In this interview, I chat with Brett Wells who runs Whisky Trails in Scotland. Whisky Trails is a specialised provider of personalised Whisky Distillery Experiences across Scotland. From their base in Inverness-shire in the Highlands, they provide private small group customised tours to all Scottish Distilleries with a particular focus on Speyside and Highland Distilleries.
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Q. Tell me what Whisky Trails does?
A. In a nutshell, we provide complete custom whisky tours to small groups of people (typically six or fewer) and use our contacts and knowledge to provide a unique experience (based on input from the guests).
We describe our tours as fully flexible and one memorable (and extreme) example was of a customer that purchased our “Big Three Speyside Trail” (Macallan, Glenfiddich and Glenlivet). On pickup told me that he a brewer in Eastern Europe and wanted to have a deep dive into whisky distilling over the course of the next eight hours together. I used my contacts to take us to a smaller distillery that could provide a 1:1 tour and answer his specific questions, followed by a trip to the Speyside Cooperage where he also got a 1:1 discussion on the art of the Cooper. Not what he booked but he saw the words “fully flexible” and that was enough for him (and us).
Q. What are the 3 most beautiful distilleries to visit in Scotland?
A. I am biased as I live in the Speyside Area and think we have some fantastic distilleries here. Visiting The Macallan is like no other, a modern day architectural marvel and a cathedral to whisky. I also love to visit Ballindalloch Distillery as it provides a real contrast to the modernity of the Macallan. Tormore is a stunning looking distillery right at the start of the Malt Whisky Trail; this is usually only open to visitors during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival which takes place during April but had to be cancelled this year for obvious reasons.
Q. Have you discovered any fantastic distillery only bottles that really blew you away?
A. Sadly I don’t often get the chance to indulge as I am usually driving the following day. One that does stand out though was a bottle of 21 year old Caperdonich Single Cask Edition. I think in part there was a certain romance to the idea that this came from a single cask from a distillery that no longer exists as it has been demolished.
Q. What could distilleries do to enhance the visitor experience?
A. On the whole I think the Distilleries have got this pretty well nailed down. In general, they provide a great experience at a sensible price point for the whisky curious, and also offer a complete experience for the whisky connoisseur.
Q. When is the best time of year to visit (when coronavirus had gone)?
A. I love the spring as life starts to burst forth across the Highlands and the drive to and between the Distilleries is almost as spectacular as the tours themselves, but I also love the lead up to Christmas where the distilleries get decorated for the festivities and some have special events to celebrate the season.
Q. How many days in each region should someone allow to visit it properly?
A. It really depends on the region. Some, like Speyside, have a large concentration of distilleries in a relatively compact area, others like the Highland region are far more spread apart. Personally, I prefer the #slowliving approach. At Whisky Trails I tend to recommend two or three distilleries in a day as a maximum. This allows for a relaxed pace and the opportunity to really take in the atmosphere at the individual distillery and find out what makes them special. Having a good lunch is critical to the day out and in Speyside we are spoilt for choice when it comes to whisky focused restaurants.
Q. Which bar has the best prices for quality whisky?
A. For many, the cost of the whisky is secondary to the opportunity to sample something that they simply cannot get anywhere. You can’t put a price on that.
Q. Tell me a funny story about a tour group?
A. I’ve met some amazing people during the course of my tours. One that stands out was a Veteran US Navy Fighter Pilot who was visiting Scotland with his wife. He regaled me with tales of life on an aircraft carrier during his time as a pilot whilst sailing the seven seas. When asked whether I had had someone like him on one of my tours before, I had to say “No, I seem to get a lot of lawyers, so it makes a nice change to have a Navy Vet”. At this point his wife burst out laughing and said, “Honey, tell him what you did after you left the Navy!”. Yes, he had been a lawyer for the past fourty years!
Q. What is the best and worst question you have been asked?
A. I’m going to rephrase this one – “What is the strangest question that you have been asked?”
At many of the Distilleries you will see a Heilan Coo (Highland Cow) or two. One guy asked me why the cows were brown!