As Scotland’s Capital City Edinburgh has much to offer tourists and locals alike in the way of free and paid for attractions. In the first part of a new series on The Edinburgh Blog called Edinburgh As A Tourist, the whisky tour at The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre on Castlehill, The Royal Mile is looked at. Over the coming year many more tourist attractions will be visited and reviewed on The Edinburgh Blog; so check back often. If you would like to suggest a tourist attraction for inclusion please e-mail mailXtheedinburghblog.co.uk, where X is @. Your feedback is always welcomed using the comments link at the end of this post.
The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre is located on Castlehill, literally a stone throw from the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. It sits by the Witchery restaurant and opposite the eminently popular Camera Obscura attraction. It’s in a prime tourist location, although this past Sunday when I attended the tour there were only four persons on it (it is January!). Tickets are purchased by walking through the wonderfully well stocked whisky shop and through to a dedicated ticket counter out back. Tours run to set times, every half or so during peak season, and you can fill in the time either through browsing the whisky shop or sitting in the pre-tour room, whose walls are plastered with many thousands of Scotch Whisky labels:-
Our tour started at just past 2.30pm and the tour guide promptly poured four Scotch whiskies and invited each one of us on the tour to take one. This is the whisky tasting part of the tour. With guidance from the tour guide we were taught the four key stages to Scotch whisky tasting: colour, body, nose/palate and finish (how long the taste lasts for). This was the most interesting part of the tour, not least because I got a free drink ;-) However, it would have been better to have tasted different whiskies to gain a fuller appreciation of difference - this is an option for an extra fee in the bar after the tour though. You even get to keep the Glencairn glass, and the box to store it in contains a summary of how to taste Scotch Whisky. This is a nice touch.
Following this you take a seat in the adjacent cinema, where a film showing how Scotch whisky is made is played. This is very informative and wets the appetite to visit a whisky distillery for a full tour (of which there are many in Scotland). Being just a Heritage centre there is no actual whisky distillation to experience here. After this, you head into another room where your tour guide describes the distillery model at the front of the room and the associated stages of the whisky making progress. Yet another video is shown describing the various whisky regions of Scotland. Again, this was interesting and informative: the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre seems to have the balance between length and detail just about right. The most interesting part of this was three containers you were asked to smell, that contained whisky at various stages of the distillation process. Early on it’s not too pleasant!
The next stage involve you sitting in a room while a hologram of ’some old bloke’ talks you through the whisky blending process i.e. how different whiskies are combined to give some of the great tasting Scotch whisky blends we drink everyday. And also some incredible statistics regarding how much Scotch whisky is exported worldwide. I think the centre must be proud of the holograph, but personally I would have preferred a human actor for this stage of the tour. The centre seems to have automated a lot of the tour, obviously beneficial to costs. Personally I think the holograph thing seemed a little dated, but I guess it could keep children entertained. Maybe.
After this comes the final part of the tour: The Whisky Barrel Ride. Here you climb aboard a moving whisky barrel and travel on flat ground at a snails pace through various recreations of Scotch whiskies history. This is narrated through speakers in your own barrel; but when this is silent you can hear narrative from the barrel behind you. This part of the tour was excellent and you really remember some of the historical events that shaped Scotch Whisky into the multi-million dollar industry it is now. Unfortunately photographs are not allowed on this part of the tour, but you will see many wax-works of persons who played a part in Scotch Whiskies history and many recreations of significant events, such as the taxation on whisky and how French vineyards being decimated by a louse from America, opened up the international market for Scotch Whisky. I found a good history of Whisky here.
The end of the barrel ride signals the end of the tour. After this you have opportunity to enjoy a meal in their excellent Amber restaurant, drink some whisky or other tipple at their bar or browse the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre whisky shop. This shop has an excellent selection of Scotch Whisky, all referenced by the huge directory in the centre of the room. This is a great place to buy a gift for friends and family, although some of the whisky here might be beyond most persons budget: I saw one bottle for Â£6000. Don’t worry there’s plenty more gifts that are perfectly affordable!
Overall I enjoyed finding out more about Scotch whisky and left with a fuller appreciation of what Scotch whisky exactly is, how it’s made and how its history has developed. This is a good, informative tourist attraction and allows you to find out more about one of Scotland’s most successful industries. It will make a good trip before or after Edinburgh castle. I would say this is more enjoyable for adults, due to the informative nature of the tour. Although, I’m sure children will enjoy the whisky barrel ride at the end. Note: you can browse the shop without paying for the tour.
The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre At A Glance
- Address: 354 Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh. EH1 2NE. View at Google Maps
- Website: http://www.whisky-heritage.co.uk/
- Price (at time of review): Adults Â£8.95. Senior Citizen/Disabled/Students Â£6.75. Children (5-17) Â£4.75. Under 5’s free. Family tickets available
- Time the visit takes: Approx. 1 hour