Strathisla was supposed to be the first distillery we stopped at on this trip to Scotland. We left Edinburgh in the morning on a Friday and drove north and slightly east to Glamis Castle, thanking my many-armed gods along the way for the big highway we were on. We ate lunch at and toured Glamis Castle with our friends and then headed towards the Speyside. (By the way, if you’re into the Scottish castles thing, I heartily recommend Glamis Castle; they have very nice grounds—including play areas for kids—and while it’s pricey, the ticket includes a very good guided tour.) We chose to go via Aberdeen, in order to stay on large highways the whole way. This seemed like it had been an excellent decision until we got out of Aberdeen. Then a horrific accident on the A96 bottled up traffic for a good long while, and there was no way we were going to get to the distillery before they closed. Sitting on the highway we texted between cars and decided to head straight to dinner in Craigellachie instead (an enjoyable meal at the Highlander Inn, on which more later). As such, Glen Grant ended up being the first distillery we stopped at the next morning; Glen Moray followed that. We finally got to Strathisla bright and early on our second day in the Speyside, a Sunday morning.
Thanks to our visiting early on a Sunday, we had the distillery to ourselves. Which is nice because its public areas are not as expansive as, say, Glen Grant’s. You may have heard that Strathisla is often described as Scotland’s most beautiful distillery. It’s certainly attractive in a manicured kind of way but it’s also certainly not large. Well, the visitor centre is not tiny but there’s not a lot more to it beyond that. If you’re not taking a tour—we were not—it would only take you about 5 minutes to wander the remaining parts of the distillery that are open to the public. I’m not suggesting that this is some sort of outlier in Scotland—only saying that if you plan to go to Strathisla on account of its reputation for beauty, you shouldn’t expect Glen Grant-style gardens that you can spend an hour in, or Scapa’s beach-front real estate where you can hang out and contemplate Scapa Flow for as long as you like (more on Scapa in a few weeks).
The visitor centre is quite attractive, however. Which is not a surprise as the distillery is the designated home of Chivas. Indeed, the visitor centre is far more of a shrine to Chivas Regal than it is to Strathisla itself—not surprising considering the distillery’s very low visibility among the general populace. It does have an attractive clubby feel with lots of wood and leather and a nice bar that has whiskies from across the group’s portfolio, but 9.30 am on a Sunday is not really the best time to take advantage of that. The people at the visitor centre were lovely, however—which is something that I have found to be the case at every distillery I’ve visited in Scotland (though someone at the Glenfiddich cafe barked at one of our friends for no good reason later in the day—and heard from her in the process).
They had two distillery exclusives while we were there. One was a 26 yo—rather tasty but £145 for 500 ml; the other was a 15 yo—much more reasonable at £65 for 700 ml but a bit too woody for my taste. I know what they taste like because the staff offered me pours; and gave me generous amounts so I could chase down the whisky drinker among our friends and see if he wanted to buy either. Disappointingly, they did not have any of the 500 ml Cask Strength Edition bottles from the Chivas Bros. distilleries for sale. This was the case at Aberlour and Scapa as well. I have no idea what the status of that series is.
Anyway, here are a lot of pictures of uncertain quality of the exterior of the distillery and the interior of the visitor centre. Take a look and scroll down to see what’s coming next.
Well, Strathisla is an attractive enough distillery—though as you’ve probably noted above, the most attractive bits are the parts that are visible from the road. Unless you’re a big fan of Chivas Regal I’m not sure it’s a necessary stop in the Speyside—certainly not if you’re there for just a few days. That said, I have no idea what their tour is like. If you’ve taken it, please write in below.
Up next from the Speyside: a look at an altogether larger and more famous distillery.