A Guide to Gaelic names for Scottish distilleries (part 2)

The distilleries of Scotland were often built centuries ago and as such many were named in the traditional manner of Scotland using Gaelic names.

Published 2nd Jul 2015
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

As romantic as the spirit itself, Gaelic is a beautifully poetic language though it can often be impenetrable for those who do not speak it.

We have looked at the origins of some of Scotland’s most famous distilleries to discover where their names originated from and what they mean:

1. Caol Ila, Islay

(Region: Islay, Founded:1846)

Pronounced 'cull-eela', the distillery is situated on the North Eastern shores of Islay, with magnificent views across the Sound of Islay to the spectacular Paps of Jura. Caol Ila is owned and run by Diageo.

Caol Ila derives from the Scots Gaelic Caol Ìle, meaning ‘Sound of Islay'.

Did you know?  The 'giant' of Islay, Caol Ila produces more than double the spirit of any of the other distilleries on the island

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2. Ardbeg, Islay

(Region: Islay, Founded:1815)

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Situated on the southern coast of Islay, Ardbeg is owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. Ardbeg derives from the Gaelic Àirde Beaga meaning 'Little height' or 'headland'.

Did you know? Though legally Ardbeg's production began in 1815, whisky was said to have been produced on the site as far back as 1798.

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3. Abhainn Dearg, Isle of Lewis

(Region: Highlands (islands) Founded: 2007)

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Abhainn Dearg (pronounced Avin - Jerrig) is a new distillery situated on Uig, on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis.

Abhainn Dearg is Gaelic for "red river".

Did you know? Abhainn Dearg is now the most western distillery in Scotland.

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4. Aberlour, Speyside

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(Region: Speyside, Founded: 1826)

Aberlour is based near the foot of Ben Rinnes and is owned by Pernod Ricard.

Aberlour derives from Obar Lobhair which means ‘mouth of the chattering burn’ in Gaelic.

Did you know? The distillery was ravaged by fire twice and rebuilt both times, the final time by Charles Doig.

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5. Clynelish, Highlands

(Region: Highlands, Founded: 1968)

Built adjacent to the original distillery (now known as Brora), Clynelish is owned by Diageo.

Clynelish means 'slope of the garden' in Gaelic.

Did you know? Brora, the original distillery on the site, was built in 1872 before sadly being closed in 1983.

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6. Allt-A-Bhainne, Speyside

(Region: Speyside, Founded: 1975)

Located close to Dufftown, Allt-A-Bhainne is pronounced - olta-vayne and is owned by Pernod Ricard.

Allt-A-Bhainne derives from the Gaelic Allt a' Bhainne which means 'milk burn'.

Did you know? Allt-A-Bhainne's main focus is suppling malt whisky for the Chivas Regal blends.

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7. Blair Athol, Perthshire

(Region: Highlands, Founded: 1798)

Founded in 1798 by John Steward and Robert Robertson, Blair Athol is  mainly used for the blend Bells and is owned by Diageo.

Blair Athol stems from the Gaelic Blàr Athall derived from the place-name blàr meaning field or plain, while Atholl is thought to mean 'new Ireland'.

Did you know? Blair Athol was originally named Aldour after the local burn.

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8. Tamdhu, Highlands

(Region: Highlands, Founded: 1897)

Located in the village of Knockando, Tamdhu is owned by Ian McLeod Distillers.

Tamdhu is derived from the Gaelic for little dark hill.

Did you know? Tamdhu is one of the last distilleries to employ a Saladin box.

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Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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