You could spend a couple of weeks immersed in the distilleries of Scotland. I didn’t have a couple of weeks, but I did circle my last day in Scotland for a trip to the malt whiskey capital of the world (they say and I see no reason to dispute it), Dufftown. Two massive whiskey distilleries are right next to each other, and a third is just down the road. Glenfiddich sprawls at the foot of Balvenie Castle. Next door is the distillery that shares the castle’s name. For a tour, it had to be The Balvenie Distillery.

I appreciate whiskies from all regions of Scotland, and love the whiskies from Islay in particular. But if I could only have one, it would be from Balvenie. So the tour was booked and locked in, and we arrived with time to spare. The parking for Balvenie is tucked into a stand of trees, making us second-guess the location, but sure enough we had arrived.

Some distilleries truck in the malt or buy barrels from the Speyside Cooperidge up the road. Balvenie does every part of the process in-house, which means a tour at Balvenie is going to be more comprehensive from the get-go than other distilleries. But they really take the time to stop and explain every part of it. We’d done a tour at Talisker that we enjoyed that took one hour. Balvenie was three hours, and we could have stayed longer if we didn’t have a rental car to drop off. There were only four people in our tour, with four cancelling, and we looked at each other a few times in wonder at the attention we were receiving from our Ambassador James. Can’t recommend him enough.

Driving to a distillery yourself means compromising. You either risk everything and partake (in a country that won’t tolerate it), or you politely pass drams to non-drivers in the tasting. Obviously there’s only one appropriate choice, and I watched a few choice drams go to my passenger and to the couple who had wisely hired a driver. Balvenie kindly gave me a bottle to pour samples into for a blended sample for consumption later, but I did mourn the ones that got away. Until I drove the dark, twisting roads of the tourist route back to Inverness in the rain anyway.

The Balvenie tour was a wonderful was to cap a week of travel from Edinburgh to Fort William to Isle of Skye to Inverness. There simply isn’t enough time in a week to see everything, so you plan, adjust to the weather, passing fancy and reality. And book a return as soon as possible to tackle the things you missed along the way.

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