When asking people what they consider typically Scottish, you usually get three things: kilts, bagpipes and whisky. Among international students, the latter one is without doubt the most popular of the three. While we do not know of any available whisky-specific study programmes (yet!), there is nothing that should stop you from extracurricular efforts of becoming a Master of Whisky while you study in Scotland. Our little guide starts in the South, in Scotland’s Lowlands region, and works its way up North:
Sadly, there are only two distilleries still in operation in Scotland’s largest city. The by far older and larger one is the Strathclyde distillery. It specialises in grain whisky (as opposed to malt whisky), which is typical for the Lowlands region. What is also typical is that the whisky is not bottled, but usually serves as the basis for other blended whiskies. As a contrast, the newly founded Glasgow Distillery Co. recently introduced a single malt whisky, thus bringing more variety to the city.
There is only one distillery in Edinburgh, North British, far away from the University of Edinburgh campus, but reasonably close to Edinburgh Napier University. North British (or “NB”) also specialises in grain whisky, and again it is almost exclusively used for other blended whisky brands. If you are eager to make a 30-minute trip out of town, you can do a tour at Glenkinchie, whose 12-year-old whisky is known for its fresh and light character and its notes of citrus and freshly cut grass. Otherwise, distilleries are few and far between in the Lowlands region.
Stirling, home to the University of Stirling, is often described as the geographical heart of Scotland. Its student population stands at roughly 25%, making it a popular destination for international students seeking that young, small town atmosphere. The closest distilleries are Deanston, whose 12-year-old is popular for its fruity notes with hints of honey; and Tullibardine, whose three French Finish series are popular for unusual creamy tastes.
Dundee and St Andrews, located about 20 kilometers away from each other, are typical student cities. Dundee has a student population of solid 15% with its two universities, while in St Andrews - home to the third-oldest university in the English-speaking world after Oxford and Cambridge -, a whopping 40% of the citizens are students. Distilleries, however, are found only far away. The closest one is Daftmill, a relatively new producer which claims to be Scotland’s smallest malt whisky distillery.
Aberdeen is home to the University of Aberdeen and the Robert Gordon University - but not to a single distillery. The closest one is Glen Garioch, some 30 kilometers to the Northwest. It was founded in 1797, making it one of the oldest operating whisky distilleries in Scotland. Its trademark 12-year-old single malt is known for its fruity, slightly smoky taste, accompanied by a note of oak.
There used to be three distilleries directly in and around Inverness, home to the main campus of the University of the Highlands and Islands. Unfortunately, all three of those are now defunct. But you do not have to travel far: With Glen Ord, Royal Brackla and Tomatin you have three great places in reasonable distance. Not to mention the wealth of whiskies produced in the nearby Moray and Speyside regions, considered the birthplace of whisky: from small, intimate distilleries to world-famous brands such as Balvenie or Glenfiddich, there are dozens of producers within a 20 kilometer radius around the small town of Elgin.
Scottish whiskies are commonly named after the places where they are distilled; and naturally, those places’ names are given in Scottish Gaelic or Doric. That means that their pronunciation is not always easy or obvious. A while back, Scottish actor Brian Cox starred in a range of short videos helping to solve that issue:
If you want to learn more about distilleries in Scotland, including those far away from Scotland’s universities, check out this map by Malt Madness: https://www.maltmadness.com/whisky/map/Scotland/