#10.1 Whisky in Edinburgh and beyond

Dramming in the Capital


Some whisky stuff to do in and around the capital of Scotland, starting from the “in” ones. 

One of the things that we liked the most about our last visit to Blair Athol was being able to do it in a single day trip, without using a car and therefore taking full advantage of the drams included in our distillery tour. Scotland isn’t a huge country, but sometimes travelling to distilleries is not as simple as someone might think by just looking at the map. First, living in an urban context such as Leith also means driving 20-30 minutes before you are even outside Edinburgh (we can’t bake our cake and eat it, we guess). On top of that, some distilleries are particularly off the beaten path, such as Bladnoch, Ardnamurchan or Nc’Nean, and reaching towns such as Campbeltown is not the easiest either! This has its own advantages though, like the beautiful landscapes you cross to drive there, and that you will hardly find a swarm of casual tourists or whisky fans during your visit.

Despite all this, since we moved here we have been able to do a few whisky-related activities in a single day. Some of them are in the city itself, like the Holyrood distillery, the Leith and Edinburgh Whisky trails offered by Kask Whisky, the recently open Johnny Walker Experience (which we haven’t visited yet) or the Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile. Others are just beyond the city (Glenkinchie distillery), or within an hour-or-so of public transport. In this series of posts, we will tell you about our whisky adventures in and around the Scottish capital city!

First off, The Whisky Experience, just a few feet away from the Edinburgh Castle, the very first whisky-themed activity we have done since we moved to Scotland. Gianluigi did the tour twice: the most basic one with a couple of friends (and where he tasted Ardbeg 10 for the first time!), and a few months later with Teresa, this time opting for a fancier experience with a dram per region. As beginners, this was a gentle and not-to-cheesy introduction to the world of Scotch whisky, we would say tailored for tourists. Also, their Amber restaurant serves very good food and their whisky bar is quite exceptional (and not expensive despite the location). Few meters away, you’ll find the Ensign Ewart pub, which deserves a mention for their whisky offer, tastings and the break-even prices on some rare bottles, and Jeffrey Street Whisky, which offer interesting tasting experiences.

Since then, our whisky journey took a while to take off, but in July 2019 we finally visited what at the time could have been considered the Edinburgh “home distillery”, Glenkinchie.

Gianluigi under the famous Pencaitland sun.

Part of the Diageo empire, it is located in the village of Pencaitland, about half-hour away from the city center by car. Unfortunately, the distillery can’t be easily reached with public transport, but they offer a shuttle service …good solution? Maybe, if you like to throw your money in the bin: the shuttle costs £20 per person independently of the number of people in the party (or others taking the same trip), so if you’re alone it might work. In our case we were five, so it was more convenient to just get a car through the Enterprise Car Club carsharing for 3h, which costed around £25, definitely more convenient…well, probably a cab would have been more convenient than the shuttle anyway, eheh! Almost three years have gone, so we cannot give a lot of details about the tour, also considering the big renovation works connected to Johnnie Walker (as for Clynelish and Cardhu). We remember it as a pleasant experience, with two drams at the end: the Glenkinchie 12y and the Distillers Edition. The available experiences are much more now, and sooner or later we will check them out. We hope to still find the very detailed scale model showing the whisky production process from barley germination to distillation – excellent for beginners.

Gianluigi showing off one of the Whisky Experience gifts!

The wave of new distilleries didn’t spare Edinburgh, meaning that we now have two home distilleries, Holyrood and Bonnington, and a third one, the Port of Leith distillery, is being built. Holyrood is open to the public, and we waited for Gianluigi’s brother and his girlfriend to be in town to visit, in February 2020. Scotland in February hasn’t the best weather usually (a few hours later Gianluigi and Edo will assist to one of the dullest, wettest and coldest Calcutta Cup games in a few years, at Murrayfield Stadium), so checking out Holyrood seemed a quite fitting activity. We chose the Whisky and Gin tour (now £15.50pp) instead of the Whisky Tour and Tasting (now £25.00pp) because some people in the party were more gin drinkers (yeah, we know…). It was a very cheerful and fun experience, including a sensory room to test our ability to recognize aromas.

Double act at Holyrood: gin…
…and whisky stills.

In the gin production area, we learnt that they buy neutral grain spirit and re-distill it with juniper and their chosen botanicals. The whisky production area was quite nice, with very tall and thin stills. We found their experimentation with various barley and yeast strains extremely interesting. At the tasting we could choose one each of their sourced whisky (now discontinued), gins and gin liquors. Flights were also available. Definitely a very pleasant experience, which we might do again when the time is right.

Finally, last but not least, the historical whisky tours offered by Justine of Kask Whisky, the Edinburgh and Leith Whisky trails. Edinburgh has an incredibly important, as well as hidden in plain sight, whisky history, which Justine uncovered for us during these tours. We’d say that they are more oriented to whisky nerds like us, however Gianluigi’s parents (which are definitely not whisky nerds and don’t speak English) quite liked the Edinburgh Whisky Trail, which started near the Haymarket station (at the Caledonia distillery site) and ended in one of the prettiest neighborhoods in the city, Stockbridge.

Memory of the Caledonia distillery.

The whisky history of Leith is even more obvious, it is really hard not to spot the signs, from the Cooperage on the Shore, to the (former) warehouses (now flats). However, Justine is able to take a deep dive in the history of this part of town, and show how it was connected to the whisky industry. As the icing on the cake, Justine’s tours end with a tasting of old, sometimes very old blends. Definitely a must-do for every whisky geek out there!

Old blends at the end of the Edinburgh Whisky Trail…and a special guest too.

For people interested in whisky tastings there is also a good choice. While we already mentioned the Ensign Ewart and Jeffrey Street Whisky here and in our Dramming at home post, another option is the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, in particular the venue at Queen St (open to non-members), where they have weekly tastings guided by their very competent crew. For other tasting experiences, it is also worth to keep an eye on the social media profile of Jolly Toper, One Malt at a Time, and East Coast Whisky. Finally, a recent addition is Tipsy Midgie, offering a plethora of tasting experiences (distillery-focused, chocolate pairing, etc.). As a result of our first tasting we booked another two, just to give you an idea, eheh!

A tasting in the Pip Hills Room at the SMWS Queen St.
The unbelievable whiskybcollection at the new Tipsy Midgie bar!

If this has not satisfied your appetite for whisky stuff, stay tuned: in the next couple of weeks we’ll tell you about a few of our daytrips from Edinburgh…until then: slainte!

Whisky activities links

Whisky bar links

Author: Dramming Around

A pretend-to-be-young Italian couple on a quest to discover whisk(e)y distilleries and their golden nectar

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