Getting into the spirit of a summer staycation up north

Trumpy, Molly Bruce and Alfie do not fit the typical profile of a tour guide walking us around the stills of the Knockdhu distillery.

For the majority of our trip, they loaf around on the cool metal floor, occasionally getting up to sniff passing guests and yawning loudly in the cool afternoon sun.

The pups are the star attraction at the Moray-based whisky maker, but it is very much a case of come for the dog, stay for the dram.

Knockdhu was one of two distilleries we visited to get into the spirit of a summer staycation, avoiding the airport chaos and embracing the best that Scotland has to offer.

Opened in 1894, the traditional pagoda producing its AnCnoc whisky spouts from the centre of a cluster of stone buildings.

The warm, hoppy smell that greets us is a stirring welcome following a two-hour drive from Inverness and we are greeted by distillery manager Gordon to show us the process of creating the popular dram.

The most noticeable aspect early on is just how quiet it is. Whisky tours are usually bustling affairs that motor on to the finish, but Gordon explains, unlike their more popular Speyside cousins, tours here are limited to offer guests a more intimate experience.

All the water that is extracted from the nearby Knock Spring is now used at least seven times to reduce waste.

The pups led the way up a narrow staircase to a viewing platform that looked down to the huge copper stills, we even got a look inside one that was filled with a yeasty mixture bubbling away before being led out to the vast warehouse where hundreds of barrels are left in darkness to age.

When we came out of the warehouse several barrels were being filled with a huge orange tube, in a usual distillery I would expect to be told to stand back but here I was invited to fill a barrel and even write my name on it before it gets put away for 12 years.

We finished the tour with a tasting of the 12-year, the 18-year and the sherry cask finish which all offered different varieties of warm and subtle smokey notes.

The sherry cask was my favourite as once you added a drop of water it opened up to a spicy yet smooth delight. You can find out more and book to visit Knockdu the hidden distillery here.

Next up we headed to the Balmenach Distillery, which is home of Caorunn Gin in Grantown on Spey. Although I enjoy the occasional G&T I have never been to a gin distillery before and eagerly anticipated what was in store.

The site is absolutely beautiful and very on-brand with a huge garden to welcome visitors onsite brimming with the plants that provide the botanicals that go into Caorunn.

Caorunn is a London dry gin that is traditionally served with red apple. It launched in 2009 and was one of the first whisky distilleries to make gin. Out of the 11 botanicals that make up the gin five are Celtic botanicals, one being Rowanberry which is Caorunn in Gaelic.

These botanicals are a lovely Scottish twist that makes the gin unique, that and the Berry chamber used to make perfume in America in the 1920s but has been repurposed for the distilling process.

The distilling warehouse was a lot smaller than a whisky one and had several bronze chambers with trays filled with botanicals. This is where the nosing session took place, on the table there were all eleven ingredients to smell and then attempt to trace from the gin.

Being a chronic hayfever sufferer I can’t say I got very much correct but it was really nice to smell the Bogmurtle, sweet heather and Macedonian Juniper.

The room is complete with a stunning black and red mural sprawled across the white-painted walls which shows the whole process.

Unlike Knockdhu, the Balmenach Distillery is well-versed to visitors from all over the world and has a plush tasting area where you will be transported to a magical mixologist workshop with a huge selection of mixers from local companies to try the countless flavour combinations that each highlight a unique flavour in the gin.

Between both distilleries is an hour's drive through the picturesque Scottish countryside with many more boozy spots that make up Scotland’s spirit industry along the way.

If you are looking for something different this summer that champions some of the best-hidden gems Scotland has to offer, planning a trip around Knockdu and Balmenach Distillery is a great place to start.

Prices for tours start at £15 and include a Tutored deconstructed nosing and tasting session a neat sample of Caorunn. And a Caorunn and tonic in the both.

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Knockdhu Distillery 1 Knockdhu Cottages, Knock, Huntly AB54 7LJ Phone: 01466 771223 https://www.ancnoc.com/

Balmenach Distillery Cromdale, Grantown-on-Spey PH26 3PF Phone: 01479 874933 https://www.caorunngin.com/distillery-tours