Early Sunday, I flew into Edinburgh for the beginning of my travel writing internship back in September. It took some time for the apartment to be ready, but when I got in there one of my three roommates showed up. M- and I decided to head out and explore the city. We both knew that if we didn’t keep moving we’d sleep the day away and the jet lag would win.
As a lover of American whisky, I immediately had to take on the Scotch Whisky Experience. Poor M-, she wasn’t a fan of it but found the history of the process fascinating. She decided to get the Silver Tour while I went with the Gold.
Most tours provided by the company take you through the history of distilling whisky. Visitors sit inside a whisky barrel and are provided the intriguing history from a ghost of long ago. Processes from malting and mashing to fermentation and distillation are described in detail.
People have the choice of two major tour experiences:
The Silver Tour – Educational tour through the world of whisky distilling plus a sample tasting of your choice from one of the four major regions; Duration: 50 minutes
The Gold Tour – The Silver Tour + tasting of 4 extra malts in the McIntyre Gallery; Duration: 70 – 90 minutes
Other tours are also available such as Educational Tours for large groups or The Taste of Scotland which combines food tasting from the Amber restaurant. The Scotch Whisky Experience is so profound that it offers a special training course in its’ Scotch Whisky Training School. The training school immerses people into the world of whisky with activities for enthusiasts or professionals. At the end of the course individuals obtain the “Certificate of Expertise.”
Types of Scotch
There are four main scotches available to taste from the four main regions in Scotland: Lowland, Highland, Speyside, and Islay. Should you want to venture and try the fifth option, be ready to have your taste buds shocked.
- Lowland – the flavor is lighter and tends to have grassy and flowery tastes
- Highland – there’s a wide range of flavors for this one and it depends on which area you’re tasting the whisky from
- Islay – this has a potent smoky flavor (Note: if you’re tasting more later you might want to hold off on this one since the taste lingers awhile)
- Speyside – whiskies from this region are lighter and have fruity flavors, such as banana
The Tour & Tasting Experience
M- and I were excited to start the tour. The barrel ride was a neat experience. We sat in the large seat and went around with a “ghost” taking us through the history and process. After we were done with the ride, we headed into another room where we got to see the process more in-depth. The smell of whisky floated through the air making our mouths water.
While the history portion was interesting, what I found fascinating were the floor to ceiling glass cases of whisky from all sorts of places and ages. A table was situated in the middle of the room with some whiskey, empty glasses, and a pitcher of water. The lady talked about the whiskey and invited us to all take a sample of it.
Holding the glass I could already smell its’ potency. The lady held her glass to her nose and said, “The trick is to breath it in through your nose and out your mouth. Taste all of the flavors.”
I got the glass up to my nose and started to breath the aroma. Not a second more and I was coughing, and my eyes started to water. Earlier I had told M- of my love for whisky, but never had I smelled anything this strong. She laughed as her eyes began to water. What I couldn’t understand was how everyone was taking it so well. This stuff was strong! The aroma alone burned my throat, and I could taste it without taking a sip.
The next step was to taste the whisky. The lady offered us the choice of diluting our drink with some water or taking it straight. I immediately went for the water and so did everyone else. The lady said there’s no wrong way to take your whisky, it’s all dependent on what you prefer. The whisky connoisseurs had other sentiments on the subject.
Once we finished our glasses we went into a slightly larger room where we took a seat at several tables shaped in a U. For each spot, there was a glass and five circles. Each color represented a different region in Scotland, and the fifth one was the extra whisky from the Campbell Islands which they had in stock.
Each of us moved our glass over the whisky we wanted to try. I decided to go with the fifth one since they said it had a cinnamon flavor. My first thought was Fireball from back home. I knew it wasn’t going to taste exactly like that, but the thought of cinnamon was appealing. Let’s just say it did not taste like cinnamon, but it was still quite good.
The tour ended in the small bar overlooking the Royal Mile, McIntyre Gallery. I showed my card to the bartender, and he brought the line of whisky samples to taste. M- and I went to sit near the windows with a gorgeous view of the city. There was little in the glasses, but I already knew I wouldn’t be able to handle tasting all of them.
After experiencing the last couple of tastings, I watered down the glasses a bit. We shared the drinks and started from one end and worked to the other. We ended with the heavy smoky flavor which we knew would linger for hours ruining anything else we tasted.
The lighter whiskies were great, better with some water and would have been perfect with some ice. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep drinking the whisky. This was the first time I had called it quits and left alcohol on the table. It wasn’t from drinking so much, it’s from tasting to many different flavors at once.
Overall, the experience was great. It kept us awake and got us relaxed from all the flying, searching for the apartment, and unloading our bags. After all the tasting you’ll most likely want something to eat the Old Town has some of the best places to eat! An added bonus is that you get to keep your sampling glass from the tour.