If you’re thinking of walking Scotland’s most famous route, the North Coast 500, you may be wondering if there are any whisky distilleries on the North Coast 500.
We’re delighted to be able to tell you that yes, there are several whisky distilleries along the route. Many of them are open for tours and tastings, and are a great stop on your adventure.
We’ve had the pleasure of driving the North Coast Scotland 500 route many times, and since Laurence loves whisky, we’ve visited most of the distilleries along the route. We have also written several guides to the route to help you plan your own adventure. These include a North Coast 500 planning guide, a 5 and 7 day NC 500 itinerary and a detailed 7 day camping itinerary for the NC500.
We also have tips on the best hotels on the North Coast 500, our favorite B&Bs on the route, as well as a guide to the best places to photograph on the NC500. Suffice it to say, we think we’ve put together a pretty comprehensive series of articles on this incredible road trip.
In this post, we expand our content on the North Coast 500 with a guide to all the whisky distilleries you can visit along the NC500. Scotch whisky is one of Laurence’s favourite drinks, and we’ve already put together a detailed guide to our favourite whisky distilleries in Scotland.
In this post, we’ll focus exclusively on the 500 North Coast whisky distilleries you can visit. Before we begin, a brief description of the whisky.
An overview of Scotch whisky.
This section provides a brief overview of Scotch whisky. For more details, see our guide to whisky distilleries in Scotland, which contains much more detailed information on how whisky is made, the history of whisky and many other facts.
What is Scotch whisky?
Scotch whisky is a spirit made in Scotland. For a drink to be officially called Scotch whisky, it must be made from water and malted barley, distilled in a still at a Scottish distillery and matured in an oak cask in Scotland for at least three years. It must also have an alcohol content of 40%.
Is it whisky or whiskey?
How is Scotch whisky made?
The making of Scotch whisky is a five-step process:
Malting – barley seeds are partially germinated to create sugars.
Maceration – malted barley is mixed with hot water to extract sugars
Fermentation – sugar water is mixed with yeast to produce alcohol
Distillation – the alcoholic water is heated and the alcohol vapours are condensed to extract the spirit
Maturation – the strong spirit is placed in oak casks for at least three years to develop the flavour of the whisky
There are several types of Scotch whisky, the best known being single malt and blended. Single malt whisky must be produced at a single distillery, while blended whisky is composed of several whiskies from different distilleries. However, the whisky making process is the same.
Again, this process is covered in much more detail in our complete guide to whisky distilleries in Scotland.
If you’re new to Scotch whisky, you might consider booking a tour of the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh before visiting any of the distilleries, as it will provide you with lots of information about how it’s made, the different types of whisky and the different whisky producing regions of Scotland.
What type of whisky is produced in the North Coast 500?
Single malt whisky from the Highland whisky region is often described as fruity, sweet, spicy and malty. Most Highland whisky distilleries do not use peat in their whisky production process, so you don’t get the strong smoky peat flavour usually associated with a whisky from the Islay region, for example.
However, with almost 50 distilleries in the Highland whisky region, and 9 in the North Coast 500, there is clearly a wide variety of flavours to discover.
Can I visit all 500 whisky distilleries on the North Shore?
Yes, almost all of them offer guided tours, whisky tastings and a gift shop where you can buy whisky on site. as well as a place to taste and buy whisky.
However, be aware that many are closed for some part of the year due to cleanings, seasonality, etc., so always check before visiting; some may require you to book tours in advance
If you’re driving, most distilleries offer sealed glasses to take away so you can enjoy the samples at the end of the day. Just let the tour guide know you are driving and they will usually be happy to oblige.
Now, let’s get on with our guide to distilleries in the NC500.
Whiskey distilleries on the North Shore 500.
This list of distilleries includes all the whisky distilleries you can visit on the North Coast 500.It is arranged in the order in which the distilleries would be found if you were to travel the route anti-clockwise, starting and ending in Inverness. All the distilleries listed are in the Highland whisky region.
In this guide we have focused exclusively on whisky distilleries, although there are also gin distilleries and breweries along the route.
Glen Ord Distillery
The Singleton of Glen Ord distillery is the closest distillery to Inverness and also the only working distillery on the Black Isle. The distillery was founded in 1838 and took advantage of the Black Isle’s large barley crop to make its product.
Today, Black Isle barley is still used in the production of Glen Ord single malt, with water from nearby Loch nam Bonnach and Loch nan Eun.
The distillery, now owned by drinks giant Diageo, produces mainly three malt whiskies. These are a 12-year-old whisky, a 15-year-old whisky and an 18-year-old whisky. Glen Ord malt whisky is described as a malty whisky with a slight hint of peat on the nose, with a rich, fruity flavour.
Their malt whiskies are mainly produced for export to South East Asia, so they are not often seen for sale in the UK. In addition, a large percentage of the 11.5 million litres of whisky produced by Glen Ord is used in the Johnnie Walker malt blend.
The Glen Ord distillery is open all year round for tours and tastings. You can find out more information and book in advance on their website here.
From a 19th century whisky distillery to a brand new 21st century whisky distillery! Dingwall’s community-owned GlenWyvis Distillery was founded in 2017, becoming Dingwall’s first whisky producer in 100 years.
The first batch of whisky was put into casks in 2018. As Scotch whisky regulations dictate that Scotch whisky must be in cask for a minimum of three years, the first GlenWyvis whisky will not be available for tasting until 2021.
Unlike the other distilleries on our list, you can’t yet physically visit the GlenWyvis distillery. However, you can take a virtual tour of the distillery, and we wanted to include it for that reason. It’s free to do so and you can learn all about the whisky making process through the virtual tour, which you can find here.
Just a few miles up the NC500 from the Black Isle and Dingwall is the Dalmore Distillery. Founded in 1838, the brand is known for its logo of the 12-pointed royal stag, which is used in the coat of arms of the Mackenzie clan. The rights to use this emblem were granted to the clan in 1263, when the clan chief saved the then king from a charging stag.
The Mackenzie clan, who also owned the famous Eilean Donan Castle, took ownership of the Dalmore distillery in 1867, taking the stag emblem with them. The distillery was operated by the clan until it was sold to Whyte & Mackay in 1960.
Today, the Dalmore produces four main malt whiskies, a 12 year old, a 15 year old, an 18 year old and a 25 year old. There are also limited edition and special edition products. The taste of the whisky obviously varies according to age, but is generally described as rich, fruity and a little chocolaty.
The Dalmore distillery is usually open for tours and tastings, and you can check opening times and prices on their website here.
Of all the whisky distilleries on the North Coast 500, Glenmorangie is probably the best known. Its whisky is consistently one of the best-selling malt whisky brands in the world, and is a popular distillery to visit. It’s also easy to visit as a day trip from Inverness or as part of a North Coast 500 road trip.
Glenmorangie was founded as a whisky distillery in 1843, although there are records of alcohol production at the site dating back to 1703. Today, the distillery is owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy.
Glenmorangie produces six million litres of malt whisky a year. Their main range consists of a 10 year old, a 12 year old, an 18 year old and a 25 year old malt whisky, although they also produce a range of special editions. The distillery is noted for having the highest stills in Scotland. As for its flavor, the Original 10 years is more citrus and vanilla than fruity, with variations in the other ages.
Glenmorangie offers a range of tastings and guided tours that allow you to sample a wide range of their whiskies. You can find out more about tour prices and opening times on their website here.
Founded in 1790, Balblair is the oldest distillery on the North Coast 500. It is located on the Dornoch Firth, a few miles inland from Glenmorangie.
The distillery, as it operates today, was built in 1895 and uses water from the nearby Ault Dearg burn for all the whisky. It is now owned by Inver House distilleries, which also runs other distilleries in Scotland, including the Pulteney distillery on the NC500.
The Balblair distillery produces a range of malt whiskies, starting with the 12 year old, through to the 25 year old. Flavours include spice, citrus and floral notes.
Balblair is open for tours and tastings, and you can find out more and book your visit here.
Clynelish Distillery, located about an hour’s drive north of Inverness, has an interesting history. A distillery by the name of Clynelish was originally established on the site in 1819, although the distillery that bears the name today was actually built in 1967 to cope with increased demand.
However, the “old” Clynelish distillery continued to produce whisky, mainly for use in blends. It also produced a malt whisky under the name Brora. Both distilleries continued to operate until 1983, when the Brora distillery ceased production.
Today, Brora whisky is one of the rarest and most expensive whiskies in the world.
The Clynelist distillery today produces a malt whisky, and is owned by drinks giant Diageo. Diageo also owns Johnnie Walker, and 95% of Clynelish’s production goes into Johnnie Walker blends.
There is a lot of whisky history here, making it a good place to visit for whisky lovers. Tours and tastings are available. You can also buy many other whiskies here, including many of the Johnnie Walker and other whisky brands owned by Diageo, such as Talisker, Lagavulin, Oban and Dalwhinnie. So if you want to get a taste of whiskies from different regions, this is a good place to stop.
Finally, the former Clynelish distillery, which became the Brora distillery, is undergoing a huge production refurbishment. Diageo is spending around £35 million to bring it back to life and start producing whisky again. Hopefully it will soon be available to visit and taste.
You can find out more and book your visit to Clynelish here.
If you’re spending the night in the town of Wick during your trip along the North Shore 500, you’ll want to stop at the Pulteney Distillery, which produces Old Pulteney single malt whiskey.
Founded in 1826, the distillery today produces a range of whiskies, from a 12-year-old single malt to a 25-year-old single malt, as well as a number of special editions. Their whisky warehouses are exposed to the sea air off the north-east coast of Scotland, which they say infuses their whisky with savoury flavours.
They also produce a whisky called Huddart, which has smoky peat flavours, for those who prefer this flavour profile more commonly associated with Islay whiskies.
The Pulteney distillery is open for tours and tastings, and you can see tour times and prices on their website here.
Located in the town of Thurso, the Wolfburn distillery is. Scotland’s most northerly distillery on the Scottish mainland. Originally founded in 1822, Wolfburn Distillery closed in 1877. The new distillery, built from scratch, opened in 2013.
Wolfburn Distillery is certainly one of the newest distilleries on the North Coast 500, but they already have several whiskies available. Although they are relatively young for single malts, they are still smooth and tasty. I especially liked the Morven, which has a hint of peat.
Wolfburn Distillery does not have an official visitor centre, but you can visit and take a fantastic guided tour of the distillery’s workings, accompanied by tastings.
If you look at our map of whisky distilleries on the North Coast 500, you’ll notice that most are on the east coast of Scotland. This is largely because transport links are more convenient: the older distilleries in this area were usually built close to railway lines so that their whisky could be easily distributed.
North-west Scotland is a much more rugged and wild environment, making whisky distribution more difficult.
If you’re looking for a whisky distillery on the west coast of the NC500 route, your only option at the moment is Badachro Distillery. It’s a small family-run distillery that launched in 2017 and produces craft gin. 2020 marked their first whisky release, but it’s worth noting that this isn’t actually distilled on site – they’ve sourced malt whisky from an unnamed Highland distillery and bottled it.
Still, you can visit and learn about their on-site gin distilling. More information about tours and tastings here.
Map of the whisky distilleries of the North Shore 500.
Here is a map of all the whisky distilleries on the North Coast 500, along with the NC500 route map, so you can plan your whisky stops accordingly. You can also view this map online here.
Other great whisky stops on the North Coast 500.
There are other great whisky-related stops along the North Coast 500. We have two great options you might consider where you can sample whisky in addition to (or instead of) visiting the actual distilleries.
We recommend the whisky bar at Dornoch Castle or the whisky bar at the Torridon Hotel. Both have a fantastic selection of whiskies from all over Scotland and knowledgeable staff who can help you learn about the wide range of whiskies available. Both are also great places to stay overnight on the route.
Where to buy whisky online?
If you’re looking for whiskey as a souvenir of your trip, or perhaps in preparation for your adventure, you have a few options.
Firstly, we recommend you check out The Whisky Shop. They have several outlets in the UK, as well as an online shop, and offer a wide variety of whiskies. Naturally, they include whiskies from many of the 500 whisky distilleries on the North Coast.
Next, you can try Amazon. Amazon also has a wide range of whiskies that you can order online.
Of course, as you go along the route, all the distilleries we mentioned have shops, so you can also pick one up on the go directly from the distillery.
We hope this guide to the whisky distilleries on the NC500 has given you some ideas of places to stop when touring the NC500, or when exploring the north of Scotland in general. If you’re heading to this part of the world, we think you’ll also find some of the following content useful to help you plan your trip and get some inspiration.
We have a guide to all our favourite whisky distilleries in Scotland, which also has lots of information on how whisky is made, the different Scottish whisky regions and much more.
Our ultimate guide to planning a trip to the North Coast 500.
Jess’s detailed guide to where to stay on the North Coast 500 has accommodation options for every part of the route. We also have a guide to the best B&B’s on the North Coast 500.
My detailed guide to all the highlights of the North Coast 500, so you don’t miss anything on the route, as well as my favourite places to photograph on the North Coast 500, which also has some photography tips for your trip.
For a shorter trip, check out our 5 day North Coast 500 itinerary. We also have a detailed 7 day camping itinerary on the NC500.
The North Coast 500 has many single lane roads. Check out our tips on driving on single lane roads to help you prepare if you are unfamiliar with them.
If you’ve never driven in the UK before, check out our guide to driving in the UK for some tips.
To plan your budget, see our guide on how much it costs to travel in the UK.
If you’re driving along the North Coast 500 as part of a longer visit to the UK, check out some of our other guides to Scotland and England.
Looking for more road trip inspiration? Check out our guide to the world’s best road trips for more ideas.
For Edinburgh, check out our 2-day Edinburgh itinerary, our guide to things to do in Edinburgh and our guide to the best day trips from Edinburgh to get you started. We also have a guide to getting from London to Edinburgh.
For Glasgow, check out our Glasgow and Loch Lomond itinerary, our guide to the best day trips from Glasgow and our guide to things to do in Glasgow.
For Aberdeen, we have a guide to things to do in Aberdeen, our favourite restaurants in Aberdeen, a 2 day Aberdeen itinerary suggestion and a guide to the best day trips from Aberdeen.
From Aberdeen, you can also take the North East 250 route. This is a new driving route which takes in spectacular scenery, many Speyside distilleries and the beautiful coastline of the Moray Firth. See our 3 day NE250 itinerary for advice on this.
For a guide to your journey, check out the Rough Guide to the North Coast 500 as well as Rick Steves’ book Scotland.
And that’s it! We hope you enjoyed this post. As always, we’d be happy to hear your comments and answer any questions. Just post them in the comments below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
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