Whisky tasting in Edinburgh: my experience

An image of three glasses of whisky in front of a barrel

I’ve just come back from three days in Edinburgh, Scotland.  It was a place that was always on my list to visit, but for some reason seemed to get usurped by trips to mainland European cities such as Zurich, Porto and Granada. 

But with international travel being trickier lately, I’ve turned my attention to exploring more of the UK.

There are lots of things to do on a short break to Edinburgh.  This includes a visit to Edinburgh Castle, to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and its ruined monastery, and to the excellent range of museums and galleries the city has to offer. 

A view of Edinburgh Castle

For anyone who likes to combine a city break with some outdoor activities, there’s also sweeping views of the city to be had from Calton Hill, and a trip out to Portobello with its sandy beach.  Hikers will also love the opportunity to climb the 251 metre high Arthur’s Seat, the hill overlooking the city that is formed from volcanic remains. 

Calton Hill in Edinburgh

I will write more about some of these in a future post, as well as the sights I included on my Edinburgh itinerary.

This post contains affiliate links. 

Please note that in mentioning the whisky tour we booked, we received no payment or payment in kind for this

Whisky tasting in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a perfect place to try out the country’s famous scotch whisky.

You can book tours here.

So if you drink alcohol, one of the must do things to include as part of your Edinburgh itinerary, is to experience a whisky tasting (or in Scottish parlance a few ‘drams’). 

Ways to experience whisky tasting in Edinburgh

Pubs and shops

Aside from the numerous whisky shops you’ll see as you wander through Edinburgh’s city centre, you can try scotch whisky informally in many of the city’s pubs and bars.  Some even have whisky menus where you can try out different brands and compare and contrast. 

This would be a great idea if you’re not sure what you like, or if you want to try some of the more expensive varieties without committing to buying an entire bottle.  In the pub we visited (the Malt Shovel Inn just off of the Royal Mile), they had an extensive menu separate to the standard drinks menu. A measure of whisky ranged from around £5 to more than £16.

Whisky tours

However, if you want to try some whisky whilst also learning about its history and the manufacturing process, then booking onto a tour is an ideal way to do it.  As part of a tour you get to sample different whiskies, but note that they also offer soft drinks as substitutes if you want to learn but not try. 

These tours are also a perfect way to explore the drink for anyone who is not a whisky lover.  I include myself in this category so wanted to find out whether I did actually dislike it per se, or whether it was more a case of disliking the specific type of whisky I’d previously tried.

Having done a bit of internet research before our trip, we decided to book onto a tour run by the Scotch Whisky Experience company.  This is located at one end of the central Royal Mile, just a couple of minutes’ walk from Edinburgh Castle. 

This means that it’s easy to find and easy to combine with sightseeing if time is short – and it may well be if you only have 3 days in Edinburgh as there’s so many other things to see and do as well.  The company also do early evening tours so you can pop by after your day out and before your evening meal.

If you have more time, you might, however, consider going further afield or to actually visit a whisky distillery.

There are a range of such tours here.

Short whisky tours in Edinburgh

The Scotch Whisky Experience company offers a number of different tours which vary in terms of length and price. 

You can book tours here.

The Silver Tour lasts for 50 minutes, includes a sample of scotch whisky and costs £17 for adults.  The Gold Tour is a longer tour lasting for 70-90 minutes.  It includes five samples and costs £29.50. 

The Platinum Tour is more expensive (£40), but lasts longer (90 minutes).  It includes five whiskies plus a tutored tasting session.

All tours also include a ‘whisky barrel ride’ and an opportunity to look at the world’s largest collection of scotch whisky.  You also get a crystal whisky glass to take home as a souvenir.

For all types of tours with the company, click here.

Our Edinburgh whisky tasting tour

An example of some of the whiskies you can see during your Edinburgh whisky tasting tour
An example of some of the whiskies you can see during your Edinburgh whisky tour

We booked onto the Platinum Tour that started at 5.30pm.  This gave us enough time to sightsee during the day, fit in the tour in the early evening and then wander across to Edinburgh’s new town for dinner later in the evening.

The ‘whisky barrel ride’

The start of the tour is the ‘whisky barrel ride’.  This is a really fun way to start as you step straight from the reception area into gondola type cars that move you slowly along a track and past a series of videos.  These explain how whisky is made and distilled with visual illustrations and evocative sound tracks. 

The fact that this part is in almost total darkness and the ghost of a master distiller appears as an apparition to tell the story makes this a bit akin to a ghost ride (although a lot less scary!).  If you’re visiting with children, they will no doubt love this part.

The ‘scratch and sniff’ card

You’re then directed into a cinema style room by your dedicated guide for a short film. 

The company does a brilliant job here at promoting Scotland as a tourist destination.  You’re shown panoramic shots of the five whisky making regions in the country: think wonderful coastal areas, dolphins frolicking in the sea, sweeping plains, picturesque villages, and majestic hills and mountains. 

As each area is introduced, you are invited to ‘scratch and sniff’ a card you’ve been given. This introduces you to the whiskies associated with the five geographical areas and the different aromas they have.

The 'scratch and sniff' aroma card that we were given during our whisky tasting in Edinburgh
The ‘scratch and sniff’ aroma card

The world’s largest collection of scotch whisky

Moving on, there’s more information on whisky manufacture from both your guide and the ghostly master distiller. 

And then you’re shown into a small room lit by a plush overhead crystal chandelier. The room is full of locked cabinets that contain bottle upon bottle of different whisky brands and ages.

Some of the whiskies you can see as part of your whisky tour Edinburgh
Some of the whiskies you can see as part of your whisky tour Edinburgh - these are part of the world's largest collection of whiskies
Some of the whiskies you can see as part of the world’s largest collection

In here, you discover that you’re standing in the world’s largest collection of scotch whisky. 

There are over 3,300 bottles in this relatively small space which was initiated by a Brazilian collector in the 1970s.  It was later sold to the drinks company Diageo who relocated the collection to Edinburgh. 

The tutored tasting

After the more ‘museum’ section of the whisky tour, you then come to the stage you’ve probably been waiting for: getting your hands on the whisky itself. 

Apparently in pre-Covid days the drinks start to be given out a bit earlier in the tour. At the moment, presumably for hygiene reasons, they now leave them all to the dedicated tutored tasting section of the Platinum Tour. 

I hadn’t experienced how they had done it previously, but I think it worked really well to experience all five whiskies in the one session.  This gives you the opportunity to compare and contrast the different ones chosen for the tour.

Experiencing the whisky

You start with the samples – or drams – laid out in front of you.  For us, there was one blended whisky (Hankey Bannister) and four single malts. 

The single malts were picked from four of the main five whisky regions that we’d been taken through in the previous video: the Highlands region, the Lowlands, Speyside, Campbletown and the Isle of Islay (it was the Campbletown area that was omitted from this tasting).

The 5 different types of whisky we tried during our whisky tasting in Edinburgh
The five whiskies that we tasted during our Edinburgh whisky tasting

The guide took us through the five steps in experiencing whisky:

  • inspecting the colour (is it pale, dark, golden etc?);
  • looking at the body (does it have sticky ‘legs’ when you swirl it around the glass?);
  • taking in the aroma (is it light or citrusy, fruity, intense or smoky?);
  • tasting it; and
  • noting the finish (this is when the whisky spends time in other casks which adds to its overall flavour).

So we inspected, swirled, smelt and sipped whilst learning more about the different whiskies we were experiencing. 

For example, we learnt that the Glencadem single malt that we tried from the Highlands of Scotland had been stored and finished in sherry casks.  By contrast, the Glen Moray from Elgin in Speyside had been stored in port barrels. We were told that most of the whiskies were either stored in sherry casks or bourbon whisky casks.

The dram from the island of Islay had a more intense and smoky smell and taste.  This is apparently a result of seaweed which contains naturally occurring iodine. 

For me, the Glencadem was my favourite.  It was lighter and slightly sweeter and, in my opinion, this made it more palatable. 

My least favourite was the Islay whisky.  This made me realise that much of my previous dislike of whisky was probably due to trying Laphroig whisky which is also from Islay.

Laphroaig whisky, part of the world's largest collection
Laphroaig whisky, part of the world’s largest collection

We also compared the taste of the drink neat versus with a dash of water, the latter producing a lighter and smoother drink.  And we were told about the type of food to eat with whisky (e.g. smoked cheese with the Islay smoked whiskies).

The take home message for the group overall was that whisky is to be enjoyed and you should enjoy it in whichever way you choose.  That might be neat, with water, with ice, with cola or even in a cocktail…

Would I recommend whisky tasting in Edinburgh?

Yes, I would definitely recommend this.  I’m really not a lover of whisky but I did learn a lot on our tour, not least the fact that whisky is much more palatable than I had previously thought. 

I have to admit it’s still not my go to drink, but there are definitely brands that I quite like and that I can imagine drinking in the future – especially on a cold, wet and winter day. 

And the fact that you can book onto some relatively short tours in the city means that it’s possible to experience the whiskies and not to miss out on other things that you might want to do on a short break to Edinburgh.

If this is something you’d also like to experience, click here to book tickets.

Other things to do as part of your whisky tour Edinburgh

After your tour you may have got a taste for whisky. If so, you could carry on tasting in the bar where there are more than 500 whiskies to select from. 

There are also whisky ‘flights’ that you can purchase which are based around themes. This includes a ‘Lowland’ flight, ‘Highland’ flight, a blended malt flights, and a rare whiskies flight.

You can also eat here. The Amber restaurant has lunch and dinner menus, as well as a tasting menu.  You can also book a combined whisky tour with a food tasting tour if this is something that appeals to you.

For both the restaurant and bar, I’d recommended pre-booking: when we popped in everything was fully booked.

The onsite shop also has a massive selection of whiskies to buy, as well as a range of other souvenirs to purchase before you leave.

Other Edinburgh whisky tasting tours

For other places for whisky tasting in Edinburgh, click here.

Other ideas for UK short breaks and UK staycations

If you are looking for other ideas for UK short breaks and UK staycations, see my following posts:

My website also contains more ideas for short trips to Europe. I will also be posting on other things to see and do during 3 days in Edinburgh in due course.

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