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The Scotch Whisky Experience

from Edinburgh, Scotland

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ABOVE: The Whisky Barrel Ride. INSET BELOW: The Scotch Whisky Experience entrance on the Royal Mile, the Blender's Ghost, tasting malt whiskies in the Amber Bar, and the Shop with its 270 whiskies.

photoMalt whisky is Scotland's national beverage. No one knows when or how it was invented, though Carol P. Shaw--author of Collins Gem: Whisky--suggests that whisky's distillation may have evolved "simply as a means of using up barley which would otherwise have been ruined after a wet harvest." If she's correct, we can thank Scotland's wet weather for uisge beatha, the Gaelic name for acqua vitae or the "water of life."

For those of us who regard Scottish malt with the same affection that the French feel toward wine or the Germans give to beer, The Scotch Whisky Experience (a.k.a. the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre) in Edinburgh is no less a place of pilgrimage than the wine caves of Beaune or the beer halls of Munich. (Mind you, it's equally geared to tourists, but don't let that force you into abstinence.)

The Whisky Tour

The centerpiece of The Scotch Whisky Experience is The Whisky Tour, which underwent a 3 million refurbishment in 2009 and provides a Disneyesque introduction to Scotland's favorite spirit.

Here's an official description of what comes next on the new, expanded tour:

"Take a barrel ride as you actually become part of the whisky-making process. Journey through gently-swaying fields of barley and on to the warmth of the Malt Kiln with its lingering smell of burning peat.Take great care to avoid being ground through the Malt Mill before being spun and mashed in the Mash Tun. Then it's off to the turbulent wooden Washback with the sound of the sloshing Wash before the steaming and bubbling Pot Still. Breathe in the restful smell of the Oak Casks and the process slows down to the tick-tock of the passing years of maturation. You may spot one of our mischievous angels taking their 'share' before the journey ends."

After the barrel ride, you'll learn more about Scotland's diverse whisky regions, you'll have a chance to discover which aromas and flavors appeal to you, and you'll be shown a vault with the Diageo Claive Vidiz Scotch Whisky Collection: the largest collection of Scotch whiskies in the world. Here, you can enjoy a "special tutored nosing and tasting of your dram."

If your knowledge of Scotch whisky is limited, The Whisky Tour is a good if slightly corny introduction to the history, art, and science of Hibernian spirits. However, if you're already an aficionado or you've toured a distillery, you may want to save your money for a tasting session in the bar.

Amber Restaurant and Bar

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At the end of the Whisky Tour, you're invited to visit the Amber Bar, where you can choose from more than 300 blended and single-malt whiskies, Scotch Whisky liqueurs, and cocktails.

For example, you might try Glenmorangie from the Highlands (Scotland's best-selling single malt), Highland Park from Orkney (with its hints of salt air and heather peat), a dram of smoky Laphroig from the Isle of Islay, or The Famous Grouse (Scotland's most popular blended whisky). Better yet, share glasses of several different spirits with a friend, adding no ice and just a splash of water to bring out the whisky's flavor. (Don't forget to say "Slainte!", the local equivalent of "Cheers!".) If you're worried about tasting whisky on an empty stomach, you can prepare yourself with a meal in the adjacent restaurant.

The Shop

photoThe Scotch Whisky Experience also has a shop where you'll find a large selection of whiskies and Scottish gifts. Like the restaurant and bar, the shop is open to anyone--not just to those who have taken the tour.

Where to find it: The Scotch Experience is at the top of the Royal Mile, just below Edinburgh Castle.

When to come: The Scotch Whisky Experience is open every day of the year except Christmas. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from September to May and 9:30 to 6:30 in June, July, and August. (The last tour starts one hour before closing time.)

For more information, including tour prices, visit www.whisky-heritage.co.uk.


Related articles:
Scotch Whisky Distilleries
Highland Park Whisky

More about Edinburgh:
Edinburgh home page at Europe for Visitors

Interior photos copyright © The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre.

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