Places to Visit in Scotland
- The Scotch Whisky Experience, Edinburgh

Worldwide Scotch Whisky

"My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade
are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whisky."

      William Faulkner, American novelist.

There is no doubt that Scotland is famous for many exports - and one of them is whisky. The Scotch whisky industry is worth in excess of £2.3 billion in export sales, with France being the largest market and flourishing sales in USA, India, Japan, China and Eastern Europe. Whisky is an international icon of Scotland. In a recent BBC series Scotland's History - the Top 10, renowned whisky expert Charles MacLean argued the case for Drink to be considered one of the essential elements of our history. He acknowledges that Scots may be perceived as having a doubled-edged relationship with drink. MacLean cites Dr Johnson who remarked that, although a lot of drinking was done, the Scots were not a drunken race, but notes there was a change in the 19th Century with the growth of rough shebeens and unlicensed taverns. However it is whisky's importance to Scotland on an international scale, he says, which clinches its place in our history.

"The proper drinking of Scotch whisky is more than indulgence;
it is a toast to a civilisation, a tribute to the continuity of culture.."

      David Daiches, author of "Scotch Whisky"

The Scotch Whisky Experience
It is no wonder that many visitors plan a trip to Scotland to find out more about whisky. Whisky lovers worldwide want to know how it's made, and learn about the diverse range of malts and blends from the Lowlands to the Islands, its history and cultural heritage. Their first stop in Edinburgh is likely to be the Scotch Whisky Experience just down from the Castle, a prime location on the Old Town tourist trail.

The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre was launched in July 1987 when 19 individual Scotch whisky companies jointly invested £2 million to purchase the former Castlehill School in order to create a permanent exhibition on the history and development of whisky. To celebrate its forthcoming 20th birthday, the Centre is spending £2 million to undertake a major upgrade and face lift to create a world class visitor attraction, now renamed the Scotch Whisky Experience. Its mission is "to inspire, enthuse and impassion our visitors about Scotch whisky in everything we do."

With a new state-of-the-art, glass and copper entrance hall, the word Experience is at the heart of the new branding. Visitors of all ages, including children, can enjoy an interactive Whisky Tour, presented in a choice of 10 languages, including Russian and Mandarin. The Whisky Experience tour features a film on whisky production, whisky tasting, and an audio-guided barrel ride through 300 years of whisky making, with evocative smells and sound effects to entice all the senses. The barrel ride will undergo a complete overhaul with improvements to the content and theme (due to be completed by 2008). The aim is to provide a Disney-style, entertaining and interesting education about whisky production in Scotland.

"Freedom and Whisky Gang Thegither"
      Robert Burns

The creation and success of the Scotch Whisky Experience has been due to the passion and enthusiasm of Managing Director, Alastair S McIntosh, who had the initial idea for the concept back in 1987. From the negotiation and purchase of Castlehill School, he has been personally involved in the development of this 5 star tourist attraction, now with a turnover of around £3 million. He has enjoyed a lifetime career working in the Scotch whisky industry, (MD of William Muir Ltd), quickly realising that Scottish tourism could be promoted through the world's love affair with whisky. McIntosh has played key roles in the Edinburgh & Lothians Tourist Board and the Scotch Whisky Tourism Initiative.

When the Centre first opened in 1988, it attracted around 70,000 visitors a year. The estimated number for 2006 is in the region of 250,000, with an impressive 70% from overseas. During your visit you can join the Scotch Whisky Appreciation Society which gives the opportunity to sample four malts with tasting notes and discount voucher for the Whisky shop. There are currently around 35,250 members worldwide.

By the end of 2007, the new look Scotch Whisky Experience may be welcoming the target of around 270,000 visitors a year. "We want to become a truly world class attraction, improving people's appreciation of Scotch whisky" says Managing Director Alastair McIntosh. "We expect this will have a positive impact on tourism in Scotland as well as the entire Scotch whisky industry."

Just inside the entrance hall, the Whisky Shop sells around 350 different malt, blended and rare whiskies, and miniatures to decanters, as well as Scottish gifts - glassware, books, shortbread and confectionary. For those who take the tour, you will receive a £2 discount voucher to spend here.

Accessibility is a major aspect in the refurbishment, with full wheelchair access, elevators to each floor, Braille translation, and enhanced visual and audio presentation for visually impaired and hard of hearing visitors. For this welcoming initiative, the Centre won a Visit Scotland Thistle Award in the "Tourism For All" category.

Learning About Whisky
The Scotch Whisky Experience runs a professional Whisky Training School with classes aimed at people working in bars, restaurants and hotels as well as the whisky enthusiast. The day course includes training in every aspect of whisky from history and production to tasting and serving. After a written examination, successful graduates receive a Certificate of Expertise in the sale and service of whisky.

If you simply wish to learn to distinguish and appreciate the different flavours, scent. age and strength between whiskies, you can arrange a Tutored Tasting session for a small group of friends or colleagues. Test your sensory perception and "nose." These one hour, entertaining tastings can be arranged at the Centre, perhaps before or after dinner in Amber or in your own office or home. Learning about whisky can start with school children and private group tours can be arranged - although no whisky tasting is allowed for under 18s!

"I should never have switched from Scotch to Martini's"
       Humphrey Bogart's last words

Scotland's First Whisky Restaurant
The attractive Amber Restaurant at Scotch Whisky Experience has proved very popular, promoting fine fresh food complemented by a choice of 270 whiskies, open for lunch every day and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday evening. Located next to the bar at the top of the building, the original stone walls and black and gold velvet fabrics add a smart appearance, casual by day, sophisticated by night. Good views from the high windows up and down Lawnmarket and Castlehill.

Experience an enticing menu - salmon, mussels, haggis, Buccleuch estate beef, venison, island cheeses, Perthshire raspberries - everything is Scottish. Whisky is used in selected dishes to add a subtle flavour such as a whisky peppercorn sauce served with the beef, Smoked salmon with Highland whisky dill dressing, and whisky and marmalade ice-cream. If you would prefer your whisky in a glass, then there are many whisky-free (and vegetarian) dishes and you can select a dram (or indeed a glass of wine), to accompany your meal. Expert advice from the whisky sommelier is on hand who will suggest a suitable dram per course, or why not start the meal with a Whisky cocktail aperitif with an imaginative choice concocted by the bar staff.

Amber Restaurant has won the highest accolade "gold award" from the Edinburgh Restaurateurs Association.

As a purpose designed visitor attraction, the venue has a choice of atmospheric function rooms for private parties, conferences and corporate hospitality. Amber Restaurant can be reserved for a private dinner of up to 40 guests. The magnificent Castlehill Room with chandeliers and vaulted glass ceiling is perfect for a traditional Scottish wedding combined with a banquet, pipers and ceilidh. The Castlehill seats 70 guests for dinner or 150 for cocktail parties and dances.

"Whisky is liquid sunshine."
      George Bernard Shaw

Whisky Experience Wordwide
There have been rumours that the company is to consider the opening of satellite Whisky Experience outposts overseas as part of its major development. "Expansion is part of our vision for 2010, but only if the right opportunity came up," comments Alistair McIntosh. "We do have further ambitions, and as long as the focus remains on Scotch whisky we will consider any project in any part of the world."

With regular Whisky Live exhibitions in Glasgow, London, Paris, New York, and Tokyo, it seems that the Scotch Whisky Experience brand could certainly expand and flourish worldwide as a popular attraction.

In April 2006, during the Tartan Week celebrations in New York, an American businessman (who has never visited Scotland) paid $20,000 for a rare bottle of whisky. Dan Weiss (see illustration), a serious whisky collector from New Jersey, was the highest bidder at an auction to raise money for the City Harvest food charity in New York. He paid £11,422 for the Glenfiddich, which was casked in 1937, the coronation year of George VI. Mr Weiss said it would have to be a "heck of a special occasion" before his purchase was opened and drunk.

"I've just had eighteen straight whiskies. I think that's the record."
       Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet

More Information
The Scotch Whisky Experience is at 354 Castlehill, on the Royal Mile, just down from Edinburgh Castle. It is open 7 days, 1000-1730, with extended hours in summer.

Slainte Mhath!
      (Good Health in Gaelic)

©Vivien Devlin,British Guild of Travel Writers
December 2006

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