When you’re on holiday, visiting our local pubs might be on the agenda, whether as a means of grabbing a quick refreshment on the way to do something else, or as a destination for an evening with friends or to listen to music.
Address: 354 Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 2NE (on left hand side as you head towards Edinburgh Castle – Telephone: 0131 550 0441
Restaurant: http://www.amber-restaurant.co.uk (Telephone: 0131 477 8400)
Scotland is known the world over for its production of Scotch Whisky, which is a major export for Scotland. The main markets as of 2011 are USA, France and Singapore. (Source: BBC News)
If time is tight on your visit to Scotland and you don’t have time to visit one of the many distilleries around the country which offer tours, then a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience might prove an excellent alternative.
We have had guests at Craigwell Cottage who have come to Edinburgh to enjoy one of the Scotch Whisky Certificate Courses which are run monthly throughout the year, but you may choose to pay a visit for one of the three different tours which run frequently each day.
As a result of hearing about our guests’ experiences, and a chance meeting with Lara Dunston, a world travel blogger, I decided to pay a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience after the attraction had kindly hosted a Travel Tweetup in September 2011 and given me a couple of complimentary tickets to go on a tour.
At this point I have a confession to make. Despite being Scottish, I don’t think I have ever sampled neat whisky more than a few times in my life, and can confirm that these times have been restricted to tastes of my Orcadian Uncle’s favourite tipple, Highland Park, or as a liqueur in the form of Drambuie, which I do like over ice. And what’s more, I’ve committed whisky sacrilege by using up our supplies of whisky miniatures making our annual batch of mulled wine. I feel better for these confessions – you know that any comments on the tour and the tastings are not being done from any past history of enjoying or knowing anything about whisky.
As I was going on the tour to represent the point of view of ‘ignorance of the product’, I thought it would be a good idea to bring along someone whom I know enjoys the odd dram or two. I can tell he does because I’ve seen photographs on his daily photo blog on Blipfoto, where the subject often turns to which whisky he’s been sampling (whether a wee dram from a miniature; quaffing different samples in the pub or even taking his samples abroad and in my favourite blip of all time: a cold night on the Royal Mile).
So in early November 2011, Mr G and I set off to sample the delights of the Scotch Whisky Experience tour. I knew that I’d selected the right man for the job when he sent me a message the night before saying that he was practising!
We arrived at the Scotch Whisky Experience a few minutes early and took the opportunity to have a little browse in the well stocked shop by the entrance. There were plenty of gifts and cards of good quality to buy as well as whisky and whisky-related goods. My companion became quite animated at the sight of a range of whiskies which were from the ‘Flora and Fauna’ range. He explained these were small batches of single malts released by producers who normally do not retail single malts, but usually provide the component malts for the production of blended whiskies. Blends comprise over 90% of the global sales of whisky.
We were soon off on our tour, starting with a barrel ride where we learned about the ingredients which go into a single malt – barley, water and yeast. We did observe that there was perhaps a missed opportunity in this area to present photographs of the beauty of the Scottish countryside where the barley is grown.
Our next stop was to learn about the different regions of production throughout Scotland, and the characteristic flavours and scents pertinent to each region. In doing this we were able to identify which notes were most appealing to us and had the opportunity to select a sample to taste.
Mr G was soon armed with a peaty Islay malt, and I selected a floral Speyside. We moved to the room housing the Claive Vidiz collection – the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky, where my companion was like a wee boy in a sweetie shop as he took some of the details of this vast collection. In fact we could quite easily have spent a lot longer in this area poring over the labels, bottles and different varieties.
We were instructed in how to taste and savour the whisky we’d selected, and I can report that the AnCnoc which I’d selected was wonderful – I’m completely won over with the idea that there is definitely a whisky to suit every palette. However, Mr G’s selection smelled altogether less appealing, although very distinctive. Even from yards away his selection was reeking like a fireman’s jacket, and I had real difficulty in understanding how he could actually swallow the stuff. But that’s the lesson learned, and a great opportunity to find out more about our national drink.
I’d definitely recommend a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience to visitors who want to understand more about whisky before making a purchase to take home, or who would be interested in whiling away a couple of hours sipping some additional samples by extending their tour – either formally, or informally in the well stocked bar of the Amber Restaurant where I could quite easily have spent the rest of the afternoon.
Other ideas to try:
- Glenkinchie Distillery (near Pencaitland, only 20 miles from Edinburgh)
- Scotch Whisky Association
- Rabbie’s Day Tour from Edinburgh
One day when I was searching the internet for photographs of Clarinda’s Tea Rooms in the Royal Mile, Edinburgh to prepare a recommendation of a good place to eat while staying at Craigwell Cottage I found a website called ‘The Girl in the Cafe‘.
On the site I was offered the opportunity to participate in a project of circulating a DVD, watching it and preparing comments. The DVD is of a film which was shown on BBC some time ago, and as soon as I started to watch it, I realised that I had indeed seen it before. I did enjoy viewing it a second time, but share the frustration which was so eloquently expressed by the protagonist Gina (played by Kelly Macdonald) that the G8 summit is held, there is a lot of noise about it in the press at the time, then we don’t hear anything until the next one.
We witnessed the protests at the Edinburgh G8 summit first-hand, indeed one of our friends was wounded in the course of his employment that week. My husband was shut in his office in George Street one evening, with he and his staff afraid to emerge because of hand-to-hand combat going on in Rose Street. We feared for our children’s safety that week as convoys of police cars and other vehicles moved around the city and reports reached us of fighting in the streets and destruction in normally quiet rural areas.
We were all moved when the concerts and marches pledging to ‘Make Poverty History’ pricked our consciences, but then the terrorist acts of 7 July in London grabbed the headlines and we all moved to the next horror on the world stage.
So it’s a good thing that movies like ‘The Girl in the Cafe’ are around to remind us that we are failing to eradicate poverty, but it’s too simplistic to state that it’s only the Third World where people are living in deprived conditions.
As for the love story which is the other theme of the movie, it’s one of Bill Nighy’s better performances – you do actually feel that he’s a sad lonely man with nothing to occupy him except his job. Kelly Macdonald has just the right pitch of mystery and misery to keep you guessing as to why she’s sitting lonely in a cafe too when Bill asks if he might join her. And of course in the end you don’t know if they will ever meet again.