Wade Cothran | Oct 23, 2020
The Top Five Oldest Scotch Whisky Distilleries
Age, history, and heritage all play a significant part in the world of fine whisky, with many whisky bottles proudly proclaiming their own mythologies and ancestries on their labels. While this is often seen as a somewhat frivolous and irrelevant aspect of the whisky industry, it’s beginning to play more and more of a role, as modern whisky drinkers are seeking out bottles which come with their own stories, and which have a history which can be traced back to the original craft distillers of yesteryear.
This isn’t wholly surprising. Craft goods and small-batch, independent producers of character and distinction have become more and more popular in the drinks scene, led by a hip and in-the-know young audience on the lookout for products to fall in love with. After all, we live in a fast-paced and increasingly globalized world, and ancient drinks such as whisky are starting to crop up in the most surprising corners of the planet (we’re looking at you, Taiwan!) often with highly impressive results.
However, this contemporary and increasingly diverse whisky scene is also making historical clout and origin stories take on more importance than before, and the industry is keen to highlight its ancestry to appeal to audience members looking for the real deal, so to speak.
Here at BrüMate, we’re all about embracing the new and utilizing cutting-edge technology to heighten the enjoyment of our favorite drinks. Despite this, we’ve also got a healthy respect for the old ways - and this blog is all about the most historic whisky distilleries of Scotland, all of which you stick on your bucket list for a distillery tour one day in the future.
Scotland: Historic Land of Fine Whisky
Everybody who is anybody knows that Scottish history is inexorably tied to whisky history. Indeed, the very word ‘whisky’ is taken from the old Scots word for ‘water of life’! We also all know that whisky production in Scotland stretches back over six hundred years when the art of distillation first found its way out of the alchemists’ laboratories and into the grateful hands of those seeking ways to produce exciting new spirits to drink.
While many of the distilleries scattered across Scotland’s wild and wind-beaten lands claim to have a history which reaches back across the centuries, which of them - that are still producing spirits today - can really claim to be the oldest? It’s a harder question to definitively answer than you might think. Several Scotch whisky distilleries shout about histories which stretch back several centuries, yet record-keeping back in the early 1700s (the time when many distilleries first started churning out barrels of the good stuff) was poor to non-existent, and several distilleries have changed hands, switched locations, and have seen themselves shut down and reopened with the changing of the laws governing the land. Despite such complications, we’ve managed to put together a list of what seems to be the top five oldest Scotch distilleries for your reading pleasure.
A quick disclaimer: the age of a distillery is by no means an indicator of quality, and simply tells us how long a distillery has been in operation for - although such long-term operations do suggest a continuing demand based upon the character and distinction of its produce.
That being said, there aren’t a whole lot of Scotch whisky distilleries which don’t consistently deliver when it comes to flavor, aroma, and character, every distillery on this list produces the kind of whisky which has plenty of stories to tell, and which feature all kinds of fascinating notes to discover. At the end of the day, great Scotch is great Scotch… and that’s as true today as it ever was!
Now without further ado, the top five oldest scotch whisky distilleries!
5. Oban Distillery, Oban, Scotland
First established all the way back in 1795, the distillery of Oban is a West Highlands company that never fails to deliver when it comes to Olde Worlde vibes and buckets of charm. Its petite stature and dark brick facade lend this distillery - which still manages to produce thousands of bottles per year - certainly looks like an ancient whisky producer, and in today’s small-batch obsessed market, can proudly claim to be the third smallest distillery in the country.
While being small, Oban manages to deliver considerable global clout, primarily as a result of being owned by drinks behemoth Diageo - a company that has helped Oban reach worldwide audiences on the hunt for genuinely authentic Scotch made in accordance to original and traditional recipes and principles.
The Oban house style is somewhere between a Highlands Whisky and one more associated with the Scottish islands. Thanks to its access to stunningly crisp and clear mountain waters, and due to the fact that every barrel is imbued with 225 years of expertise, this is one distillery that never fails to hit the high notes of character and original distinction.
4. Balblair Distillery, Tain, Scotland
The last decade of the 18th century was a bonafide boom time for the Scotch whisky industry, as this was the moment when several historic taxes and levies were temporarily lifted by the English, making whisky production more affordable and - in many cases - legal for the first time in a century. Balblair distillery was one such operation to emerge during the 1790s, and with the new money flooding into the industry, was able to establish itself in a beautiful Georgian brick building, complete with a monumental chimney which is visible for miles around.
The Balblair distillery is notable for many reasons, not least the fact that it is one of only a small handful of Scotch producers which always puts a vintage year on each of its labels - a marker of quality which acts as a testament to the incredible levels of attention given to each and every bottle, and to the distiller’s belief that vintage years are indicative of the nature of the spirit within the bottle.
3. Strathisla Distillery, Keith, Scotland
Atmospheric, elegant, beautiful, and architecturally breathtaking, the Speyside operation of Strathisla is a must-visit distillery on any tour of the Speyside whisky hotspots. It even features mock-oriental pagodas which date back to 1786, and this distillery has never been out of use since that date.
If you’re not already aware of Strathisla, don’t panic - you’re by no means alone. Despite the fact it’s hugely popular with whisky tourists (due to its stunning setting and unique appearance), it’s a rather obscure distillery, which primarily produces small batch single malt for use in high-end blended whiskies, as well as the blends used by Chivas Regal.
2. Bowmore Distillery, Bowmore, Isle of Islay, Scotland
Islay is a spectacular region of Scotland, and home to no shortage of characterful and stunning distilleries, each in possession of their own history and stories to tell. The oldest Islay distillery, however, is the striking and beguiling operation owned by the Bowmore, which dates from 1779 and which continues to grow from strength to strength today.
Founded on the shore of Loch Indaal, Bowmore’s whitewashed HQ has overseen the growth of Scotch whisky for the past 250 years. The loch water, which rises and falls with the Atlantic tides, is the secret to its success, bringing a saline quality to the unmistakable flavor of Bowmore whiskies. It’s the most visited distillery in all of Scotland, and it’s not hard to understand why: it’s home to the oldest whisky vault in the country (making it one of the oldest anywhere on Earth), and produced the oldest whiskies ever sold at auction, with certain bottles going under the hammer a few years ago which were distilled in 1800!
1. Glenturret Distillery, The Hosh, Crieff, Scotland
Here we are at the number one spot… and the award for oldest and most historic Scotch whisky distillery goes to the beautifully evocative Glenturret, a distillery which was founded in 1775, and which regularly finds itself lauded as the most beautiful in Scotland.
Based in the very heart of the Highlands, Glenturret is a high point of the whisky tourist trail and boasts some seriously picturesque spots in which to enjoy a high quality dram while taking in a fascinating tour. With its elegant 18th-century brick buildings and a museum’s worth of antique distilling equipment, it truly captures the spirit of the Highlands in all its glory.
There you have it - a rundown of Scotland’s five oldest distilleries, each still producing quality whisky to this day! If you’d like to give your favorite Scotch, even more, distinction and charm, you’d do well to get yourself a set of BrüMate whisky glasses - the perfect accessory for your whisky tastings, and the ideal way to ensure your spirit remains at the pristine pouring temperature which allows its character to shine.