Scotch whisky, as far as this type of spirit goes, has a history stretching back centuries. The earliest recorded production of what would eventually evolve into Scotch, according to the Scotch Whisky Association, occurred in 1494. It makes sense, therefore, that some of the oldest distilleries in the world would exist in Scotland. When exactly they were established can be a little spotty, given the nature of record keeping in the late 1700s, but it is generally thought this was the period when these operations began to emerge.
What follows therefore are the five oldest Scotch distilleries on the books, with my reference for this list being the ever handy and well researched Malt Whisky Yearbook, edited by Ingvar Ronde. It should be noted these aren’t necessarily the oldest in most continual operation, as this portion of the global whisky business, like others, has weathered with mixed success the rise and fall and rise again in popularity of this brown spirit.
Glenturret (founded 1775)
What is considered to be Scotland’s oldest documented distillery is located in the Highland region. Glenturret is best known to Scotch drinkers worldwide as the “spiritual home” of the very popular Famous Grouse blended whisky. It did not come along, however, until after the distillery changed ownership in 1990, thus making it over two centuries where this distillery was involved in other expressions. Glenturret is situated on the banks of the Turret River and known for being one of the most picturesque in all of Scotland.
Bowmore (founded 1779)
The Bowmore distillery has proudly stood on the shores of Loch Indaal, a sea loch feeding into the Atlantic Ocean, since it first began distilling in 1779. It is perhaps the most well known distillery in Scotland’s Islay region, and certainly one of the most popular. It plays host to the “legendary” No. 1 Vaults, said to be the oldest whisky maturation house in all of Scotland. It would thus make sense one of the oldest ever recorded whiskies sold at auction was a Bowmore from sometime in the mid to late 1800s that fetched £29,400 (around $60,000 USD at the time) back in 2007.
Strathisla (founded 1786)
This distillery, operating out of Scotland’s famed Speyside region, is not only considered one of the oldest distilleries in this part of the world, but also the oldest continuously operating one. It is perhaps as well the most obscure of the five in this list, given its whisky is mostly used as part of the Chivas Regal blended Scotch line up. It, like Glenturret, is noted as being among the most picturesque, with little having changed here since its founding well over two hundred years ago, right down to the old cobbled courtyard and double pagodas on its rooftop.
Balblair (founded 1790)
Balblair is known as one of the only Scottish distilleries to put vintages (the year it was distilled) on the bottle. The facility itself, given its ancient age, is a quality vintage in of itself, despite the fact it was mothballed for nearly 40 years in the first half of the 1900s. It is noted for having “one of the oldest archives in distilling, with the first ledger entry dated 25 January 1800. John Ross himself penned that first entry, which read: ‘Sale to David Kirkcaldy at Ardmore, one gallon of whisky at £1.8.0d.'” Like Glenturret, Balblair resides in the Highland region.
Oban (founded 1794)
This distillery, situated on the west coast of Scotland, technically sits in the Highland region, but it is often described stylewise as “West Highland,” or something blending the typical profiles of the Scottish islands and the Highlands. Oban, owned by spirits giant Diageo, is one of the smallest distilleries in this part of the world, but because of its very large parent has an extremely high profile among Scotch drinkers. Its whisky has been promoted in the past as part of Diageo’s expensive “Special Releases” line up, thus commanding from whisky collectors a pretty penny to enjoy its bottlings.
Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and...