"The proper drinking of whisky is more than indulgence; it is a toast to a civilisation, a tribute to the continuity of culture, a manifesto of man's determination to use the resources of nature to refresh mind and body and enjoy to the full the senses with which he has been endowed.
Where whisky was first produced, or by whom, is an age-old question that history struggles to answer. Yet in fiercely proud Scotland, a country with around 100 independent distilleries, the question feels a little moot. Indeed, few things feel more Scottish, than a wee dram of single malt on a cool night in the Highlands.
And for those of you planning on discovering a little more of the region via the North Coast 500, it may surprise you to learn that it is not only whisky that you will find being produced amongst the hills and the heather.
In the last decade, there has been quite a renaissance in the north of the country, with a number of young companies bringing alternative distilling and brewing techniques, new flavours, and new spirits into the fold, complementing centuries old whisky institutions and reviving the gin business.
Here are a selection of excellent distilleries you can visit whilst driving the NC500 circuit, plus a few suggestions for those of you who prefer beer to the hard stuff.
Of course, please drink responsibly and, if you're the designated driver on the route, we'd advise wholly against partaking in the tastings. More information on responsible driving in Scotland can be found here at DrinkAware.
Dunnet Bay Distillery
Since they launched two years ago, the local husband and wife team behind Dunnet Bay Distillery have enjoyed incredible success. Their Rock Rose Gin has quickly become one of Scotland's most sought after tipples, whilst their Holy Grass vodka is making waves.
The lovely thing about this distillery is that it is still a local, hands-on operation, with most of the processes being done on site and the ingredients sourced from the surrounding hills, fields and cliffs of Dunnet. Each ingredient tells a story and has a connection to Caithness' history and, we have to say, it is lovely lovely gin.
Tours: Wednesdays & Fridays at 3 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m.and 1 p.m. Booking in advance is recommended.
Price: £6 per adult for a standard one hour tour, no charge for under-18s.
Booking and enquiries: Message firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01847 851 287. If you can't make it for a tour, you can still drop by and visit their small shop from Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Saturdays 10.30 a.m. - 2.30 p.m. Check out their website for more information here.
Address: Dunnet Bay Distillery, Dunnet, Thurso, Caithness, KW14 8XD
Just outside the small town of Tain, you can find one of the most well-known whisky brands in the world.
Glenmorangie (pronounced like the colour orange) was established in 1843 and lays claim to the tallest stills in Scotland. This is probably the distillery on this list which sees by far and away the most visitor traffic, but it's still a very worthwhile stop on your NC500 route to learn about the whisky-making process.
Tours: Open seven days a week in the peak summer period, with tours leaving every half hour from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. It's a good idea to reserve ahead if you have a tight schedule or are a large group.
Price: £7 per person for a standard one hour tour and tasting.
Booking and enquiries: See their website for tour booking information and low season schedules.
Address: Glenmorangie Distillery, Tain, Ross-shire, IV19 1PZ
Dalmore's iconic bottle design, with the silver 12-point stag's head, is a thing of beauty - and their whisky ain't half bad either. Overlooking the Cromarty Firth, the distillery has been established here since 1839.
Tours: Available upon request by e-mail with at least 24 hours notice required. Open from Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. (April to September); Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. (October to March)
Price: £8 per person for a standard one hour tour. Children under 8 are not permitted in the distillery.
Booking and enquiries: Visit their website to submit a tour request.
Address: Dalmore, Alness, Highlands and Islands IV17 OUT
The town of Wick was dry for around twenty years in the 1900s. Thankfully, some wise folk removed the ban and the beautiful whisky of Old Pulteney distillery could begin to flow freely again. Their 21-year old was voted World Whisky of the Year in 2012!
Tours: Leave at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., or by prior arrangement from Monday to Saturday (May - September) or Monday to Friday (October - April).
Price: £7 per person for a standard one hour tour and tasting.
Booking and enquiries: See their website.
Address: Pulteney Distillery, Huddart Street, Wick, Caithness, KW1 5BA
'Sweet, malty and dry on the palate', Glen Ord is the first distillery you'll encounter if you are starting the NC500 by heading towards Applecross.
Tours: Open from Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. (March to October) and until 6 p.m from Monday to Friday in July & August - visit their website to view non-peak opening times
Price: £6 per person for a standard one hour tour and tasting.
Booking and enquiries: Message email@example.com, call 01463 872004 or visit the website here.
Address: Glen Ord Distillery, Muir of Ord, Ross-shire, IV6 7UJ
Established in 1790, Balblair distillery requires a little diversion off the prescribed NC500 route once you cross the bridge over the Dornoch Bridge, however it is well worth a visit.
Tours: Tours operate Monday - Friday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Booking in advance is recommended and each tour is limited to 10 people.
Price: £7 per person for a standard tour and tasting - other tours are available.
Booking and enquiries: Call 01862 821273 to arrange and book your tour and visit their website for further information on tour options.
Address: Edderton, Tain, Ross-Shire, IV19 1LB
And one more for the road...
This list would also be incomplete without a shout-out to the Dornoch Castle Hotel Whisky bar.
Whisky enthusiasts will adore a stop off here - we've never visited a bar quite like it actually! Highly regarded internationally and selected as Scotland's Whisky Bar of the Year in 2014, it is has a large and eclectic array of whiskies on offer and it's run by brothers who are clearly very passionate and knowledgable about the subject. They are also currently in the process of creating their own crowd-funded distillery within the hotel grounds.
Address: Castle Street, Dornoch, Sutherland, IV253SD
Don't like whisky or gin? Don't worry!
If you aren't a fan of whisky or gin, then there are two excellent beer breweries which you can stop off at on the North Coast 500.
The Black Isle Brewery
Creating brilliant fresh organic craft beer and ales 'home-grown in the Highlands' since 1998. Short brewery tours are available throughout the year and give you the chance to chat with Black Isle's brewers and bottlers.
Tours: Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. (all year) and Sundays from 11a.m. - 6 p.m (Easter to September only)
Price: Free, but tours only last 15 minutes.
Booking and enquiries: Call 01463 811 871 or contact them via their website, however no advance booking is required for groups of under 10 people.
Address: Black Isle Brewing Company, Black Isle, IV8 8NZ, United Kingdom
Cromarty Brewing Company
When we entered Caithness, we noted that this started to be the offering on tap in most of the pubs and it was the first time either of us had heard of it. And it's excellent! Started in 2011, this is a small family-run brewery with a big future.
Tours: Every Saturday starting at 11 a.m., lasting approximately 30 minutes, with a tasting session at the end. Tours outwith this time may be available if agreed in advance.
Price: £5 per person
Booking and enquiries: Message firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website.
Address: The Cromarty Brewing Company, Davidston,Cromarty, IV11 8XD