In the 1949 film “Whisky Galore!,” a ship carrying 50,000 cases of whisky was shipwrecked on an island in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides region. Hilarity follows when the whisky-starved islanders try to thwart English authorities by gathering and hiding much of the salvaged cargo.
The gift shop at the Scotch Whisky Experience
sells nearly 300 varieties of whisky
After a recent trip to Scotland, I confess that my checked baggage closely resembled a scene from this film.
Whisky quickly became the encompassing theme while I was in Edinburgh to preview some of the events during the year-long Homecoming Scotland 2009 promotion. Truthfully, I’m amazed at just how much I learned about Scotland’s national drink, although my education was certainly aided by an accelerated learning schedule that included three whisky tastings in less than 30 hours.
My first stop was the Scotch Whisky Experience, adjacent to the iconic Edinburgh Castle. The center is home to more than 300 whiskies produced by 90 distilleries around the world. Recently, it introduced a new tour in which visitors ride in a simulated whisky barrel while learning about the whisky-making process.
I opted, however, to take a “tutored tasting” course, which included four types of scotch, one from each of Scotland’s major whisky regions. The course taught me how wildly whisky flavors can vary, with distillery location, cask material and even air quality all playing an important role in the final product. It was here that I also learned that Scotch whisky is always spelled without the letter “e.”
After an hour of intensive education, sporting a Scotch-induced glow, I wandered off to enjoy some of Edinburgh’s other attractions, including the General Register Office for Scotland, a popular stop for people researching their Scottish ancestry. I also enjoyed an engaging tour of the new “Scotland: A Changing Nation” exhibit at the National Museum of Scotland.
Before dinner, I managed to sneak in another whisky tasting at Hotel Du Vin Edinburgh’s whisky bar. It stocks whiskies from as far away as Brazil and Japan, but I decided to stay local and enjoy more of Scotland’s finest. This tasting left me so mellow that I didn’t even blink when I was served traditional Scottish haggis (made of assorted animal intestines) for dinner and the somewhat odd, but tasty, deep-fried Mars bar for dessert.
The following day, my thirst for knowledge took me outside the city for a day of sightseeing that would ultimately bring me to the Tullibardine Distillery. Here, I was fortunate enough to meet distillery manager John Black, who recently celebrated his 50th anniversary in the whisky industry. John took me on an abbreviated version of the Connoisseur Tour which included an up-close look at the inner workings of the distillery, as well as a tasting from an actual cask in the bonded warehouse where thousands of casks wait for their contents to mature.
Inside the tasting room, John let me select my own tasting menu from countless varieties of scotch. When he pulled out the bottle of 10-year old John Black Blended Whisky, named in his honor, I swooned.
Whisky month is being celebrated throughout Scotland this May, but tastings and other events continue year-round.