On my last visit to Edinburgh last year, I signed up for a morning masterclass at the Scotch Whisky Experience. Located on the Royal Mile, the road leading to Edinburgh’s castle, it is one of the most recommended visits to do while visiting the city and rightly so.
The visit starts with a private tour of the world’s largest collection of scotch whisky. Claive Vidiz, the former CEO of a Brazilian pharmaceutical company, collected an impressive number of more than 3400 scotch bottles during his life. Some come from distilleries that no longer exist; others are limited editions. The oldest dates back to the late 1890’s. All the bottles are intact. Angels or faulty corks are to blame for the few empty bottles. Claive Vidiz sold his collection to Diageo in 2006 on two conditions: the collection had to be available to the public and, being a collection of scotch whiskies, it had to be in Scotland. After a lot of administrative work – imagine the paperwork with the customs for over 3000 bottles! – Vidiz’s collection arrived in Scotland in 2009.
Instead of keeping the bottles with their archives collection in Menstrie, Diageo decided to display them in the more visited city of Edinburgh at the Scotch Whisky Experience in which the company is one of the shareholders. The bottles are sorted alphabetically and through whisky regions. At one point, the guide turned off the lights to leave only the single malt whiskies illuminated. There were only a “few” bottles in comparison to the blended scotches, which is reflective of the global scotch production.
After a few explanations about whisky production over complimentary tea and shortbreads, my guide and I moved to the bar and its bottle collection. There were bottles of all shapes and sizes. Most were special editions, including some bell shaped bottles produced for royal weddings, anniversaries and births. Some represented golf players; others were checkboard pieces that an airline gave select customers.
We then moved to the part I was most excited about, i.e. the sensory perception test! I was really eager to see how well I’d recognize the different aromas. There were 10 bottles with scented cotton balls inside and it was hard! I recognized half of the ingredients. Two that I should have recognized easily confused me. What I liked most though was learning at which stage of the whisky making process each of these aromas naturally develop (remember: there are no added flavours in whisky).
No visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience would be complete without a sampling of a few scotch whiskies. My guide led me through a tasting of two blends and two single malts with explanations about their profile and production.
I finished my visit of the Scotch Whisky Experience with an entertaining 8 min ride inside a barrel through a video exhibition explaining the different stages of whisky production. I then received a complimentary nice crystal whisky tasting glass and a map of Scotland’s distilleries. Before leaving, I had a quick look at the shop which sells an impressive choice of scotches. I valiantly resisted buying anything but might crack when I return next month.
Return? Most probably yes ! The tour was entertaining and the quality of the information excellent thanks to very knowledgeable guide I had. As I’m taking some friends to Edinburgh in a few weeks for their first time in Scotland, I recommended them to visit the Scotch Whisky Experience. We’ll see what they decide about the tour but I’m pretty sure we’ll visit the shop at least.