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The best whisky tours for history lovers

From ghost hunting to the spiritual home of whisky, we take a look at some of the most intriguing trips around the country for whisky fans who have a passion for history.

Published: March 3, 2017
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Have a closer look at the "home of commercial whisky distilling" with a trip to Kennetpans distillery

(Kennet Pans, Kilbagie, Clackmannanshire)

Kennetpans (near to the town of Alloa in Clackmannanshire) was founded in the 1720s by the charismatic and controversial Stein family, and became the largest distillery in Scotland.

Situated by the upper stream of Firth of Forth and around two miles south of Kennetpans village near Kincardine, the ruins of what was once considered to be the "home of commercial whisky distilling" and the birthplace of two of the world's most famous brands - Jamiesons and Haigs -have become something of a whisky pilgrimage for many whisky fans over the years.

There's even been a push over the past few years for it to be restored and protected. You can find more information here.

Take a tour of the 'spiritual home of whisky' at Lindores Abbey Distillery

(Abbey Rd, Newburgh, Cupar KY14 6HH)


Drew Mackenzie Smith in the ruins of Lindores Abbey in Newburgh, Fife. Picture: Robert Perry

On the Southern banks of the River Tay, lies the ruins of the historic Abbey of Lindores, the site of the first ever recorded instance of whisky distillation in Scotland.

In 1494, King James IV sent a commission to a friar living at the Abbey, John Corr, to make for him aquavitae.

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The famed whisky writer, the late Michael Jackson, once wrote that for whisky fans a visit to the abbey was essential, declaring that ‘for the whisky lovers, it is a pilgrimage’.

Thankfully, the derelict Abbey is currently undergoing a £5 million makeover in a bid to attract visitors worldwide and distill whisky once more.

You can find more information about the project and tours of the site here. 

Walk the Speyside smuggler's trails with Glenlivet

(Ballindalloch, Banffshire, AB37 9DB)

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The story of Glenlivet, the first ever legal distillery in Scotland and the history of illicit distilling in the Spey valley are so intertwined that it would be remiss for the distillery's current owners not to embrace it.

Thankfully they do with homage paid to those original croft distillers not only in the written history of this most famous distillery but also in several of its tours. Indeed they've even recreated a smuggler's bothy still on their land for people to visit to see how whisky would have been produced in the good old days before taxation and exciseman took control.

The battle between the opposing forces of the law and the illicit stillers is made vivid by some fun free walking tours, which take in the countryside around the distillery and introduce to those larger-than-life characters who made whisky what it is today. Visit the house of George Smith, the founder of the distillery and the haunts of Rabbie MacPherson, a roguish smuggler with a penchant for camouflage. Find out more about the tours here.

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Go ghost hunting at Bowmore distillery

(Bowmore Distillery, School Street, Bowmore PA43 7JS)


Picture: Mick Garatt\Wikimedia

It seems there is more than one type of spirit involved in Bowmore's illustrious past. The distillery which was officially opened on the island of Islay in 1779 but there have been other incarnations of the distillery in the area for a lot longer.

Over the years there have been more than a few tales of ghosts and the likes surrounding the distillery but one of the most famous is that of the headless horseman who is said to have paid one islander an unwelcome visit.

Islay crofter Lachlan Bàn is said to have witnessed the unwelcome guest speeding away from his home after having left him a present, a nearly full bottle of Bowmore. The Ileach was said to have been so terrified that he threw the spirit's spirit away in fear.

Distillery staff still tell the tale with much glee, but are quick to point out that the apparition may have in fact been none other than Lachlan's brother, hiding his face from the storm that night as he rode away from the croft.

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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