The Scotch Whisky Experience (SWE) is a neighbour of Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Royal Mile. As a resident I have never had an inclination to wander in despite the amount of times I have walked past. A trip to a Scottish distillery would be on my must do list when visiting Edinburgh and Scotland, but I understand that some people stay in town for brief visits or may not want to venture out of the comfort of the city.
I was intrigued to find out if this tourist attraction could replicate a visit to the nearby Glenkinchie Distillery or the slightly further afield, but smallest in Scotland, Edradour Distillery. I didn’t look on their website beforehand, so really didn’t know what to expect.
I was warmly welcomed and opted for the silver tour at £11.50 which includes a trip on the Whisky Barrel Ride, a session on whisky aromas, a tasting and a view of the world’s largest whisky collection. There are other tours available which include more tastings or a detailed tour in the collection room.
The staff through the SWE were extremely pleasant, polite and helpful. The girl at the ticket desk explained that because I was an Edinburgh resident visiting the SWE, I was entitled to an Ambassador’s Card. This allows me to have discounts on further visits and from their coffee shop, restaurant and gift shop amongst others.
Unfortunately, her introduction to the Whisky Barrel Ride was a little cringy as she stated, “welcome to Malt Disney”. We climbed aboard the barrel, which is fully accessible for disabled people by means of a ramp and includes an audio guide in one of fifteen languages.
It seats any two adults with room to spare, or three normal sized adults and moves at a slow pace. You are transported through the whole whisky making process in a replica distillery with the aid of a talking character.
I was actually a little distracted whilst I was on the ride, as I was conscious about where I going to next as I was turned around and found myself in a virtual vat of whisky. It is certainly the ‘gimmick’ part of the tour and can’t beat seeing the real thing (with the accompanying smells). This is the only downfall of the tour for me, but obviously not one that can be rectified.
The ride was over within five minutes and we were gathered together as a group in a small room with more whisky information on the walls. Non-english speaking visitors collect a ‘wand’ at this point and can select the numbers shown on the wall throughout the rest of the tour in their own language.
We were then taken through to the Sense of Scotland room where the history of where whisky is made is explained to us by a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable member of staff. We were told about the four active regions and then given the opportunity to ‘smell’ a region of whisky from individual bottles in front of us. We also told about the role of Master Blenders and how they do their job by sense of smell alone.
I decided to try a ‘lowlands’ whisky and it was poured into a glass which we got to keep (we were given a box to protect it with our entrance ticket). I carried my glass with my dram through to the magnificent Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection room. I am not going to spoil the surprise with pictures here, but it really is amazing to see this collection of 3384 bottles of Whisky in the one place.
Our guide explained to us how to smell a whisky, how to taste it properly then said “slàinte mhath” (Scots Gaelic for ‘cheers’ and prounounced “slange va”) before encouraging us to try our drink. I am not a huge whisky fan at the best of times, and since it was not even 11am yet – I didn’t particularly enjoy the taste. My friend took advantage and finished mine for me and really enjoyed both blends.
We were allowed some time to admire the bottles and have a closer look before moving through to the McIntyre Whisky Gallery which is the end point for the tour. The more humourous bottles from the collection are housed here such as chess sets and books that double as whisky holders. The walls here re cap everything you will have learnt on your tour, but you can take this room at your own pace. The guide thanked us for our time and suggested we try out some more whiskies at the bar there. It was such a cold winters’ day outside, it would be very tempting to sit in one of the seats and work your way through some more drams overlooking the rooftops of Edinburgh.
We chose to have a drink in the coffee shop in the basement and next to the award winning Amber Restaurant. Although I have not eaten here yet, I have tasted a selection of their dishes at the Edinburgh Foodies Festival and was blown away with the quality on offer. The coffee shop is very reasonably priced for somewhere on the Royal Mile – £1.30 for a pot of tea and £1.70 for a delicious coffee. I managed to do without a piece of the their Cranachan cake this time, but won’t say no when I return.
The exit from the SWE is through the gift shop. I had a brief look and was pleased that alongside the great variety of whiskies on offer, there was a tasteful selection of Scottish gifts with no tartan tat to be found anywhere. Our entrance ticket is worth £2 off a big bottle of whisky here and you can also buy further tasting glasses at £5 each.
Not including our time in the coffee shop, we were approximately an hour in the SWE from start to finish. I imagine it would be very busy at peak tourist times, so booking in advance is advisable.
Apart from not being an actual working distillery with the authentic smell that accompanies one, the Scotch Whisky Experience is pretty impressive. The whole operation is smooth, with friendly staff and excellent facilities for foreigners and disabled people, it is worth while taking a journey through here.
It’s a perfect activity for residents on a rainy day in Edinburgh and any time of the year for tourists.
Suitable for disabled? Yes fully accessible via lifts and ramps onto the barrel ride and accessible toilets.