A visit to a distillery, or perhaps many different distilleries, has long been a feature of any visit to Scotland. In this section of the site we discuss the various stages in the production of malt whisky, which is the type of Scotch whisky produced in most whisky distilleries a visitor to the country is likely to encounter. Each stage in the production process has a separate feature on Undiscovered Scotland, linked from this index page. You may also view our feature about about Scotch whisky, which is a broader category that includes malt whisky. We also have features about many individual distilleries, and these can be viewed via our Category Index to Distilleries & Breweries.
The component parts of any distillery tour vary considerably from distillery to distillery, which is why some people enjoy visiting lots of them. But a few things are common to many, and a few more are worth thinking about in advance of your visit. Longer-established distilleries tend to be in old buildings with lots of different levels and lots of steps. Accessibility is therefore an issue at most of them and if you have issues with mobility, it is a good idea to check with the distillery in advance. And because distillation is an industrial process involving heat, some areas of a distillery need common sense and care, so there are often minimum ages set for participants on a tour which are likely to exclude very young children and babies. Some distilleries welcome photography during any part of the tour, others prohibit photography in areas of the distillery or throughout the tour. And some distilleries take visitors round free of charge, while others charge for a tour, and some have a range of tours catering to different levels of interest. Where a charge is made, it can sometimes be redeemed against purchases in the distillery shop at the end of the tour.
The process of making malt whisky has the same stages wherever in Scotland it is carried out. However, some distilleries only undertake part of the process on the premises: and again it is helpful to know in advance what you will, or will not, be able to see. We list below the different stages in the process, with links to illustrated features about each stage.
The Maltings looks at a process only carried out in a few distilleries, with most buying in malted barley from large scale industrial maltings.
The Kiln looks at what goes on under a pagoda, in the few distilleries with their own maltings.
The Malt Mill looks at the process, common to all distilleries, of grinding down the malted barley.
The Mash Tun looks at the process of extracting soluble sugars from the malted barley.
The Washback looks at the process of turning the liquor from the malted barley into a type of beer.
The Wash Still looks at the first stage of distillation.
The Condenser looks at the way vapours from stills are condensed into a usable liquid.
The Spirit Still looks at the second stage of distillation.
The Spirit Safe looks at the way the second distillation is controlled.
Cask Filling looks at the ways in which distilleries fill casks for maturation.
The Warehouse looks at the process of maturation, for a legal minimum of three years and usually much longer.
Bottling looks at the process, found only in a few distilleries, of bottling the end product.