A distillery tour is a great way to learn how whisky is made, understand some of the rich culture and history surrounding it, and taste a few drams. Lots of distilleries offer tours, but the tour at The Balvenie is probably the best in Scotland.
Nestled behind the modern buildings of Glenfiddich, Balvenie has been producing whisky the traditional way since 1893. They claim to be the only distillery that still practices all 5 of the Rare Crafts on-site: growing barley, malting barley, coppersmithing, coopering and blending.
The full tour takes around 3 hours: starting with a welcoming cup of tea and a bite to eat, your guide will then show you around the whole site. The guides here are excellent - many of them were trained by David Stewart, the distillery's Malt Master, who developed the modern technique of finishing whiskies in the 1980s.
On the malting floor, fresh barley is gently heated until it germinates and then needs to be turned regularly to dry it out. Most malt is made in dedicated factories with modern machines these days, but here you'll get to see how it always used to be done: by hand on large open floors.
At the cooperage, skilled workers maintain the wooden casks for ageing the whisky. Scotch whisky is usually aged in casks that have previously held something else (often Bourbon or Sherry) - but these second-hand containers need a lot of maintenance, including the dramatic charring process to re-invigorate the wood: they literally set fire to the cask to improve the flavour of the whisky!
Coppersmiths maintain the stills, which is an incredibly specialised job. Balvenie is known for being one of the only places where you can still learn this rare craft as an apprentice.
At the end of the tour, you'll get to taste a whole variety of Balvenie whiskies. Make sure you're not driving home afterwards (we always arrange a taxi or chauffeur for our guests...).
Tours are limited to 8 people and only run twice a day - so book early to avoid disappointment!