Everything you need to Know about Scottish whisky- tasting, buying, and where to go in Scotland to learn more or visit a distillery. And a review of the Scottish Whisky Experience in Edinburgh.
Everything You Need to Know about Scottish Whisky
I am not sure if I should reveal this fact, but until our first visit to Scotland, some 10 years ago, I didn’t drink Scottish whisky.
But as often happens when you travel, you find new tastes and make great new discoveries you continue to enjoy when you return home. Now we do enjoy Scottish whisky and sharing it with friends. So today, I am going to tell you everything you need to know about Scottish Whisky.
Is it Whisky or Whiskey in Scotland?
Same thing different spelling, like many things in English. Favor or Favour? Cheque or check? It all depends on where you live. The best way I have ever heard to remember if the spelling is whisky or whiskey in a country, is the general rule that if the name of the country has an “e”, it is whiskey. In America and Ireland it is whiskey. In Australia, Japan and in Scotland it is whisky. I am sure as other places start making whiskey, that will no longer hold true, but for now, it’s how I remember it.
What Makes it Scottish Whisky?
As with most things, there are rules which govern what you can call Scotch Whisky. To explain simply:
- The spirit needs to mature in OAK barrels for at least 3 years.
- Production and maturation must take place in Scotland (including bottling).
- To be single malt Scotch whisky it must be made from 100% malted barley.
In case you are wondering how this is different from bourbon, an American whiskey, you can read more about what makes it bourbon here.
Is that Whisky a Single Malt or Blend?
As per above, single malt whisky must be made from 100% malted barley. It is usually a whisky from one distillery. A further refined specialty (and usually higher in price) is that the bottle is from one single barrel.
Scotland exports whisky blends, primarily, not single malt whisky! And indeed, most whisky is blended whisky. Think huge brands like Johnnie Walker, Ballantine’s, Dewar’s. Scotch blends begin with grain whisky and are blended with single malt whiskies to create the taste. There is an art to achieving the same taste consistently in a blend. The Scots developed whisky blends in sample rooms dating back to 1890.
How to Taste Whisky
This could also be called, “Should you add water or ice to your whisky? For the purposes of whisky appreciation 101 . . . a correct measure of whisky in a glass is referred to as a dram. In Scotland, that would be a wee dram. The wee, implying just a little bit.
You can start by tasting the whisky straight or neat. At a tasting, it is often served with an eye dropper in a glass or bottle of water. That is to add a small dash of water to “open” the taste of the whisky. There is actually proper chemistry behind why you should add water to whisky when tasting it you are interested.
The age on the bottle is indicating the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle. The “Angels Share” accounts for 1-2% of whisky in a barrel which evaporates each year. The distillery may add other whisky to top up the barrels. This is a similar system, to what is used for making traditional vinegar in Modena as well.
Okay so you now can order and taste whisky and not look like a novice.
Scottish Whisky in Scotland
It is hard to describe the importance of Scotch whisky in Scotland. The industry plays a significant role in both the culture and the economy. Whisky is the national drink and there are over 100 distilleries in Scotland.
The name whisky, derives from the Gaelic word meaning “the water of life” or aqua vitae as it is also known. The earliest written reference to whisky is from 1494 and the Scottish government excise tax on whisky dates back to 1644.
In 2015, the Scottish whisky industry was the third largest in the country, behind energy (yes Scotland has oil and natural gas reserves) and financial services. Estimates are that Scottish whisky contributes over £5 Billion (close to 6.5 Billion in USD) to the UK economy annually. Fourteen new distilleries have opened since 2013 and 7 are planned to open in 2017.
And as craft distilling continues to grow around the world, single malt whisky exports are increasing. The USA is Scotland’s largest export market (probably no surprise there).
Regions in Scotland Producing Whisky
There are five regions in Scotland producing whisky: Speyside, the Highlands, the Lowlands, Campbelltown, and Islay.
Each region has its own flavors and characteristics.
|Speyside (between Inverness and Aberdeen- where most Scottish distilleries are located)||Smooth, made from the water of the Spey River with low mineral content |
Flavors: Soft fruity, orchard
|Glen Moray, The Glenlivet |
|Highlands||Flavors: Honey, floral notes, heather||Glenmorangie, Dalwhinnie, Ben Nevis Distillery (Fort William), Highland Park|
|Lowlands (near – Edinburgh/Glasgow)||Flavors: Citrus and grapefruit||Auschen|
|Campbelltown||Flavors: Toffee, Vanilla, Apple||Only 3 distilleries left!|
|Islay- known as “the whisky isle”||Robust Flavors: Smoky, peaty, tobacco||8 distilleries- Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Caol Ila and Bowmore|
Whisky in Edinburgh
There are no whisky distilleries in Edinburgh. However, there is the next best thing, the Scottish Whisky Experience. The Sottish Whisky Experience offers the chance to learn about whisky distilling, the Scottish whisky industry, taste whisky and even have a meal with typical Scottish foods. It is a great use of time and very educational!
A Review of the Scottish Whisky Experience in Edinburgh
Our Platinum Tour began as we jumped inside a whisky barrel for a “ride” through the whisky production process. Yep, think theme park ride for whisky lovers! As you make your way through the whisky making process, it is from the viewpoint of the whisky. You move through each stage of the process, fermentation, distillation, until you emerge at the end as whisky. Fascinating and really well done. I feel like I understand the process a lot better now that I have been through it firsthand!
From there it is on to the first tasting room to learn about Scottish whisky, including some history and industry information and sample a couple of whiskies.
“The Collection” at the Scottish Whisky Experience
The Scottish Whisky Experience is home to the largest collection of Scottish whisky in the world, all 3,384 bottles! Once the private collection of a Brazilian whisky lover, Claive Vidiz, he sold it in 2006 to Diageo, the huge spirits producer, and it found its new home in the Scottish Whisky Experience. It is an amazing collection and includes many collector’s edition bottles and rare vintages. We finished our whisky tasting in the room that houses “The Collection.”
Dinner at the Amber Restaurant- a Taste of Scotland and more Whisky
From there we went on to the Amber Restaurant for a dinner of Scottish foods. The menu curated by a Taste of Scotland, is a fantastic opportunity to try some high quality, local Scottish products. The menu is seasonal but our meal included- Scottish salmon, Highlands beef, Chicken Balmoral (chicken breast stuffed with haggis), Cullen Skink, oat biscuits and a traditional Scottish dessert.
While many places would have a wine sommelier, the Amber Restaurant, has a whisky expert. With over 430 whiskies to choose from, it is rated one of the top 3 whisky bars in Scotland. The whisky sommelier can help you find a whisky you will enjoy with your meal and pours it at your table so you can see the bottle and ask any questions. Fantastic!
All in all, it was a most enjoyable evening and if you would like to learn more about Scottish whisky or are already a fan I highly recommend it. The Scottish Whisky Experience also has a bar and a shop. You can visit the shop, the Amber Restaurant and the Amber Bar without taking a tour. Visit the website to plan your visit.
To Learn More About Whisky
Do you have an interest in learning more about whisky or whiskey as the case might be? You might also enjoy:
If you would like to learn more from the privacy of your own home, Whiskey Lover’s has several memberships which curate a selection of whiskey. The World Malts Club features a selection from around the world.
A great recipe, which uses whisky, is the delicious whisky ice cream plum pudding with butterscotch sauce! It is a family favorite for Christmas at our house.
So over to you- do you drink whisky? or Whiskey? And please leave us a comment and tell us the equivalent of cheers in your language-thanks! (You don’t need a URL to leave a comment.)
Slainte Mhath! – (Gaelic for Good health, the English equivalent of “cheers”)
We were guests of the Scottish Whisky Experience, but as always, our opinions are our own.