Eager to visit your favourite whisky distillery and not sure what to expect? Julia Bryce uncovers what your next tasting experience will be like…
There’s something quite special about visiting a whisky distillery. From the columns of copper stills lined side by side to the incredible smells created by producing the spirit, not to mention the passion and history behind each brand, you’ll never forget your first tour.
With lockdown restrictions loosening, many brands feel the time for reopening the industry to tourists and guests alike is now, and with it being one of Scotland’s biggest exports, its no surprise distilleries are eager to throw open their doors and welcome people back.
But will your distillery experience be the same as it was pre-Covid-19? No, it won’t, but that doesn’t mean businesses haven’t worked tirelessly to make it as similar as they can, if not better in ways for customers.
The latest figures from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) revealed that more than two million distillery visits took place in 2018, jumping by 56% in comparison to 2010.
A spokeswoman for the SWA said: “Many distillery visitor centres are now looking at how they can reopen, subject to what works for their business, their employees and their location. The SWA continues to provide support to member companies, and is working closely with government, others across the hospitality and tourism sector and local communities to revive the summer season, which will be vital to the survival of many, in particular, smaller businesses.”
One of the most popular whisky regions, Speyside alone produces the highest volume of single malt whisky globally and three out of five visitors to the region do so in search of Scotland’s national tipple.
Reopening its doors last week, the Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown is operating on reduced hours and was the first distillery in Scotland to open a visitor centre.
Although the tours aren’t currently running, visitors can enjoy The Robbie Dhu Terrace where they can order breakfast, lunch, dinner or even a cake and tea, and the whisky lounge is also open giving visitors the chance to enjoy tailored whisky flights and bespoke cocktails/mocktails. The capacity in the lounge is currently restricted to five groups and visitors booking these experiences will be offered a complimentary “highlights tour” giving them an introduction to distilling and production on the premises.
Currently re-working their tour offering, new versions will launch in mid-August, bringing an entirely new customer experience to the venue.
Kirsty Dagnan, site leader for William Grant & Sons Dufftown site, said: “The tours will be run in a slightly different way but we’re keeping that under wraps just now. Currently visitors can access the shop, the whisky lounge and terrace and where possible people can have a peek around some of the areas.
“On arrival we have a new reception set up where they will go through temperature check, questionnaires and the track and trace details. They will be escorted at all times on-site and we’re limiting it to two household groups who know each other coming together, or just one household. We’re not mixing groups and we will only have small groups. We want everyone to feel safe and have an enjoyable experience.
“We have one-way systems set up and in the retail space it is compulsory to wear masks. For the tours they won’t have to, and we’re sticking to two-metre distancing for all tours.”
The Malt Whisky Trail which is made up of nine iconic whisky sites through the Moray Speyside region, takes visitors on a journey to discover the best distilleries and the Speyside Cooperage. Sites including Glen Moray Distillery and Glenfiddich Distillery along the trail are now partially open to visitors.
Iain Allan, board member of The Malt Whisky Trail and brand ambassador and visitor
centre manager at Glen Moray Distillery, said: “We’ve been preparing for our gradual reopening for a long time now so it’s really exciting that we can finally welcome visitors back to the distillery and some of The Malt Whisky Trail’s other sites for a taste of our whisky and Speyside in general.
“At the moment, we won’t be offering tours, however we’ll be conducting tastings for small groups and offering designated driver packs.
“Although our return to normality will be gradual, The Trail is still open to visitors who want to explore this global epicentre of distilling whilst enjoying the best of Scotland’s wide open spaces. I would recommend that those planning to visit any site along the trail contact sites directly to check opening details and book in advance.”
Poppy McKenzie Smith who is the communications manager of Lindores Abbey Distillery in Newburgh, Fife, and is the eldest daughter of owners Drew and Helen McKenzie Smith, expressed her delight in welcoming guests back to the distillery and says it is great to finally see more people on-site.
She said: “It’s been great to welcome people back. The distillery is based across the road from our home so it is lovely to see people here again. Before lockdown we were seeing 50-70 people a day from across Europe on our tours. Now we’ve reopened for pre-booked tours with a maximum of eight people per tour, depending on household size.
“We can’t open the still house up to tourists – people can still see it and can hear quite a lot of what’s going on as it is all glass fronted, but we can’t socially distance there properly so can’t open it up. Our distillery manager and a few others made videos of the process so we have them to view.
“When the first tour took place they were very understanding of any technical issues we may have had and we gave them a little extra dram to thank them for their patience.
“We’ve never really had lots of walk-ins and we’ve usually only had people pre-book so that’s been really easy for guests to do. We want to make sure everyone feels as safe as possible here. Our outdoor courtyard has heaps of space and the Abbey ruin is across the road so its very spacious. It’s like a big park. Guests have been pre-booking picnic hampers we’ve been selling, too, so we’ve been diversifying as much as possible.
“We have also had a couple bookings for our mico-weddings of up to 10 people. We did a few weddings a month before all of this, but we’ve got our first one in a few weeks. We’re so pleased the first weekend went well and we had people round having a barbecue with some music. We’re open Friday, Saturday and Sunday for tours from noon to 4pm, but we’re open until 9pm with the food truck and cocktails.”
The socially-distanced experience will ensure visitors will still be able to enjoy whisky tastings and guided tours. Also operating at a reduced capacity, facilities including the museum, bar and gift shop areas have been carefully adapted with the addition of Perspex screens at till points, reduced door touch points and hand sanitisation stations throughout.
Temperature checks will be conducted on arrival and facemasks will be provided and must be worn at all times when exploring venue to help promote the safety of both staff and visitors alike. All visitors are asked to book in advance.
You can view a video highlighting all the changes here.
Thibault Ruffat, global brand homes director of Bacardi, said: “The health and safety of our guests and staff is our number one priority. We will be introducing a phased reopening plan with all hygiene and safety measures needed. Our plans are in accordance with recent updates from the government in response to Covid-19 and as a food production site, we have several precautions in place in addition to the standard guidelines.
“We are introducing additional queuing systems at the entrance and touch points on doors have been reduced. Visitors will receive a temperature check on arrival and will be provided with face masks to wear on the site and in the car park. Those who cannot wear face masks for medical reasons will be provided with a face shield. There will be signage at all entry points, in the car park and in the admissions area with directions, and reminding guests to wear face masks. Staff will also be wearing face masks and will receive daily temperature checks.
“As part of Bacardi Limited’s global effort to make a difference in the fight against Covid-19 our hand sanitiser will also be available for guests to use.
“Our Aberfeldy, cask tasting and connoisseur tours will be available as part of the first reopening phase. All tours will be operating at reduced capacities and pre-booking in advance is essential. The tours will also no longer have access to the production areas, however as we do during our annual silent season, we will show a film in our warehouse to explain the production process with samples to give guests a multi-sensorial production experience.
“Our whisky lounge will have several clear zones with individual capacities, allowing families to sit together. The shop, bar and cafe will only be available to those with ticket bookings.”
In Drimnin, Morven, Annabel Thomas, CEO and owner of Nc’Nean Distillery will reopen her distillery on August 3.
Launching her first whisky next month which Annabel has been working on since 2013, the drinks enthusiast is taking her time in reopening her premises, only allowing guests outside of the distillery, restricting access to production areas and more.
A narrow building, Annabel says keeping the distillery closed is in the interest of the health and safety of customers and staff alike, and is offering tours for free, with those looking to taste the range of botanical spirits they currently produce for just £5.
She said: “We’re trying to tread fine lines between getting business back to usual and protecting our staff and broader community. We’re part of a small, remote community and the distillery is a U-shaped courtyard and is quite small, so what we’re hoping to do is do a lot of what we normally do on a tour, without them stepping into the distillery. It is quite a narrow walkway right the way through and to keep our operators operating the distillery safe would be quite hard to do.
“We won’t be charging for the visits and will just charge for the tastings. If it’s nice weather we will have everyone in the courtyard where they can see everything, and do the tour from there.
“We have two big tables in the bar where we can accommodate two groups. Two groups of four is probably very manageable. We will accommodate it to suit the group’s coming in, so if it is one big group, or two smaller ones, it’ll be a case by case basis.
“If people are inside we will be encouraging them to wear masks, but outside we won’t. We’ll have hand sanitiser all over the place, too, and we have lots of cleaning procedures in place. We have two visitor toilets, male and female, but if we only have two groups in, then we will split them so its just one group using each.”
Other distilleries set to reopen/open now
Kilchoman Distillery – Isle of Islay
Offering a limited range of tours, those interested must pre-book by email or phone. Tours will run daily and the diary will be open two weeks at a time. There will be limited spaces with up to 10 people – providing they are from the same household. Tours will run at a capacity of six with social distancing measures in place.
Tasting packs will also be available to purchase and take away. The cafe is open for takeaway and a pre-ordered takeaway lunch can be arranged providing you give the distillery a day’s notice.
Ardbeg – Isle of Islay
The distillery, Old Kiln cafe and the visitor centre will reopen to guests and tourists alike on August 31.
Kingsbarns Distillery – St Andrews
While the cafe and shop are open to visitors now, the distillery tours will not commence until August 1 where there will be a limited run.
The outdoor terrace is open daily from 10am to 5pm with socially distanced seating available. All guests must wear a face mask in the shop and only a limited number of people will be allowed on-site at any one time.
Glen Moray – Elgin
The distillery isn’t currently offering tours but is running tastings for small groups and offering designated driver packs.
If you can’t make the trip to Elgin in person, they have also launched a “distillery dial-in” where you can call the team and find out more about the expressions from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
View this post on Instagram
Today's the day! Glen Moray Distillery is open and ready to welcome visitors back to our beautiful Elgin home. And while we still can't run tours, we have all the health and safety measures in place to do tastings and trips to the shop and cafe. Please book ahead if you can as we have limited capacity. We've also marked the occasion with some very special new whiskies: our 2020 Distillery Edition release. Each year we hand-pick some unusual single casks and bottle them exclusively for visitors. This year it's three 'wine finish' drams, bursting with the flavours of full maturation in hand-selected Chardonnay, Burgundy and Chenin Blanc casks. And the good news? If you can't make the trip to Elgin in person, this year there's a special 'distillery dial-in' so you can hear more about the range and place your order with our friendly Glen Moray team. They'll be manning the phones Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm. After all, who doesn't love to chat about whisky? #glenmoray #speyside #whiskylovers #limitededition #scotchwhisky