In general my whisky experience CV does not read well at all. Between pouring an entire glass full of Laphroaig when my dad invited me for a whisky at the tender age of 14 and sculling an entire bottle of Bells at an uneducated 16 there aren’t all that many highlights. However in recent years and working in one of the ten ‘Edinburgh Whisky Bars’ I have become more enlightened and developed a passion for learning the ways of this extraordinary industry. So when Chris invited me along to write a review of the revamped Scottish Whisky Experience I was pretty keen after having been on the old tour and feeling somewhat unimpressed by it.
On entering we are greeted by a glistening vision of Scotland embodied by a velvety smooth accent and vibrant red hair. As is typical of all the staff, she was exceptionally friendly and began our experience with a smile. Chris and I were ushered into the brand new barrel ride and trundled off into the dark to be enlightened by Douglas Macintyre. The barrel ride takes us directly into the process of distilling malt whisky. The spectre of Macintyre takes us into the mash tun and the difference between this and the 1990s era animatronics is massive. Sounds coming at visitors from every angle and short but very adequate explanations of each stage are certain to entrap visiting children’s attention and bringing the joy of the water of life to a whole new generation.
After the barrel ride is over visitors are taken into the cooperage to find out about the maturation process before moving on to the tasting room. This is a plush new room decked out with tasting tables. Visitors are taken through the different whisky producing regions by one of the tour guides and are asked to choose a region based on the film they are shown and the scent jars that typify each region. When we took the tour the whiskies available were Isle of Jura, Macallan 10 year old Sherry Cask, Auchentoshan, Ardbeg 10 year old, and Grant’s for those looking for a blend. An excellent choice and pretty much perfect whiskies for introducing tourists to the complexities of the different regions. However it is not time to taste the whiskies yet, this part is saved for the real jewel in the SWE’s crown. Guests take their dram through to the Claive Vidiz collection and are immediately blown away by the sensory rush of the various ambers and the polished black granite that instantly flood the eye. The tour guide talks visitors through how best to appreciate a whisky and are then allowed to wander around the collection sipping on their dram, free to ask the staff questions that will be answered confidently, which is no mean feat considering the sheer size of the collection.
Finally visitors are shown into the main bar area to feast their eyes on the bottles Mr. Vidiz wanted exhibited separately, and to feast their palates upon any of the 300 whiskies available. To help narrow down the selection process tasting boards have been drawn up, one of which being a ‘Homecoming’ board, where each of the drams have some kind of obscure homecoming tale loosely attached to them. This bar area is very impressive taking advantage of a spectacular vista over Edinburgh that lay unused for the 21 years that saw the old barrel ride trundle through that area.
All in all the new SWE is a tremendous experience that is informative enough to please aficionados but tantalising enough to leave tourists desperate to learn more. After this I can say I feel a fair bit better about my whisky experience CV and look forward to future ones like this when Chris and Lucas invite me for dinner in the Claive Vidiz collection (hint).