Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Drinking in Edinburgh, Scotland September 8 through 16, 2023

OK. Probably the first thing I have to explain is what in the world I was doing in Scotland such a very short time after my three week vacation in Greece. My daughter decided to complete the last semester of her college education at the University of Edinburgh, the choice of location largely being dependent on where she could take the very few classes she needed and get credit for them. So less than one month after returning from Greece my husband and I  accompanied our delightful daughter to Edinburgh, Scotland, where she will spend the time from September to Christmas.  

So why the crazy title of the blogpost.  Well, drinking is a huge party of Scottish culture, and you'd best know what you are doing when you get to the bar, because there is a lot to wrap your head around, and the choices are mindboggling.


A delicious flight of
single malt whisky

The spirit best associated with Scotland is Whisky.  The Americans usually call it Scotch.  The same stuff in Ireland is called Whiskey (Irish Whiskey) and in America its called bourbon.  Scotch seems to get more expensive depending on how old it is. By law, in order to be called a Scotch Whisky the liquor must mature in an oak barrel for three years and have no other ingredients besides water and caramel coloring (aside from the alcohol part I guess). Whisky can either be single malt or can be blended, the single malts being far higher quality.  Whisky can be diluted with water before drinking or can be served over ice cubes, but the far more common way of drinking it is neat and at room temperature, one to two ounces at a time (after all this stuff is at least 80 proof!) out of a special glass called a Glencairn.  Whisky is made in a distillery, as opposed to a brewery or a winery.

OK. The single malts come from a single region of which there are six: Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Campbeltown, Islands and Islay.  Each region brags its own influence over the type of whisky it produces and these differences are very noticeable.  The Speyside region, though comparatively small when compared to the larger lowlands and highlands, has by far the most extensive whisky production.  Its single malts are fruit and spice forward.  Highland single malts on the other hand are noted with heather and honey.  The Islay are extremely peat forward, due to the peat that is used to fuel the fermentation process. This makes Islay whisky taste like drinking a campfire.  Dang.  I tried it a second time just to see if I could get through it.  After the second time I said no more.  Though the Islay region is really just a speck on the map, there are nine distilleries there.

Tasting in the Collection Room
Anyway, I went to Scotland knowing absolutely nothing about Scotch Whisky.  But I got a
great education at The Scotch Whisky Experience.  The SWE ( I'm just going to call it that) is located at 354 Castlehill on the Royal Mile right at the exit of Edinburgh Castle and is faulted for being extremely touristy.  Well, it is touristy, but it was super educational. From 10 to 5 daily the SWE runs tours ranging from 21 to 90 pounds.  We took the Gold Tour which allowed us to taste 5 single malts from each region and a blended Scotch.  The tour takes you through an informative film, then a single tasting and instruction in how to taste, then into a very cool collection of 3384 bottles of whisky-all different!  The tour concludes as a self paced seated tasting of your remaining single malts.  There is an extensive gift shop, no surprise there.

I recommend it, but bring your ID!  Scotland is strict.  My 21 year old daughter was with us and forgot her ID and they would not let her drink.  That was a big bummer.

Anyway, given our new knowledge we ran a nightly ritual of getting a whisky or even a whisky flight in a variety of pubs/bars.  Most had a great selection and making a choice always proved to be a challenge.  Scotch Whisky is sipped while you relax, much in the same way one might enjoy a cigar.  Anyway, before I left Scotland I ordered a 4 pack of Glencairn glasses from Amazon which were waiting for me when I returned.  Costco has a good selection of single malts at reasonable prices.  We looked at duty free in the airport but that was good stuff and it was expensive.

A flight of Single Malt Whiskys 
served in Glencairn glasses with tasting notes 


My first Gin and Tonic was in the Heathrow airport duty free shop in 2019 and since then I am hooked!  I guess I always thought that gin was a English thing-something about being called "London Dry," but in fact, the per capita consumption of gin is higher in Edinburgh than in any other city in the UK.

Gin is just vodka with juniper flavoring, but with that juniper flavoring, believe me it tastes totally different.

In Scotland, you can really get whatever kind of gin you want in your G and T.  You just order it.  The gin comes in a glass of ice and your bottled tonic comes on the side for you to govern the strength of your libation. Nice touch.  Anyhow, the most visible gin in Edinburgh is none other than ... Edinburgh Gin, or simply EG. It's everywhere. You can visit their showroom on the west side of the castle.  Their basic gin experience is 25 pounds.  Anyway, we chose "the other guy" for a distillery tour, maybe cuz it was listed first in Rick Steves book, but we passed by their retail shop on Hanover street and decided to take a peek inside. We were floored by the variety of gin in there!  Classic London Dry, a navy strength label, a seaside label, plus oodles of flavor combos (Rhubarb and Ginger/Lemon and Jasmine/Orange Blossom and Basil), and Gin Liquors (Mulled Wine/Plum/Raspberry/Orange Blossom).  The best part, the darling girl in there let us try whatever we wanted, so we really got a great overview of what they make.  And it paid off too, cuz the next day we went back and bought three different gins, two flavored and a liquor.  So so hard to make a decision!

Tasting at the Edinburgh Gin store

The other distillery in town is Pickering's Gin, which is located about a 20 minute walk south of the Royal Mile in what used to be an Old Veterinary School.  Their Gin Jolly experience takes about one hour and costs 25 pounds which includes a welcome gin and tonic, a tour and 4 tastings.  It was good but not great.  This tour had 15 people and a very goofy guide who just seemed like he was trying too hard to be funny. The tour was interesting and informative and could have stood on its own without the corny humor.  We had to stand the entire tour-that got tiring.  Before we got to taste a lot of time was wasted as each person dipped their souvenir bottle into red wax while the samples were poured into plastic cups.  They had less gin variety as they are much newer and a smaller operation, so we basically tried all they had to offer, and it was good--but no cool flavors or liquors.  You can buy their gin at the distillery.  I did not see it in the grocery or at duty free.  We didn't buy any.  I would try the Edinburgh Gin experience. 

Anyway, I looked up what is the difference between Indian Tonic and Mediterranean Tonic.  Indian Tonic has more quinine in it and thereby is better mixer for your classic London Dry gin.  Mediterranean Tonic is lighter and is to be mixed with flavored gin and gin heavier in botanicals.  Get it?  Now ya know.


Beer is also heavily consumed in Scotland.  There are Scottish breweries, mostly craft breweries, so when we drank beer we tried to drink Scottish beer.

See! Beer is yummy in Scotland too

OK that's that!  Thank you for reading my post!  I will try to get something else written about our week in Scotland.  Here are some more pictures!

And yeah..cider is great too!
Our nightly ritual!

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