.
You do not have to be a whisky drinker to appreciate the age, time, and dedication it takes to make a Scottish single malt. After visiting even one distillery it's hard not to find yourself with such a new found admiration for the drink, that even if it doesn’t yet suit your pallet - you may find yourself wanting to purchase a bottle out of pure respect.
You can not compare a Scottish single malt to it's cousin Jack Daniels (no disrespect to the old gentleman or to those who enjoy it (I count myself among his fans) - just that the difference in the drink if profound even for those unaccustomed to the subtle differences in whisky flavour - and if you are new to 'scotch' then you should approach it as entirely new experience, as it is likely to be. There are many different types of whisky (spelled with an 'e' if you are drinking Irish whisky - again a very different animal) and single malts can be found in a stunning array from as far away as Japan.
But many a whisky lover will tell you that a true whisky is distilled in the heart of the Scottish highlands - and no visit to the country is complete without at least a small sampling direct from the distillery.
The wonderful thing about sampling whisky as part of your visit to Scotland is that - even if you aren't a fan (yet) and do not want to make a trip into the heart of Speyside whisky country but would still like to indulge in the experience - there are so many distilleries in Scotland you can visit one from almost any corner of the country.
What is considered the 'Malt Whisky Trail' generally considered the 'Speyside' area - or just northeast of the Cairngorm mountains about 3 hours north of Edinburgh or an hour southeast of Inverness. An easy drive and for those who really want to engage themselves in the heart of the whisky tradition (and lots and lots of sampling, of course!) then you can do so here until your heart's content. Barely a few hundred yards go by with out seeing a distillery sign, and the deeper into whisky country you go - the more town names become familiar for their whisky...Aberlour, Dallas Dhu, Glenlivit - all leading to Dufftown, which in many ways is the geographical centre.
However, you hardly have to venture so far to sample whisky straight from it's distillery - as they cover the length and breadth of the country - even out onto the islands. All told there are over 125 distilleries to choose from, and if you're not familiar with the names - then this can be a daunting task to choose from.
Yet - never fear. Having lived in Scotland for many years now and become a slow and steady convert to the single malt (beginning so many years ago on my first day in the country when a friend ordered me a measure of Talisker which at the time near took the roof off the top of my mouth!) and I've compiled a small list of my favourite of the distillery tours. This list may be of use to tourists with an interest in the legacy of Scottish whisky as well as hard fans of the illustrious single malt.
There is also a fantastic website: http://www.maltwhiskytrail.com which can further help you organize your plans for this trip once you've realized how much you want to make it!