The West Coast Whisky Trail, Scotland
Stretching from Campbeltown to the Isle of Skye and Fort William, the West Coast Whisky trail is a whisky-lover’s dream road trip. It’s bursting with distilleries offering whisky connoisseurs and novices a warm welcome and a ‘wee dram’.
Visit distilleries and taste whisky driving Scotland’s West Coast Whisky Trail
Stunning scenery, meandering coastline, mysterious islands and distilleries with their pagoda-shaped roofs and centuries-old art of whisky production. This golden combination is heaven in your whisky glass if the ‘water of life’ is your favourite tipple.
If you’re a complete novice, let yourself be lured under its magical spell to discover the distinctive flavours of each whisky, from smoky to peppery, as you wind your way along Scotland’s West Coast Whisky Trail.
With over one hundred active distilleries in Scotland this is a wonderful way to start ticking some off your whisky tasting bucket list
Follow The West Coast Whisky Trail
Of the five whisky regions in Scotland: Speyside, Highland, Lowland, Campbeltown and Islay, the West Coast Whisky Trail will take you to three of them. From the Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown to the south, to the famous western distilleries of the Isle of Islay and, in the north, the Talisker Distillery on the Isle of Skye.
Taste West Coast Whisky
Whiskies from the West Coast tend to be big-bodied. They take on the tangs of the salty sea air and of the distinctive peat smoke. The most powerful are the heavily-peated Islay malts whereas the malts from the north, tend to be gentler. Some of the best places to stop en-route for a guided distillery tour and whisky tasting are:
This picturesque southerly coastal town, at the tip of the Kintyre peninsula, once boasted over 30 local distilleries. It is historically significant because in the 1600s, it was a thriving centre for illegal whisky production and smuggling. By 1891, it had become the richest town per capita in Britain and was known as ‘the whisky capital of the world’. It fell off its perch when distillers couldn’t keep up with demand and some of them started to cut corners leading to a drop in quality.
Campbeltown is now the smallest of Scotland’s five whisky producing regions. It has just three working distilleries, two of which are owned by the Mitchell family. Single malts produced here are noticeable for their briny character and some boast peaty notes.
The Springbank Distillery, founded in 1828, is the oldest independent family-run and owned distillery in Scotland. It is the only one to carry out the full production process on the one site. Add it to your must-visit list of whisky distilleries not only because of its handmade production methods, but also because it produces three distinct malts, offering whisky lovers a mix of tastes.
You can choose from a range of tours, tastings and activities when you visit. For the ultimate whisky experience, sign up for Springbank’s popular Whisky School. It gives whisky enthusiasts the chance to spend five days working at the distillery where you get hands on at all the different stages of the whisky-making process.
Isle of Islay, the Inner Hebrides
At only 25 miles long, the Island has no fewer than eight distilleries. It includes big names such as Bowmore which, back in 1799, was the first distillery to be established on Islay and is one of the oldest in Scotland.
What makes single malts from Islay so unique is the peat which covers the island. Its exposure to the rain and sea spray from the Atlantic ocean gives it a distinctive quality compared to peat on the mainland. Harvested and used to malt the barley used in distilling, the peat infuses Islay malts with their characteristic smoky flavour and salty, seaweed notes.
Laphroaig Distillery – Laphroaig represents a taste of Islay and has many devoted fans around the world. It is a highly phenolic malt – smoky and medicinal because it uses local peat from Glenmachrie bogs. The distillery offers a regular programme of tours and tastings. During the summer months you can book the ‘Water to Whisky’ experience. This includes a distillery tour, picnic lunch, visit to Laphroaig’s water source and peat banks and a taste from 3 casks, before filling up a 250ml bottle of your favourite to take home.
Bruichladdich Distillery – This distillery lies on the shores of Loch Indaal and claims the title of the most heavily peated single malt whiskies on the planet. Bruichladdich also produces an unpeated malts range which includes The Classic Laddie. The Laddie is made using 100% Scottish oats and trickle-distilled using Victorian machinery and traditional craft methods.
Foodie Travel Guide Tip: Bruichladdich makes the award-winning and very delicious The Botanist gin created using 22 botanicals hand-foraged from Islay’s shores.
Kilchoman Distillery – This is Scotland’s most westerly distillery and one of the smallest. Opened in 2005, Kilchoman is also the youngest of Islay’s whisky distilleries. It is one of the few to carry out traditional floor maltings and use barley grown on the farm at the distillery.
The biggest whisky region geographically, the Highland malts embrace wide and robust flavour variations. Generally heavier and drier in character, whiskies from here often have nutty, honey, heather or peaty notes. Distilleries near the sea also have some salty, maritime influences in their malts.
Talisker Distillery – Talisker is the longest operating whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye, the largest of the Inner Hebrides. Set on the rugged and windswept shores of Loch Harport, with dramatic views of the Cuillins, Talisker stands in a truly beautiful setting. Back in 1898 it was one of the UK’s best selling malt whiskies and the distillery was so successful, it built its own pier, tramway and housing for its workers. Today, visitors to its distillery can choose from 3 different distillery tours and partake in tastings of its full bodied single malt. The Talisker Tasting Tour includes 5 different Talisker expressions.
Ben Nevis Distillery – This distillery, established in 1825, can be found at the foot of Britain’s highest mountain. It’s a tasting destination for holidaymakers staying in this popular tourist spot. Its Visitors Centre offers a family friendly experience.
Oban Distillery – Established in 1794, the Oban Distillery is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland and predates the actual town. Founded by two brothers, John and Hugh Stevenson, the distillery sits within the heart of the coastal town but is located just ‘208 steps from the sea’. It’s one of the smallest distilleries, too, with each bottle of whisky coming from just two stills. Take the distillery tour and you’ll discover that just 7 people are involved in the whisky making process.
Isle of Arran Distillery – Founded in 1994, this is one of Scotland’s few independent distilleries and Arran’s only working distillery. Its Visitor Centre was awarded ‘Best Visitor Experience 2018’ by the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions. Drop in tours are available along with tutored tastings and whisky and chocolate pairings. In the Casks Cafe you can order a whisky flight and platters of food.
- Visit in May for the Islay Festival of Music & Malt when many of the distilleries host open days
- Visit Laphroig Distillery in spring and you’ll see the peat being hand-cut (in summer you’ll see it being left out to dry)
- Combine your road trip with some of the wonderful places to stop and taste seafood on The Scottish Seafood Trail
Where to Stay
Skerrols House on Islay – an elegant and immaculate guest house with 7 rooms. It’s located in the centre of the island and offers easy access to Islay’s famous whisky distilleries including Bowmore, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg.
The Islay Hotel in Port Elgin – a comfortable hotel overlooking the harbour in the fishing village of Port Ellen. There are 13 guest rooms (some are family rooms) and dogs are allowed on request.
Loch Melfort Hotel near Oban – a family-friendly small hotel in beautiful countryside with coastal views. There are 25 bedrooms (some allow dogs) and a bistro.
The Isle of Eriska Hotel and Spa in Benderloch near Oban – a 5 star Relais & Châteaux property on a private island. Perfect for fine-dining foodies with its Michelin star restaurant and forty page wine list.
A good trip to take me on. You’ll need to check with each distillery but walking along the coast sounds good. Can I take my tweed coat?
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The Foodie Travel Guide
Sally is the founder and editor of The Foodie Travel Guide. She travels around the UK and beyond in search of the best foodie days out, tasting experiences and delicious places to stay. She loves a glass of English sparkling wine, afternoon tea with friends and escaping London for gastronomic adventures.