The Whisky Experience

With an old friend in town, I finally had company to go on the Whisky Experience tour near Edinburgh Castle. We opted for the Gold tour, costing 26 GBP, which included a dram on the tour plus four different whiskies to taste at the end of the tour.

Our tour started with a barrel ride, which I had thought was metaphorical, but no. We climbed into a whisky barrel, that took us for a little ride that show cased the different phases of whisky distilling. The above website has a few photos, as the ones I took were all fuzzy from the lack of lighting. It was fun in a “really?” kind of way. Next our tour guide took us to a room with a brief film about the five different whisky making regions in Scotland.

Left: on the barrel tour, right: the oldest bottle in the collection.

We learned to associate a particular smell and taste to each region, with the help of a scratch-and-sniff card that gave us the right kind of whiff. Highlands: heather. Speyside: fruit. Lowland: grape fruit. Campbeltown: vanilla. Islay: wood fire. Of course the reality is more complex than that, and the distilleries in the islands (like Skye) are left out of this classification, but it helps get a grasp of the differences in the single malts.

Next up was a tasting room, where we were told to select our preferred region for the included taste of dram, and the staff poured us one in a whisky tasting glass we got to keep at the end of the tour, while our host explained to us the differences in single malts and blended whiskies. Blended whiskies are 80 % grain, whereas single malts contain no grain at all. Now you know. I selected a whisky from Campbeltown, as I though I had never tried one, but was given a dram of Auchentoshan, which I think I got once in a little pub somewhere near Loch Lomond. While our drams were poured in the tasting room, we were told to wait until the next room, a huge vault with the world’s biggest collection of unopened whisky bottles to drink it. Just so that we would not be standing amongst all that whisky with dry mouths.

The collection room was amazing, just from a visual perspective. Row upon row upon lighted row of all sorts of whisky bottles from everywhere in Scotland. From the palest whiskies to the dark gold ones, whiskies in elegant cut glass bottles, whiskies in golf balls and bag piper bottles, all shapes and sizes. All unopened. The oldest bottles showed how significant the “Angel’s Share ” was, i.e. how much whisky evaporates per year. If I recall, a 25 year old whisky will have 40 % of the whisky evaporated. There was one bottle, the oldest, which only had a little gold colored tar on the bottom, all the rest having evaporated over time. Actually, reading online, the evaporation should only happen while the whisky is maturing in the casks, but I guess that one bottle had a permeable cork? Anyway, best drink up when you have it, angels be hanged.

The door to heaven, i.e. the collection is opening.

We were decanted (pun intended) from the collection room to the adjoining bar, where us Gold tour participants were given a plate each with a glass of water in the middle to cleanse our palates, and two whisky glasses on each side. My friend went to the bar and got us a glass of distilled water and pipettes, so we could try each whisky first straight up, then with a little bit of water to help draw the flavors out.

We got a 12 year old Glenkinchie from the Lowlands (a sharply spanked bottom), a 12 year old Deanston from the Highlands (a yummy fruit salad), a 10 year old Glenfaclas from Speyside (a delicate little flower preserved in ethanol) and the Laphroig Select (a smack in the face with a smoked kipper). The Laphroig has long been my favorite, and this Select far improves over the regular 10 year old that I have been drinking. In the end I went home with a blended Haig Club (which I could have sworn was called Haig Blue), mostly, I confess, because of the gorgeous, hard edged midnight blue bottle. Besides, all my other whiskies were single malts, it was time to give those blended whiskies a whirl. Not bad, actually!

Note: as there were so few photos from the whisky tour, the slide show above includes some of my recent beauty shots of Edinburgh.

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