The Scotch Whisky Experience
from Edinburgh, Scotland
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.
Malt 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:
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
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 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.
Interior photos copyright © The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre.
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