When in Scotland you do the Scotch whisky, right? For whisky 101ers that means blended or single malt Scotch whisky – not rum or bourbon or rye or any other whisky (or whiskey) you can think of that is made in any other way in any other country. Yes, you can call them all whiskey, but only blended or single malt made in Scotland is to be called Scotch whisky. Though at press time there are some distilleries, in Japan and the U.S. I think, that are fighting to use the spelling whisky over whiskey. But, I digress. Let me get to the point.
We were in Scotland for a little over a week. We started in Edinburgh and had a three-day trip planned to tour distilleries in the Highlands and Speyside, two well known whisky making areas.
But, again I digress. The best way to start you own whisky journey in Edinburgh is at The Scotch Whisky Experience, a beautifully architected building at the base of the infamous Edinburgh Castle and at the top of the Royal Mile.
Why start here? Because you will feel – and be – a lot more educated in every pub, bar and liquor store in Scotland (and anywhere else you shop for whisky) if you know a little about what you like and don’t like in a whisky.
So, not to digress again, lets get started. Make a reservation for your one-hour trip – or longer if you want to linger over a dram, aka ounce, or two. It begins with an amusement park ride with a ghost narrator giving you a wee lesson in how whisky is made, then you get to view a large panoramic film experience that will give you a lay of the different whisky-producing areas and what their each distinctive shaped still pots and water source gives to the whisky – and a real yearning to visit.
Next we learned how a blended whisky starts with grain alcohol and the master distiller then selects different single malt whiskies from different areas to create the perfect blend.
There was a moment, a hesitation, when those single malt fans, like myself, paused and thought, heck that master distiller is doing an incredible job. We need to give blends more credit! Single malt Scotch whisky wasn’t as popular as Irish whiskey until the master distillers created blends.
Then comes an easily understandable interactive lesson about the different aroma profiles of each area: Highland, Speyside, Lowland, Islay and Campbeltown. We were getting a true “sense of Scotland.” And we’re not done. Based on the different aromas explained, each guest is given a scratch n’ sniff card to match with the corresponding aromas – from nuts to dried fruit to spice to cigar and so on. Learning about the specific aroma profiles and then immediately scratching the corresponding spot on the card made it an easy lesson for all to grasp.
Based on what you liked in those aromas you are then prompted to select the type of whisky that would appeal to you. Then your guide (we had the awesome Heather that has been with them 12 years and writes a fine blog on their website too) will pour your taste. But then…
…you are invited into the final mind blowing room. The largest collection of whisky in the world. Tips on how to smell, taste and evaluate your dram while in the center of this room is a killer experience. As we sampled our whisky, the group – after having been on a ride and in three different rooms – quieted. While the collection may have begun with a private donation of five bottles, we learned, it now was unparalleled in existence. I asked about the oldest bottles and discovered two: from 1897 and 1904. The amount of evaporation in one amounted to at least one third of the bottle, and it had never been opened.
We learned that some of our takeaways were exactly what the creators of The Whisky Experience were looking for: more respect for blended whisky, appreciation of the different whisky-producing areas – the experience is meant to “springboard” consumers into distillery visitors – and finally, to learn and enjoy from private tastings. One last thing they have for us and another reason to return: a training school.
We ended our tour with a visit through another tasting area, more like a bar with whisky flights and/or by the dram purchases, rare bottles for purchase and a nice little gift shop. Now, we were more than ready for our three-day whisky tour. Except we still had trouble pronouncing the words “Slainte Mhath” that many say as they drink their drams!
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com