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

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. Cardhu distillery, Moray

(Region: Speyside, Founded:1824)

Founded by whisky smuggler John Cumming in 1824, Cardhu (pronounced Kar – doo) is currently run by Diageo.

Cardhu derives from the Scots Gaelic Carn Dubh, meaning ‘Black Rock’.

Did you know? The whisky produced by Cardhu makes up an important part of the famous Johnnie Walker blended whiskies.

Cardhu

Cardhu distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

2. Oban distillery, Oban

(Region: Highland, Founded:1794)

The distillery itself is situated on the west coast of Scotland in the fishing port town of Oban (pronounced O-ben) and is owned by Diageo.

Oban derived from the Scottish Gaelic An t-Òban meaning ‘The Little Bay’.

Did you know? Oban distillery was built before the town of the same name, which sprung up later in the surrounding craggy harbour

Oban distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

Oban distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

3. Bunnahabhain Distillery, Islay

(Region: Islay, Founded:1881)

Bunnahabhain (pronounced bu-na-ha-venn) distillery is situated on the north side of the island of Islay near Port Askaig and is owned by Burn Stewart.

Bunnahabhain is derived from the Scottish Gaelic Bun na h-Abhainn meaning ‘mouth of the river’.

Did you know? The wreck of the ship Majestic sits stricken on the rocks at Bunnahabhain to this day.

Bunna

Bunnahabhain distillery. Picture: CC

4. Auchentoshan distillery, Clydebank

(Region: Lowlands, Founded:1823)

Situated at the foot of the Kilpatrick hills near Clydebank, Auchentoshan is owned by Morrison Bowmore.

Auchentoshan (pronounced och[as in loch]-en-tosh-en) is derived from the Gaelic Achadh an Oisein  and translates as ‘corner of the field’.

Did you know? Auchentoshan distillery was rebuilt in its entirety by Eadie Cairns in 1969.

Auchentoshan distillery. Picture: Chris Gunn\wikimedia

Auchentoshan distillery. Picture: Chris Gunn/wikimedia

Like this? See also:

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

• A guide to Gaelic names for Scottish distilleries (part 3)

5. AnCnoc/Knockdu distillery, Knock

(Region: Highland, Founded:1894)

Situated in Knock, Banffshire, AnCnoc (pronounced an-knock) is owned by Inver House Distillers.

Knockdu (pronounced knock-doo) is derived from the Scottish Gaelic Cnoc Dubh which translates as ‘Black Hill’, this was changed to AnCnoc which in turn means ‘The Hill’.

Did you know? Knockdu was forced to change the name of its whisky to anCnoc in 1994 in a bid to avoid confusion with Knockando.

Knockdu

Knockdu distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

6. Laphroaig distillery, Islay

(Region: Islay, Founded:1815)

Situated on the the south coast of the Isle of Islay, Laphroaig (pronounced la-froyg) is owned by Beam Suntory.

The Gaelic name Laphroaig means ‘the beautiful hollow by the broad bay’, though this has been disputed with some citing that the name Laphroaig is actually derived from the Norse ‘breid-vik’, meaning broad bay.

Did you know? In 1954, Ian Hunter, who owned the distillery, sadly passed away. He bequeathed the whole distillery to close friend and employee Bessie Williamson, who took the reigns as one of the first woman owners and distillers in the industry.

Laphroiag distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

Laphroiag distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

7. Bruichladdich distillery, Islay

(Region: Islay, Founded: 1881)

Bruichladdich (pronounced broo-ick-laddie) distillery is situated at the wild Rhinns of Islay and is owned by Rémy Cointreau.

The name is derived from two Gaelic words brudhach and chladdich. The full name being Brudhach a Chladdaich which  translates as ‘brae by the shore’.

Did you know? Bruichladdich’s Octomore 2009 – Edition 06.3 – has a peating level of 258ppm (parts per million) making it the peatiest whisky ever.

Bruichladdich Distillery & The Agronomy Institute of UHI won the Innovation of the Year award

Bruichladdich distillery. Picture: TSPL

8. Lagavulin distillery, Islay

(Region: Islay, Founded: 1816)

Lagavulin (pronounced lagga-voolin) is situated at the picturesque Lagavulin Bay on the island of Islay and is owned by Diageo.

The name of Lagavulin is an Anglicization of the Gaelic lag a’mhuilin, meaning ‘hollow by the mill’.

Did you know? Records show illicit distillation in at least ten different distilleries on the site of the current distillery, dating back as far as 1742.

Lagavulin distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

Lagavulin distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

9. Tomintoul distillery

(Region: Speyside, Founded:1964)

Situated in the picturesque Glenlivet estate and named after the highest village in the Highlands of Scotland, Tomintoul (pronounced ‘tom-in-towel’) is owned by Angus Dundee.

Tomintoul derives from Scottish Gaelic Tom an t-Sabhail, meaning ‘The Hill of the Barn’

Did you know? Tomintoul entered the Guinness Book of World Records by producing the largest bottle of whisky in the world, containing 105.3 litres of 14 year old Tomintoul malt whisky.

Tomintoul distillery. Picture: CC

Tomintoul distillery. Picture: CC

10. Cragganmore distillery, Ballindalloch

(Region: Speyside, Founded: 1869)

Cragganmore is situated near the village of Ballindalloch in Banffshire and is owned by Diageo.

Cragganmore is derived from the Gaelic creagan mór translated as ‘Great Rock’.

Did you know? John Smith built the distillery only half a mile from the Strathspey railway at Ballindalloch Station, making it one of the first Speyside distilleries to take advantage of railway transport.

Cragganmore distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

Cragganmore distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

*With thanks to Alec Briggs for help with pronunciations

About The Author

Sean Murphy

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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