Edinburgh Whisky Tasting Experience
A man of impeccable taste (and an unquenchable thirst) StagWeb’s Chief Whisky Writer Chris McIntosh heads to Edinburgh to check out The Scotch Whisky Experience.
If you’re planning an Edinburgh Stag do and want to kick it off with a dram or two this tour is ideal. It’s essentially a one stop shop for a good whisky experience and brilliantly close to Edinburgh castle. You can literally go in, take the tour, have dinner, then buy a bottle from the shop to take away with you before heading off to enjoy the rest of your stay in Edinburgh. Let’s go have a look shall we…
Sitting right on the doorstep of Edinburgh Castle, at the top of the Royal Mile the cylindrical, glass, doorway is embedded in a traditional sandstone building, typical of the historical architecture of Scotland’s capital city. Stepping inside it’s totally unlike other whisky tours with sexy mood lighting and swanky interior that feels more like a designer hotel.
They began the tour with a ride in a giant whisky barrel which incorporates virtual videos, projections, even aromas, and varying temperatures on a step by step guide of whisky production which is brilliantly informative for both whisky geeks and casual fans.
At the other end of the ride we were greeted by our tour guide, Cody, who handed us a ‘scratch and sniff’ card and directed us into a cosy little auditorium with one of the widest format projector screens I’ve seen. As the tour guide talked us through a panoramic video of the different whisky regions, and the cards contain scents for each region, we scratched and sniffed with the required gravitas. The accuracy of the scents was uncanny.
Then with much hand rubbing and perhaps more glee than was seemly, it was into the tasting room (where I like to think I do my best work). We sat around the outside of the room facing onto a display cabinet in the centre of the room, containing an empty whisky bottle. Here we saw a short video explaining the production of grain whisky and how it is key to making blended whisky. As the narrator talked through the blending process, a hologram was projected onto the bottle showing the volume of each whisky added to make the blend which was strangely seductive.
Using your scratch card to decide your favourite scent (your sense of smell is of course closely linked to taste) you then select a whisky to sample by placing your tasting glass into a circle of lights, choosing the colour that matches the card. It’s all a bit Star Trek and pretty cool.
Once poured, we had the chance to nose the whisky but were asked to keep a hold of our dram and take it with us into the next room (you get to keep your glass as a souvenir). At this point a mysterious door is opened to reveal a beautifully lit, black marble room which holds the most impressive Whisky Collection I have ever seen. This is the Diageo Claive Vidiz Whisky Collection containing nearly 3500 bottles of whisky (3384 to be precise but who’s counting?). The staggering collection was built up by Brazilian Whisky connoisseur Claive Vidiz in the 1970’s over a 35 year period. When I asked our tour guide how much it is worth he said that it was sold by Diageo for an undisclosed fee under the condition that it was never re-sold and to be preserved on display in its home country. We got to spend about 30mins in here taking pictures while enjoying our dram.
The last stop of the tour is the whisky bar which has quite an extensive and reasonably priced collection of single malts, blends and grain whiskies. We grabbed a couple of stools at the bar and made ourselves comfortable for an hour or two. After reviewing the menu I had a chat with our tour guide and asked what the difference between our tour (Silver) and the Gold tour was. He explained that on the Gold tour you get four extra whiskies to taste in the bar and it’s well worth the upgrade because you certainly get your money’s worth in samples. And sample we did! Auchentoshan, Eradour, Aberfeldy and Caol Isla all came and went in wonderfully slow motion. Why hurry?
Admittedly by this point we were starting to feel the effects of the tour and decided to treat ourselves to one last warmer to keep out the chill. OK, so it was August of the hottest summer on record but why take chances? I opted for a Balvenie 21yr old and Steve, my whisky buddy, ordered a Glenfiddich XX.
While we did have a very warming time I should point out that we were drinking in moderation. I asked Cody about stag groups, and the Experience are happy to accommodate groups (as long as no one arrives drunk) and organise the tour so that everyone is together. However, the barrel ride takes three at a time so they would be split up for this and then meet up before going into the auditorium.
The last stop was the impressive, state of the art whisky shop, it’s like Hamley’s for whisky drinkers! They have a huge range of over 450 different whisky’s which are displayed along the outer walls and continue up the stairs and along the back wall of their mezzanine lounge area looking down into the shop. They also offer a dining experience downstairs in the Amber Restaurant which provides traditional Scottish Cuisine in a smart/casual environment.
The Scotch Whisky Experience is principally geared towards people who are new to whisky. If you are a bit more of a whisky expert you’ll be absolutely blown away by the vast whisky collection and there’s still some great whisky knowledge that even I didn’t know.
One of the most impressive whisky tours around that the whole group will enjoy. And if you ask nicely they’ll give you the angel’s share to take home with you.