It’s not just wine lovers who have cause to celebrate; HMRC figures reveal that 54 new distilleries producing an array of spirits opened in 2018 (although eight closed). There were 361 distilleries recorded in the UK last year, of which 166 were based in England and 160 in Scotland.
According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, the gin boom has helped the UK distilleries double in the past five years. Scotland has historically had the lead when it comes to distilleries, due to its whisky industry, but they can now be found all over...
Lindores Abbey distillery
A whisky distillery that’s never sold a drop of whisky. That’s what Lindores Abbey Distillery is, which makes it a strange venue for a whisky tour. But they’ve got everything you need to make whisky, as I learned when I visited: the massive mash tuns, the gleaming copper stills, the vast wooden washbacks which, when you open the hatch on the top, release a smell of yeast that’s so thick you can almost see it.
All that’s separating them from selling this stuff is time. Scotch whisky is heavily regulated, and it must mature in oak casks for a minimum of three years and one day. Lindores’ first modern-day cask, our tour guide tells me, was sealed in December 2017. What’s more, a good Scotch is usually aged about ten years before it’s brought to market.
So maybe I should have booked my tour for December 2027. But the really interesting thing about this very modern distillery, funnily enough, is its history. The ruined abbey in its grounds, apparently, was where the earliest recording whisky distilling took place. Brother John Cor, a Lindores monk, was commissioned by King James IV of Scotland to make some “aquae vitae”, as they called it, in 1494.
This very early whisky-related activity only came to light fairly recently, at which point the Mackenzie Smith family, who have owned the land here for 100 years, decided to build the distillery that stands here today. It’s modern, light, sparkling new, and, yes, they still give you booze – a sweet and spicy botanical that they call, naturally, “aquae vitae.”
At the end of the tour, we’re taken to the warehouse full of casks. There’s row upon row of them, maturing slowly. Bring on 2027.
The Lakes Distillery
The recipient of a Visit England Gold Award 2018, this family-friendly attraction near Keswick offers distillery tours and the chance to sample Lakes whiskies, gins and vodkas within a 160-year-old farmstead, on the banks of the River Derwent. The malt-specific session focuses on stillroom and maturation processes. Meanwhile, the kids can hand-feed the resident herd of alpacas. Afterwards, head to the bistro, where little ones eat free at half-term. Don’t miss their whisky festival (26 October), the Christmas Lights switch on (23 November) or the Burns Night celebrations in January.
At the Strathmashie Distillery gin school, expect to forage for botanicals and make your very own gin. You might also want to sample their International Wine and Spirit competition Gold-medal winning copper pot distilled gin with Lebanese mint. Other local experiences include paddle boarding, hiking and climbing; residential accommodation is available.
Salcombe Distilling Co, Devon
This waterside distillery is the perfect excuse to visit Salcombe for the weekend. It offers “gin school staycations”, as well as hosting visitors at the distillery and bar. Their Great Taste-awarded Start Point gin is inspired by the shipbuilding heritage of the Salcombe Fruit Schooners, and distilled with Dartmoor water.
Greensand Ridge, Kent
The UK’s first carbon-neutral distillery. Visit for a gin experience surrounded by woods, orchards, fields and hedgerows. Sip a cocktail as you tour the distillery, learn about the art of distilling and distill your own full bottle in an individual copper pot still having made a selection from a range of over 40 botanicals.
Laphroaig, Island of Islay
The “water to whisky” experience includes includes a distillery tour, a picnic lunch, peat cutting, a visit to the Laphroaig water source and a taste from a selection of casks before using a valinch to bottle your favourite. Kids go free.
The Old Bushmills distillery, northern Ireland
This is the world’s oldest whisky distillery (granted a license to distil in 1608). The landscape is a draw; surrounding the small village of Bushmills, expect jagged cliffs and to witness the River Bush cut through volcanic rock. Visit the distillery, and you’ll see how malted barley is triple distilled to make a pure malt whiskey.
Kids can join you on the classic 90 minute tour of Glenfarclas, which is owned and run by the Grant family. It was one of the first distilleries in Scotland to open a dedicated visitor centre back in 1973. After a tour covering production and maturation, enjoy a dram or two in the splendour of the Ship’s Room. The water is sourced from the “Glen of the Green Grassland”, at the foot of Ben Rinnes.
The English Whisky Co, Norfolk
St George’s Distillery is England's oldest registered whisky distillery, and winner of European Whisky of the Year 2018. It runs distillery tours seven days a week, and has two acres of gardens and nearby river walks. The Kitchen restaurant serves all-day breakfast, brunch, lunch and cake.
Isle Of Harris distillery
Gin samplings and a welcoming peat fire await at this Outer Hebridean distillery, which is open to visitors seven days a week from 10am. Their gin is distilled with sugar kelp, bottling the rugged Atlantic shores and landscape of the island. You can also taste their forthcoming first whisky, ‘The Hearach’.