Neighbouring Speyside has the highest concentration of distilleries in Scotland, and this can lead to tours sometimes bypassing those in Aberdeenshire itself. This is a shame, as there are several true gems, sometimes referred to as the ‘Secret Malts‘.
Royal Lochnagar is situated to the south of the River Dee, not too far from the famous Balmoral Castle, and received a royal warrant in 1848, following a visit from Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. The whisky itself is now mostly used in Johnnie Walker Blue and Black Label, but they also produce a single malt. Several different tours are available, along with tastings.
Glen Garioch is another Aberdeenshire distillery, this time located only 17 miles away from Aberdeen itself — making it the most easterly Scotch Whisky distillery in the world. The official founding date of Glen Garioch was 1797, but recent research has suggested it may be even older than that, and quite possibly the oldest in Scotland! The Garioch valley used to be home to six distilleries, and is renowned for the quality of its barley. With several different tours available, including a cheese and whisky tour, and an excellent visitor centre, Glen Garioch is well worth a visit.
The distillery of GlenDronach, founded in 1826, is famous for their extensive and long-standing use of sherry casks, so much so that one of the houses on the site of the distillery is supposed to be haunted by the ghost of a Spanish lady who, it is said, was was shipped over in one of the casks! With 20 acres of grounds and a range of tours, if you are near Huntly, perhaps on your way to Speyside, a visit to GlenDronach should certainly be considered.
Also close to Huntly, the Ardmore distillery is located at the highest point of the Northern railway line, near the village of Kennethmont. The water for the whisky comes from springs on the slopes of Knockandy Hill, and this location, on the edge of the Highlands, is important to the ethos of the distillery. Although there are currently no tour facilities available at the distillery, you can still contact them by their website and register your interest, and this certainly doesn’t stop you sampling the whisky itself in one of Aberdeenshire’s pubs and bars.
Aberdeenshire has a wealth of different places to sample whisky, whether traditional village pubs in tiny wee villages off the beaten track, sophisticated bars in Scotland’s third city, Aberdeen, or perhaps perched on a clifftop looking out over the North Sea.
If you are staying in Aberdeen itself, then you are spoilt for choice when it comes to places to drink, whether you love cocktails or bars specialising in whisky. Try the Illicit Still for a traditional pub feel, or C.A.S.C. if you want to pair your whisky with a Cuban cigar. The delightfully-named Tippling House has an extensive list of whiskies, as does The Machar, a favourite of University staff and students for over 100 years. Perhaps the most famous of the whisky bars in Aberdeen is The Grill, offering the whisky lover a choice from a menu of over 500 different malts in a truly unique and delightful setting. Originally a Victorian restaurant, little has changed since it was converted to a bar in 1926, and many people think this bar might be the best whisky bar in the world.
Outside Aberdeen, expect to find cosy hidden gems, with welcoming fires in the winter and comfortable beer gardens for the summer. There are over 135 pubs in Aberdeenshire to choose from, no matter which corner of the county you are visiting and, with whisky being the national spirit, you will find surprising collections of single malts in the most unlikely of places. Try The Broadstraik, in the village of Elrick, partway between the Cairngorms and Royal Deeside, or maybe The Deeside Inn with a selection of over 40 single malts, a ceilidh bar and even Queen Victoria’s wooden toilet! If you want somewhere by the coast, maybe try The Ship Inn in Stonehaven, close to Dunnottar Castle and sporting over 100 malt whiskies. Or perhaps The Garden Arms hotel in the delightfully picturesque Gardenstown (a village originally known as Gamrie).