Scotch whisky bucket list: 10 things every fan should do at least once

We take a crack at creating a Scotch whisky bucket list, recommending ten things every whisky fan should try to do at least once in their life.

Published 14th Mar 2017
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

Drinking whisky is one of life's great pleasures and many people will have caught the bug and discovered a passion for Scotland's national drink that, at times, border on obsession.

So if you're already a connoisseur or you're just starting on your journey to whisky geekdom, we've created a list of the ten things that every whisky fan should try to do before they die.

1. Try a dram at one distillery in every whisky region

Picture: Wikimedia

Picture: Briangotts\Wikimedia\CC BY-SA 3.0


We'll start off nice and easy, and this one is definitely attainable, it may take a while, but it is doable.

Visiting a distillery in each of the five major regions (or six if you fancy a trip to one of the island distilleries) is a fun way to not only enjoy some truly diverse whiskies but also to get out and see more of Scotland.

2. Enjoy a masterclass with one of the whisky greats

Richard Paterson is a true whisky legend. Picture: SM

Richard Paterson is a true whisky legend. Picture: SM

Akin to meeting your favourite rock star or celebrity, the whisky greats are those well-known faces of the world of Scotch who you'd love to share a dram with.

There are a few true legends of the Scotch whisky world, be they on the production side (such as Richard Paterson, Dave Stewart or Dr Bill Lumsden) or the knowledge side (Dave Broom, Ralfy or Charlie MacLean), and spending some time around them waxing lyrical about their favourite subject is truly a sight to behold.

What's more it will also reaffirm your own love for your favourite drink as sharing passion for something is best way to enjoy it and what better way to share it than with people whom live it?

3. Visit all 9 Islay distilleries


There's something truly magical about visiting Islay, and it's not just about the whisky either, there's a rugged beauty to the island that will really set your heart a flutter, this feeling can only be enhanced when drinking whisky is involved, and what better way than to do so in the surrounds of some of the world's most famous distilleries.

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Described as a "peat head's pilgrimage", the island offers a far more varied array of whiskies than one might think, with Bunnahahbain and Bruichladdich weighing in on the lighter side of the scale for those who might want to the work their way up to the powerhouse trio of Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin.

Though they don't call Islay the peat region for nothing, the island itself is largely made up of the stuff and you'll be forgiven for thinking there's a permanent tang of it in the air as you wander around.

This one really is for those who adore smokier drams and they'll think they are in heaven once they step off that ferry (or plane if you're lucky).

As a bonus, Ardnahoe has just opened and offers one of the best views of any distillery in the country, never mind the island.

4. Take a trip to the spiritual home of whisky at Lindores Abbey

Lindores Abbey Distillery

Picture: Lindores Abbey Distillery

A trip to the "birthplace of Scotch whisky" in Newburgh on the north coast of Fife, is a pilgrimage to the place where whisky distilling in Scotland was first officially recorded.

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Home to Friar Jon Cor, who in 1488 was commissioned by the King to create for him around ‘eight bols of malt’.

Not only is it chance to take a glimpse at the rich history of distillation in this country, but you'll also be given a view of the future as you get to have a sneak peak at the brand new distillery which has recently been opened close by.

5. Experience the spirit of your favourite distillery


You'll no doubt have discovered your favourite distillery by now - the one you enjoy trying drams from more than any other - and while many of us can be indecisive when it comes to what we define as "the best", we always have a soft spot for that one distillery that we favour over the rest.

So what better way to truly know your chosen distillery than to try the spirit before it has even been laid down in a cask?

Trying the liquid straight from the still is a unique way of getting to know a distillery's character.

Most distillery's will offer this in some way, though you may have to ask the team (or a generous ambassador) very nicely.

Be warned though the alcohol content will be a lot more punchy than even a cask strength dram, so a imbibing only small amounts is advised.

6. Own your own cask

(submitted by Darius Carr)

A worker at Bruichladdich distillery takes a whisky sample from a single cask. Picture: Getty

A worker at Bruichladdich distillery takes a whisky sample from a single cask. Picture: Getty

Feeling flush? If not this one might involve chipping in with a group of fellow fans but there can't be much better ways to get involved with a chosen distillery than actually owning some of their stock as it ages.

You get to choose at what age it'll be bottled at, visit it at the distillery and get advice on when (and where to bottle it).

Picture yourself drinking your very own bottled whisky or even gifting a few to friends and family, it doesn't get much better than that.

7. Follow the Malt Whisky Trail through Speyside

Picture: PA

Picture: PA

The Malt Whisky Trail which runs through the luscious Spey valley is the perfect way to navigate your way through the "engine room of the Scotch industry".

Home to the greatest concentration of distilleries in the world dotting the landscapes here, Speyside also contains some of the most globally recognisable single malt brand names including Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet.

On the trail you'll be able to take a peak behind the scenes look at the distillation process from grain to glass.

The Speyside Cooperage, one of the last remaining cooperages in the world, is a wonder in itself. From the gallery, you can watch the highly-skilled men toiling below in a cacophony of hammer blows on wood.

8. Buy a whisky that was distilled during your birth year

11Samples of Glenfiddich

Depending how old you are this one could be expensive and getting harder as the years roll by, but if it is possible, it's an immensely satisfying way to celebrate a momentous occasion.

And definitely one of the milestones on your whisky journey that slots neatly in beside the time you drink a whisky that's older than you are.

9. Enjoy a dram at the top of a Munro as you watch the sunrise

Picture: John McSporran\Flickr

Picture: John McSporran\Flickr\CC v 2.0

This one might be our favourite on the list and for good reason. Whisky is often endemically tied to the land from which it is produced and this is readily apparent in Scotland where each of the regions make their distinct mark on the spirit produced there.

So what better way to tie the two together than to soak in the natural beauty of Scotland's landscape while you enjoy a dram or two?

With 282 Munro's available around the country (and most with a distillery or two nearby) you'll have no shortage of options.

10. Sample a dram at each of the four "compass point" distilleries.

Picture: Abhainn Dearg

Picture: Abhainn Dearg

Not only do they make a great quiz question, the four compass point distilleries are the best way to see the truly diverse nature of Scotland's whisky.

Be it a smooth dram from Bladnoch, a rich and fruity Glen Garioch, a smokey malt for Kilchoman (or even a dram from Abhainn Dearg if you want to go an extra challenge and try the newcomer to the western crown) or a briney cracker from Highland Park, each of the distilleries are as unique as their whiskies.

Kilchoman is a farm distillery and a wonderful look back at how the industry might have existed before commercialisation while Glen Garioch (pronounced Glen Geery) the most eastern is smack bang in the centre of a village and bisected by a road, it also has a wonderful vacant malting room that's well worth checking out.

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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