No trip to Scotland’s capital would be complete without some extensive sampling of the nation’s favourite tipple. Chris Osburn heads over to The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh for some shots, with a dash of circus.
The king o’ drinks as I conceive it,
Talisker, Isla or Glenlivet
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Scotsman’s Return from Abroad, 1880
So wrote the famed Scottish novelist upon his return from living in America, where apparently he had a rough go feeling at home and absolutely could not stand the taste of Bourbon and longed for the strong stuff of his native Scotland. Whether you’re a fan of Stateside whiskey or not you certainly can’t blame Mr. Stevenson for feeling down in the dumps about living without access to his beloved Scotch.If he were alive today, Robert might have found the States more agreeable – you can buy quality Scotch in even the most po dunk of places, and travel to and from Scotland is but a not-terribly-long haul flight away. However, what might he have thought of his hometown of Edinburgh where shops selling Jimmy hats and faux kilts line the streets and tourists from around the world flock to “experience” his beloved Scotch at an American-style attraction that’s as kitsch as it is informative?
Located within the terribly touristic (if still incredibly scenic and evocative) Royal Mile is The Scotch Whisky Experience, offering a “sensational journey” taking folks through the “magical craft” of whisky making. Mere steps from the entrance to Edinburgh Castle and amidst too many souvenir shops, a gauntlet of street performers and a dense concentration of hotels and restaurants, a bit of inevitable cheese accompanies the experience.
Good ole Robert Louis may very well have been appalled. But for those uninitiated to the world of Scotch, a visit to Edinburgh’s Scotch Whisky Experience offers a thorough and well rounded introduction to Scotland’s most famous export along with plenty of tips for making the most of any wee dram.The tour’s start is more than a little silly. Upon entry, visitors “take a swirling, bubbling barrel ride through a replica distillery” in fibreglass “barrel” on a track and “become part of the whisky making process”. In fairness though, the ride does provide a very accessible and memorable trip into the world of whisky production. Quirky facts, historic happenings and the essential points of distillation explained in layman’s terms make the tour worth its albeit cringe-worthy first half.
And of course afterwards the barrel riders are rewarded for their endurance with some actual whisky. A tasting session taking you through the characteristics of single malts from the different whisky producing regions of Scotland is conducted, followed by another tasting of your preferred Scotch based upon what you liked best in the tasting. Judging from Mr Stevenson’s quote above, he’d have been one for the smokier, more peaty stuff. But for those wanting something more mellow, floral or light, there’s a Scotch for you too. The tour’s final quaff takes place in the Diageo Claive Vidiz Scotch Whisky Collection room where the world’s largest collection of bottled whiskies (more than 3000) are on gorgeous display and frankly worth a visit alone.To extend your experience, you can book the gold package which yields four more complimentary single malts to sample at SWE’s cozy bar. A cut above that, the platinum tour adds a guided nosing and tasting of two contrasting Single Malt Whiskies followed by an extended viewing of the Vidiz collection and a taste of an exclusive 21 year old Scotch Whisky to finish.
The Experience’s touristy setting means the Scotch Whisky Experience couldn’t be more convenient or easier to find. Booking your tour ahead of time is advisable but walk-ins are welcome. A post-castle visit or pre-dinner tipple (some of Edinburgh’s most renowned restaurants are well within walking distance) might be the best times to check out this attraction. There’s a well stocked shop (10% discounts with your tour ticket), an informative staff, a cafe and restaurant are all on site. And if the kitsch factor proves to be just too much for your liking, maybe you can just settle in back at one of Edinburgh’s cosy bars for a nightcap or two. And should anyone in your company make the mistake of ordering Malibu, you can always invoke Stevenson once more:
I have only one thing to say to you, sir … if you keep on drinking rum, the world will soon be quit of a very dirty scoundrel!
RLS, Treasure Island.
Chris Osburn was a guest at the Scotch Whisky Experience. More info here: www.scotchwhiskyexperience.co.uk
Edinburgh’s Whisky Bars
WHISKI Bar & Restaurant
With 300 distillations to imbibe, and nearly as many awards for their services to the world of whisky, this place is your numero uno point of call for a spot of sampling. Those that refuse to get into the spirit of things can order Scottish craft beers or from the modern gastro menu.
119 High Street, The Royal Mile
A typical Scottish pub (check out those Tartan walls), the Albanach stocks over 100 varieties of whisky ranging from 3-30 quid for a nip. The knowledgeable staff are up for a chinwag and will help you make a selection. Fill up on mashed potatoe with whisky sauce!
197 High Street, Royal Mile
The Bow Bar
A great little bar that benefits from being off the Royal Mile, tucked away on West Bow street. 200 varieties of the good stuff, including not just the big brands but independent bottlers and single cask Scotch.
80 West Bow
Whisky Distilleries in/around Edinburgh
Most of Scotland’s most famous distilleries are up in the highlands, making Glenkinchie, in East Lothian, the best option for most day trippers from Edinburgh. For 6 GBP you can tour the beautiful red-brick premises and then retire to the bar for a taste of this single malt, with a warm finish and a smoky spiciness. You can take the 44b ‘First bus’ to Pencaitland from Edinburgh city centre, then navigate a two mile walk – or take a taxi. Or alternatively taxi it all the way, as it’s just 19 miles away from Edinburgh. Call 01875 342012 for more info.