How 15 Scotch Whiskies Got Their Names
Ever wonder how some of Scotland's most famous distilleries got their names? Pour yourself a dram and learn about the origins of your favorite whisky.
Founded in 1816 on the island of Islay, Lagavulin was originally part of two distilleries constructed by John Jonston and Archibald Campbell. One distillery closed, and Lagavulin took over its buildings. The name comes from the Gaelic Lag a’ Mhuilinn, meaning “hollow of the mill.” Prior to the early 19th century, the area was home to countless illicit whisky moonshiners and other nefarious characters.
Lagavulin's fellow resident of the Isle of Islay gets its name from the Loch (or lake) Laphroaig that can be found on the southern coast of the island. It’s assumed that the name originally came from the Gaelic Lag Bhròdhaig, or the “hollow of broad bay.”
As the maker of one of the top-selling whiskies in the world, Macallan is a household name for whisky enthusiasts. Its name is likely derived from the Gaelic magh, which translates to “fertile ground,” and ellan, which is a reference to an Irish-born monk named St. Fillan who spent time in Scotland spreading Christianity in the eighth century.
Located in Moray, Scotland, Glenlivet is usually neck and neck with Glenfiddich in the race for the most popular single malt Scotch whisky in the world. It’s currently listed as the second most purchased Scotch with a production of over eight million liters per year. Its name comes from the Gaelic liobh ait, which which means “smooth flowing one” in reference to the river that flows through the glen.
This distillery in the Highlands near the Dornach Firth is home to the tallest stills in Scotland. Its name comes from Gaelic Mòr na Sìth, which the company translates to “glen of tranquility.” It's easy to see why the company got this name if you visit the Glenmorangie House and bask in the majestic seaside views. This translation has proven to be a bit controversial—in 2003 the company won a victory over a formal advertising complaint from a citizen who claimed the translation was incorrect and misrepresented the Gaelic language.
Located on the Rhinns on Islay, Bruichladdich is one of the most innovative distilleries in Scotland. They are known for their octomore (super heavy peated) offerings and recently created a whisky using an ancient Viking grain. The name is Gaelic for “stony shore bank,” a reference to the rocky beaches that surround the distillery. The distillery has an even more detailed translation of the name on its website.
7. Royal Brackla
Referred to as “the King’s own whisky,” Royal Brackla was the first ever distillery to be granted a Royal Warrant when King William IV bestowed the honor upon the distillery in 1835. This distinction is where the “Royal” part of the name came from. The “Brackla” portion is, like the distillery itself, something of a mystery.
The most popular single malt whisky in the world, Glenfiddich is located near Craigellachie and Mortlach in Dufftown, Moray, Scotland. Its name means “valley of the deer” in Gaelic, which explains why all bottles of Glenfiddich are adorned with the iconic stag logo.
9. Famous Grouse
One of the most popular blended Scotch whiskies in the world, the Famous Grouse was introduced in 1896. Its creator, Perthshire grocer Matthew Gloag, named his blend after the red grouse, Scotland’s most popular game bird.
Oban, the distillery where Nick Offerman once made a music video, was constructed in 1994 along the rock-filled harbor of the same name. Because of its location, it has characteristics of both the Highland and Island whiskies.
The “Bad Boy of Speyside,” Craigellachie is one of only a handful of distilleries that still utilizes a worm tub, a coiled copper tube attached to the arm of a pot still, which sits inside the vat of cold water used to condense alcohol vapor back into liquid. In Gaelic, it means “rocky hill,” a reference to a famous cliff that overlooks the spey.
Located in Dufftown, Moray, Scotland, Mortlach was established in 1823. The distillery shares its name with the original name of the town. In the 19th century, James Duff, the Earl Fife, changed the town name from Mortlach to Dufftown for his family name. The distillery was named to pay homage to the history of the region.
One of the eight distilleries on the tiny Isle of Islay, Ardbeg is famous for sending its whisky into space to test the effects of gravity on maturation. This heavily peated whisky gets its name from the Gaelic Àirde Beaga, which translates to “little height.”
14. Highland Park
Founded by bootlegger Magnus Eunson, Highland Park is the northernmost distillery in Scotland. Eunson, a church official, was renowned for his forays into the world of illicit whisky before switching to the legal route. The distillery’s name comes from High Park, the elevated area on which it sits.
The only distillery on the Isle of Skye, Talisker is situated in the middle of territory historically home to Clan Macleod. It was founded in 1831 and gets its name from the nearby Talisker House that was the home of the son of the Macleod Clan Chief.