A Guide to Scotch Whisky
Food & Drink, Culture
Haggis. Bag pipes. Tartan. Scotland’s signature traditions are many and varied. But ask a local and they’ll say that whisky is the country’s elixir of life. Fittingly, the spirit is named after the Gaelic word for ‘water of life’, and is Scotland’s national liquor. In fact, the art of Scottish distillation is so renowned that whisky made on Scottish shores has its own name, Scotch.
Scotch whisky has a long and storied history, dating back as far as the 15th century. Originally created as a way of using up ruined rain-soaked barley, it quickly turned into a popular craft. Its first known reference is an archived commission from 1496 between King James IV and Friar John Cor, a monk at Lindores Abbey, the apparent birthplace of the liquor. Fast-forward to the present day and whisky making has become one of Scotland’s most prominent industries. An established and world-renowned whisky hub, Edinburgh is home to an array of distilleries and whisky bars, including our own Scotch bar at The Balmoral.
Flavours of the Lowlands
Whisky can only be named ‘Scotch’ when it has been matured for at least three years in one of Scotland’s five whisky regions – Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Campeltown and the island of Islay. Focusing on Lowland, where Edinburgh is based, this area is known for its soft, light single malts, nicknamed the ‘Lowland Ladies’. Compared to some of the country’s harsher flavours, Lowland whisky is malty and zesty with fruity, citrusy notes.
A trip to Edinburgh isn’t complete without sampling some whisky, and true appreciation comes from understanding the intricacies of how the three different types are made. Malt is the strongest variety. It is created from malted barley, yeast and water, and prepared by the traditional four-step pot still process. When you see ‘single malt’ on a label, this means that it has been created at just one distillery. Grain whisky, on the other hand, uses a patent still process to combine malted barley with un-malted barley and other cereals. The third variety, blended whisky, can be created from a carefully considered combination of up to 50 different malt and grain whiskies.
Edinburgh’s Best Distilleries
Edinburgh is home to a number of distilleries, including Glenkinchie Distillery, which specialises in Glenkinchie Single Malt Whisky. Visitors can enjoy a tour of the distillery production area to learn about how the whisky is made, before tasting it at the bar. Elsewhere in Edinburgh, North British Distillery is renowned for its grain whisky, inviting visitors from across the world to sample its Scotch.
Another worthy destination for whisky lovers is The Scotch Whisky Experience, a replica distillery where visitors take a ‘barrel ride’ through the whisky-making process. Experts also teach masterclasses and guide guests on how to select their perfect dram from the treasured whisky vault, which contains the world’s largest collection of Scotch.
Taste of Scotland
To sample many types of whisky in a sophisticated environment, head to one of Edinburgh’s celebrated whisky bars. With over 500 varieties from across the country, Scotch at The Balmoral is home to the largest collection of publically available Scottish whisky in the city. Utterly authentic in its approach, the bar ensures that every aspect of the tasting experience is on point, from the ambience right down to the type of water (Uisge Source) used to “open up” each dram.
Whisky ambassadors clad in traditional highland attire guide guests on their journey of discovery and help them select glasses ranging from £4 to £300. Alternatively, take yourself on a journey through regions, decades and finishes with one of Scotch’s tasting menus. With its selection limited edition drams, the Rare & Old menu will delight with classic flavours evoking tales of the spirit’s rich past.
Discover the age-old Scottish tradition of whisky-making with The Balmoral.