A fabulous destination where you can learn all about Scotland’s fine Scotch whisky.
The one thing on everybody’s mind when they go to Scotland is the country’s world famous Scotch whisky (whisky from Scotland is spelled without an “E”!). Scotland exports 38 bottles of whisky every second with 98 active distilleries throughout the country, although there aren’t many located close to Edinburgh.
Luckily there’s The Scotch Whisky Experience, in the heart of the city right next to Edinburgh Castle, a fabulous destination where one can learn all about Scotland’s fine Scotch whisky, do a tour, take masterclasses, eat amazing food and choose from over 450 different whiskies to taste. Julie Trevisan Hunter, the lovely Head of Marketing at The Scotch Whisky Experience, tells us the story behind this unique and special establishment:
“We opened our doors in May 1988. We’ve been here quite some time and we were founded to represent all of the different Scotch whisky distillers companies. Distilleries are located out of the city center and pretty far away in terms of somebody that’s traveling around about Scotland. If you’re doing a big tour of Scotland you’ll pass by lots of distilleries but if you’re visiting on a city break or just in the south in the main cities, then it’s going to be hard to visit a distillery.
[We’re here to tell people] everything about Scotch. The benefit of us not being a distillery is the fact that we’re not only focusing on single malt Scotch whisky and only one whisky, we’re telling the whole story of the whole Scotch whisky industry in terms of the history, the background, all the different types of whisky that you can get, single grain, single malts, blends, liqueur whiskies and people get to see all the different sides of it.”
The Scotch Whisky Experience represents 95% of the distillers companies in Scotland and all of their products can be found in the bar and/or in the shop. There are currently four different types of tours offered throughout each day, each of them tailored for individuals with varying interests in Scotch whisky.
“We initially started with one whisky tour that everybody did when we first opened in the 1980s. But people’s tastes as tourists and travelers have changed quite a lot in that period and also people’s knowledge and interest in Scotch whisky has developed and changed a lot as well. And combined with the fact that we have the world’s largest collection of whisky here, which is a real thing that whisky aficionados and enthusiasts want to see, that really led us to diversifying and having a number of different tour options.
The Silver tour is sort of an introduction to Scotch whisky for somebody who’s here in Scotland, maybe doesn’t know very much about Scotch, has a passing interest and maybe doesn’t even like Scotch whisky. Many visitors who come here don’t like Scotch and they’re just in Scotland and want to find out about it. That’s the Silver Tour and includes a tasting for everybody. Everybody that comes here will have the opportunity to choose from a range of single malts, blend, or grain or liqueur whisky to taste. And then the Gold Tour is identical to the Silver Tour but at the end with the Gold Tour you get a membership to our Appreciation Society and a tasting tray of 4 single malt whiskies.
The Morning Masterclass is really aimed at people that are either whisky enthusiasts or have already visited a whisky distillery and are looking to do something that’s just going to give them a much deeper and broader understanding of Scotch whisky.
And our Platinum Tour at the end of the day, that’s a tutored tasting with one of our guides of four comparative single malt whiskies from the different whisky producing regions and also a longer viewing of the whisky collection as well because it’s the last tour of the day. So when you arrive at the collection there’s nobody ahead of you, there’s nobody behind you and you can take your time, hear more about the stories behind the individual unique bottles. It’s for people who really want to spend more time in the collection and enjoy that and the Platinum Tour is the one for them.”
The largest whisky collection in the world to which Julie refers to is the crown jewel of The Scotch Whisky Experience: a gorgeous room with floor to ceiling cases that contain 3,384 bottles on display. Every single Scotch whisky in the room was produced and bottled in Scotland and there are bottles dating back to 1897. The collection is the work of whisky aficionado, Claive Vidiz, a Brazilian who dedicated his life to putting it all together.
“He really wanted to have a legacy for it. And so he was looking to sell the collection, not to make as much money as possible from it because to do that obviously the best way would have been to put it to auction and to split it into many different lots. He could’ve easily made his money back and have done that but he was very keen that the collection stay together and was preserved and could be seen by as many people as possible. So he came to an arrangement with Diageo, one of Scotland’s bigger distillers company, and they purchased the collection from him just before it came to be displayed here.”
Apart from the breathtaking collection and the different tours, one can also find the Amber Bar and Restaurant downstairs, where one doesn’t have to do a tour to try a couple of drams of fine Scotch whisky and eat delicious Scottish food (the guide from my Morning Masterclass, Alex Thomson, told me that the restaurant has the best haggis he’s ever had and it definitely turned out to be true!). The whisky bar by itself has 450 different whiskies available for tasting along with some quality conversation with the barmen who are also aficionados and love nothing more than to talk about whisky for hours.
The shop also has an extensive collection for sale from all of the distillers that the establishment represents, with new limited edition products and bottlings when released.
For those who are still interested in seeing a legitimate Scotch distillery outside of Edinburgh there are a couple of tour options one needs to book in advance.
“There are 3 different directions you can go in. There’s the very closest distillery which is called Glenkinchie and it’s about 40 minutes outside the city center, in the countryside right outside Edinburgh. Depending on the time of day and the time of year, they often have a bus that takes you there, you just need to find that out in advance from their website. Alternatively if you’re interested, there are a couple of tour companies in Edinburgh that do day trips from Edinburgh to a bit further north. They’ll go up into the Highland area, to Highland Perth shire and there’re some distilleries that you can take in up there. And the other alternative is, there are two distilleries that are quite close to Glasgow as well so you can either do daytrips from Edinburgh or you can do daytrips from Glasgow to visit them…”
Doing an in-depth tour or masterclass at The Scotch Whisky Experience will definitely pique your interest in visiting a real Scotch distillery, but you’ll learn just as much if not more just by being in Edinburgh.
“We like to think that we’re really complementary with a distillery. Our ambition is that people will come here with maybe a fleeting, passing interest in Scotch whisky, be absolutely fascinated and enthused by it, and decide by the time that they left our doors that they must either take in a distillery or return to Scotland and spend more time in Scotland traveling around and be able to see some of the distilleries then…
The difference between us and a distillery is if you go to a distillery you only see how one whisky is made and it’s focused obviously on that one brand, or maybe one portfolio. If the distillery is owned by a larger distiller and they own a few other distilleries then you might be able to afterwards taste some of the whiskies which are the ones that they own. But here we cover equally and openly all the different distillers companies so it’s a really broad sweep of people being able to find out everything about Scotch whisky. And again not only about single malt, which is at the distilleries, but also about blending and also a bit about liqueurs as well as the history and the culture side of it too.”