“The proper drinking of whisky is more than indulgence; it is a toast to a civilisation, a tribute to the continuity of culture, a manifesto of man’s determination to use the resources of nature to refresh mind and body and enjoy to the full the senses with which he has been endowed.”
If you fancy a wee dram, discover the plethora of distilleries along Scotland’s gorgeous North Coast 500 route. Launched in 2015, the 516 mile track links the best of the Highlands in one scenic route, providing spectacular cycling and photo opportunities, as well as over a dozen distilleries along the way.
After a week of visiting splendid gardens, haunted castles, and monumental munros, you will be sure of two things: Tolkien’s writing was indeed influenced by his visits to the area (sorry, New Zealand); and the Scots know their scotch! Don’t call it scotch when in Scotland, though, or you’ll reveal yourself as a tourist – it’s simply whisky (without the ‘e’!) to the locals. Just remember the rule of thumb that all scotch is whisky, but not all whisky is scotch.
To earn the designation of a “Scotch whisky”, stringent criteria must be followed; most notably, the whisky must be manufactured from malted barley, and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. If you distill a whiskey in your kitchen that meets all of the standards, congratulations! You’ve made scotch. Except, of course, it doesn’t qualify as scotch unless your kitchen happens to be in Scotland. Also, you’ve broken the law, but that’s another matter altogether. To further muddy the water of life (or ‘uisge beatha’, the Scottish Gaelic phrase for scotch), there are two main types: single malt, which is simply the product of a single distillery (not a single batch or barrel as its name might imply); and blended scotch, a mix of both malt and grain whiskeys, sourced from several distilleries. Single malt scotch tends to be the most popular option in North America, while the blended varieties are favoured by the Scottish.
Partnering with distilleries and other businesses on the route, local tourism initiatives have created a fun way to promote the North Coast 500 experience. Visitors can carry a ‘NC500 passport’ to be stamped at recommended stopping points along the way, with photos to be captured at four historical sites. At the end of the route, participants present their photos and passports at the Glen Ord Visitor Centre to claim a well-earned, engraved North Coast 500 whisky glass. Don’t fret if visiting each of the 25 sites is not on your trip itinerary; an earnest effort is all it takes to bring home the sweet little keepsake, and toast to the memories of your love affair with Scotland.
Have you visited Scotland’s North Coast? We would love to hear about your adventures, with or without the scotch.