When I was a wee lass all of 21 years old, I sniffed my first bit of scotch and promptly handed the glass back to my friend. What was this foul stench that reminded me of a dirty, dank bog?
Let’s be honest: at 21, I was more into pinot noir than hard liquor. I was kind of an eejit back then, erroneously assuming that all scotch was disgusting because it was too smoky and peaty for my taste.
What I didn’t realize then — and many of my current friends still don’t — is that the Laphroaig scotch I tasted wasn’t nearly representative of what’s out there in Scotland’s whisky world. NOT ALL SCOTCH IS AS SMOKY AND PEATY AS LAPHROAIG, my friends. I repeat, not all scotch equals Laphroaig. (Nothing against it; I actually like it now that my palette is more developed.)
Flash forward ten years later: the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland completely upended my expectations of what scotch is and can be. If you want to truly understand Scotland, there’s no better place than the Scotch Whisky Experience. Here’s why.
What Exactly is the Scotch Whisky Experience, Anyway?
The short version: a legit Disneyland for lovers of all things Scotch whisky.
The long version: The Scotch Whisky Experience opened to the public in Edinburgh in 1988, meaning it’s celebrating its 30th birthday in 2018! It’s not a working distillery, but more of an interactive experience. Folks seem to really like going here: about 300,000 people visit each year.
Interestingly, the building where the Scotch Whisky Experience is housed used to be a school from 1888 to 1951. I can’t imagine any of the schools I attended from kindergarten to 12th grade turning into a massive alcohol-centered exhibit… but then again, you never know what the future holds.
To address the elephant in the room, Scotch whisky is always spelled without the “e” — I’m not sitting here making typos while drinking scotch. Just sayin’. (If you’re spelling whiskey with an “e,” that’s Irish or American whiskey. And fun grammar fact of the day: the plural of whiskey is whiskeys, but the plural of what we’re talking about is Scotch whiskies. Oof.)
So where can you find this whisky heaven?
The Scotch Whisky Experience is located at 354 Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NE, United Kingdom. (Psst: You can zoom in on the interactive map below to see exactly where it is relative to the city’s other attractions. Note that it’s on the Royal Mile and right next to Edinburgh Castle. Cool, huh?)
The Scotch Whisky Experience offers a variety of tour options that will appeal to novices and connoisseurs alike.
- The Silver Tour lasts 50 minutes and costs £15 for adults. You’ll get a guided tour, plus a dram of Scotch whisky and a crystal whisky tasting glass to take home.
- The Gold Tour takes roughly 70-90 minutes and costs £26. In addition to the Silver Tour, you’ll receive a tasting tray of four single malt Scotch whiskies, membership in their Scotch Whisky Appreciation Society (valid for a year), and special discounts.
- The Platinum Tour lasts 90 minutes and costs £36.50. In addition to the Silver tour, you receive a guided nosing and tasting of four contrasting single malt whiskies, an extended viewing of the World’s Largest Collection of Scotch Whisky, and a complimentary gift.
- The Taste of Scotland tour is approximately 3 hours and costs £70. It’s the Platinum Tour plus a three-course Scottish food experience in Amber Restaurant (located on the premises).
For the truly hardcore whisky enthusiast, there’s also a Morning Masterclass for £40. It happens once a day at 10 AM, so advanced reservations are essential. (It’s five o’clock somewhere, eh eh?) You receive an extended viewing of the whisky collection, sip tea/coffee and eat shortbread, and engage in a sensory perception test and comparative whisky tasting.
Because we visited the Scotch Whisky Experience on a whim and were worried that we’d be short on time before our next activity, we opted to go with the Silver Tour at first. Unsurprisingly, we upgraded to the Gold Tour at the end of our Silver Tour, but more on this later.
Without further ado, here’s what it’s like to visit the Scotch Whisky Experience!
Part 1: The Interactive Barrel Ride
I’m no stranger to interactive alcohol rides: I endured heat and water while pretending to be beer in the Brew You ride at Heineken Experience. But man, this ride was on a whole other level.
First of all, you’re seated in a whisky barrel and zipping along a track instead of standing in a room. Now, I don’t have the best history with these seated motorcar kind of rides – Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Fantasyland scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a child. I mean, what kid isn’t freaked out by whipping through the flaming fires of hell? What crazy person thought that that was a great idea for a kiddie ride?? Sorry, I digress.
So you can imagine my state of mind when no less than 60 seconds after we’re comfortably seated in our barrel, this guy pops up from out of nowhere.
To be honest, I was so startled that I didn’t catch if this holographic, top hat-wearing gentleman character had a name or not. He seemed to be a cross between Monty Python-era John Cleese and Charles Dickens, so I’ll call him “John Charles.”
Sir John Charles popped up at various points during our barrel ride to explain the whisky-making process. In fact, I dare say that he made potentially dry information pretty entertaining.
For example, Sir John Charles told us that in order for something to officially be called Scotch whisky:
- Production and maturation must happen in Scotland
- The spirit has to mature in oak for three years at minimum
- Single malt Scotch whisky must be made entirely from malted barley (meaning 100%)
All in all, I felt like I was riding the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland… but with merry mustachioed ghosts attempting alcohol-infused humor. But hey, that’s just me.
Part 2: Movie Time!
After exiting the barrel ride, we entered a roomy theater with a 180-degree screen and joined our tour group to learn even more about scotch.
Through the film, we discovered that there are five whisky-producing regions in Scotland. This is where the light bulb went off in my head: you mean not all Scotch whisky has to taste peaty and smoky?!? Mind blown! Here’s the deal on each:
- Lowlands – The southernmost region of Scotland; the whisky from here tends to be light and soft with delicate aromas.
- Highlands – The largest region in Scotland in terms of whisky production; Glenmorangie is an example; variation in taste – malts run from dry to sweet.
- Speyside – Has the largest number of distilleries; your bottles of Glenfiddich, Macallan, and Glenlivet come from here; known for producing sweet, more mellow whisky with fruity flavors.
- Islay – Pronounced “eye-luh”; has the smokiest and strongest flavors of the single malts; Laphroaig is from here.
- Campbeltown – Only three distilleries remain here; the whiskies have salty and briny flavors that are reminiscent of the sea.
To reinforce what we were seeing, we each received our own Scratch & Sniff for Adults so we could smell the aromas that corresponded with each region. Yes, friends: you too can inhale scotch smells off of a paper for five minutes straight, and it’s totally OK.
Part 3: Blender’s Sample Room
Following the film, we headed into a different room and took seats at a long, U-shaped table. As we watched more videos, our guide spoke more in depth about each of the whiskies from Scotland’s five regions.
Perhaps the coolest part was the hologram visuals that accompanied the talk. How neat does this look? (Pun intended.)
At the end of the presentation, we were able to choose which of the six whiskies we wanted to sample. Using my scratch and sniff guide, I selected the Highlands and placed my glass on the corresponding purple circle. The sixth circle (with multiple colors) represented a blended scotch.
Part 4: Behold the World’s Largest Collection of Scotch Whisky!
If Indiana Jones visited temples of alcohol instead of treasure-filled death traps in the jungle, this place would be number one on his list. It’s pretty much the Holy Grail of Scotch. I’m not joking: this collection houses an overwhelming 3,384 bottles of Scotch whisky, making it the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky.
Think about that. The sheer number of bottles in here is INSANE.
Turns out we have a Brazilian gentleman to thank for such liquid treasures. Claive Vidiz, a whisky aficionado in Sao Paulo, Brazil, started collecting bottles in the 1970s and amassed nearly 3,500 bottles in 35 years. Diageo purchased his collection in October 2006, bringing it over to Scotland; the collection was added to the Scotch Whisky Experience in 2009.
As our guide led us through the proper techniques for sniff and swirling, I couldn’t help but think of all the times we’ve been wine tasting. We then wandered around, gazing at the myriad of bottles in the room.
After lurking too long and taking photos as my tour group finished one by one, I finally decided to move on.
Part 5: Tasting Sampler at the Bar, Because Really, One Dram Isn’t Enough
After being in complete awe of the World’s Largest Collection of Scotch Whisky, we didn’t want our tour to end. One glance at our watches revealed that we still had time before we needed to depart from Edinburgh, so we upgraded to the Gold Tour.
This meant that we were able to share four additional samples of Scotch whisky and practice saying “Slàinte mhath” (pronounced SLAWN-JA VA, meaning “Cheers!”) with the staff. (Thanks for indulging us, guys.)
All in all, we loved how diverse the scotch produced in each region tasted. We were big fans of what we drank from the Lowlands and Speyside. Now that my parents know that scotch doesn’t have to be so peaty and smoky, they’ve gotten more into it, too.
So if your friends ever say to you with conviction, “I hate scotch,” just give ’em a knowing grin and ask, “Well, have you tried any scotch from the Lowlands yet?” You may just make a fan of them yet.
Scotch Whisky Experience 101: Need to Know Before You Go
OPEN HOURS & ADMISSION
The Scotch Whisky Experience is open seven days a week, 364 days per year.
General Hours: Open at 10:00 AM. Closing times vary by time of year, but are generally between 5:00 PM and 6:00 PM. The Silver and Gold tours run approximately every 20 minutes throughout the day from 10:20 AM onwards.
Be sure to verify hours on the Scotch Whisky Experience website in the event of any changes.
Tickets can be purchased either in person or online (up to one day prior to your visit). You can purchase tickets online here.
Pro Tip ⇒ Allow more time than you think you need for your tour, just in case you want to peruse the gift shop, or, you know, drink more Scotch whisky.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTCH WHISKY EXPERIENCE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
You can connect with the Scotch Whisky Experience on the following social media platforms:
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All costs were paid by me, and all opinions are my own. Not even a perfect dram of whisky can change that.
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