Ayrshire & whisky


Caryn Robertson

Ayrshire, the home of Robert Burns and the inspiration for much of his poetry, was at the same time a bustling region for whisky smuggling.

On a clear day, from the Ayrshire coast we look out over the Firth of Clyde to Arran, as Robert Burns would have done so many times in his day (despite never visiting the island). Back then, the island harboured countless illicit stills. Much of the whisky made on Arran was smuggled across the firth to places like Dunure, Culzean and Ballantrae.

Burns himself even referred to Ayrshire as “a great smuggling coast” where he witnessed “scenes of swaggering riot”. His job as an exciseman was to prevent this illicit trade. However, as he was also a lover of a dram or two, he must have found it hard to be motivated in his work.

Nowadays, Ayrshire is home to several (legal!) distilleries and so what better way to celebrate Burns Night and our Ayrshire heritage than by enjoying a dram of local whisky?

Ailsa Bay Distillery

Inspired by the magnificent Ailsa Craig that sits off the Ayrshire coast, Ailsa Bay Distillery is a bit of a mystery to many. It is one of three distilleries located within the Grants facilities at Girvan. The other two are better known; Hendricks Gin Distillery and The Girvan Grain Distillery, which makes grain whisky mostly used in the Grants’ blends.

Ailsa Bay was built in 2007 on the site of a previous distillery called Ladyburn. The distillery is at the cutting edge of innovation and can produce a huge variety of styles of whisky all from the same set of stills. It takes a scientific approach to distillation and maturation, to push the boundaries of flavour, and balance the levels of sweetness and smokiness in its malt.

Please note Ailsa Bay Distillery is not open to visitors.


Isle of Arran

The Isle of Arran is home to two whisky distilleries; one in the north at Lochranza and the other in the south at Lagg. Reflecting the stark contrast in the island’s landscape, these two distilleries are making very different whiskies.

Plan your whisky adventure to Arran and visit both distilleries to learn more about their unique stories and the traditions and skills that go into making their malts. Both have award-winning visitor experiences with Lagg recently awarded Distillery of the Year 2023.

Lochranza Distillery

Arran’s Lochranza Distillery in the north began producing in 1995 making an un-peated style malt with a focus on purity and innovation.


Lagg Distillery

In contrast, the newer Lagg Distillery in the south was built in 2019 and focuses on producing a heavily peated style of whisky that harks back to the illicit stills of Arran’s past.


Lochlea Distillery

Lochlea is a family-owned farm distillery located in the heart of Ayrshire and was once home to Robert Burns. Farm buildings were converted into a distillery in 2018 and their first whisky was released to celebrate Burns Night in 2022.

Still a working farm, the land that Robert Burns once tended now grows all the barley needed to make their single malt whisky, while converted cattle sheds are used as warehousing to mature their casks of whisky.

Their close connection to Robert Burns has inspired their passion for making innovative whisky, while focusing on sustainability and a respect for the land.

Please note Lochlea Distillery is not open to visitors.


Clydeside Distillery

I’m taking the liberty to stretch over the regional boundaries to Glasgow to include the Clydeside Distillery. Opened in 2017, it is the first dedicated single malt distillery in the city for over 100 years. Located in the beautifully converted Pump House at the Queen’s Dock, this is where Scotch whisky once left on boats to make its journey to places all over the world.

The visitor experience includes the Dockside Story, where you learn about Glasgow’s impressive whisky heritage and a tour of the distillery itself allows you to experience the breath-taking views of the river Clyde from the still room, where they produce their classic Lowland style malt.