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Distilleries in the Scottish Highlands

Scotland, Europe: The Ardbeg distillery on the Isle of Islay's insider take:

While they vary greatly in taste, the essential processes of making Scotch whisky don't differ from one distillery to the next. Each malt whisky producer may boast different-shaped stills, their own coopers, or even geese that act as guard dogs, but the heart of the operation will still revolve around milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling, and maturing. This means that one, possibly two distillery visits are enough for all but the most dedicated Scotch lover.

Thanks to its flower displays and pagoda-style chimneys, Glenfiddich is one of the more postcard-friendly operations, and its distillery tour and visitor center are surprisingly in-depth. The standard tour and sample is free, but for £20 ($40) there is a more comprehensive tour and tutored tasting of several expressions of the global Glenfiddich brand (Dufftown; 44-1340-820-373).

The colorful Major Grant was the driving force behind the early years of Glen Grant whisky. The distillery that bears his name distinctly lacks the swashbuckling romance of its founder, but is worth visiting for the Victorian gardens alone (Rothes; 44-1340-832-103).

An altogether more romantic experience is on offer within the whitewashed walls of Benromach Distillery, the smallest working distillery in Speyside. It's a tiny player compared to the Glenlivets and Glenfiddichs of the whisky world, but its tour feels more personal and you are more likely to leave thinking of whisky as a handcrafted product (Invererne Rd., Forres; 44-1309-675-968). The same could be said of the smallest distillery in all of Scotland, the privately owned boutique operation at Edradour, which makes in a year what the big boys produce in a week (by Moulin; 44-1796-472-095).

Fans of smoky, peaty whiskey should make the pilgrmage to Islay, where eight different distilleries dot the island. A good pub argument can be started by asking which is best. Ardbeg, pictured, is a strong contender, not just for its briny complexity but also for its craggy coastal location (Port Ellen, Islay; 44-1496-302-244).

While in the Speyside area, whisky aficionados should try the Quaich Bar at the Craigellachie Hotel. The walls are lined with hundreds of bottles of whisky from £2 ($4) a shot to a 35-year-old Springbank that sells at £155 (more than $300) a measure.

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