Now I love a drink and if I’m honest, I’m not that fussy. Wine, beer, spirits, liqueurs bring them my way and I’ll happily knock them back! My ability to handle shots of alcohol that surely no one likes (Tequila and Sambuca spring to mind) is one of my finer qualities (some might say my finest). However there is one chink in the armour, one drink I cannot get along with and that is whisky. So heading to the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh with 3 people who feel pretty much the same way may seem an odd choice to spend an afternoon but we had sound reasoning. Most people don’t like the taste of strong drinks such as wine and coffee the first time they try them. You persevere though and they end up being (in my case) your favourites! So going in with an open mind and hoping to leave nearly born whisky enthusiasts we headed to the end of the Royal Mile where the whisky shop, experience and restaurant is located.
We started off with lunch at the Amber restaurant which is upstairs. This really is a hidden gem! Even if you don’t go to do the experience its worth popping up to the restaurant as its a quiet haven from the hoards of tourists and also an absolute bargain with 4 courses for £27. The friendly waitress came over and rattled off the menu. We all momentarily panicked thinking we had to remember and pick what we wanted but actually it was a tapas style serving of traditional Scottish food so you get to try a little bit of everything (my favourite type of meal).
The starter was smoked salmon and cream cheese on sourdough, ham hock terrine and a black pudding bon bon. The salmon and ham were very well prepared and yummy but the bon bon was the real star of the show! Served warm it was full of flavour, soft and crumbly and almost melted in your mouth.
The main course was, beef, lamb and a monkfish soup. The beef was incredibly succulent and tender and the sweet potato it was served with was not overly mashed with just the right amount of seasoning. The lamb itself was nice but unfortunately it came with a massive amount of fat. The potato stack was a little bland and could of done with a good sprinkle of seasoning between the layers. The monkfish chowder was creamy and flavoursome. I would have liked a little more fish in it though as my portion seemed to contain more potato then fish.
The dessert was a vanilla panna cotta with poached rhubarb and lemon sorbet. On paper this sounds like an odd mish mash of flavours but in reality they worked really well together. The rhubarb was stewed so it was still firm with a strong rhubarb flavour and not a horrible mush. The vanilla panna cotta was creamy and smooth whilst the lemon sorbet had a lovely but subtle lemon flavour with no bitterness.
Then came the main event, the whisky and cheese.
The brie was nice although it had a slight cabbage taste. The whisky .. well I would love to give you a description of the floral and fruity notes of this beautiful drink but being honest all I could taste was a strong and constant burn as I tried not to gag. Not to be deterred though we still had the whisky tour to go on which part of consisted of finding the right whisky for your palate.
The tour is really good fun. You start off on a little ride which takes you around the process of whisky making. In a nut shell barley is fermented in water, then left to age in oak caskets and then distilled. One fact I thought was very sweet is 2% of whisky yield is lost by the fumes evaporating and this is called ‘the angels share.’ After the ride is finished you go into a tasting room and listen to a talk on whisky. They tell you about how whiskies from different regions have different flavour profiles.
Highlands – Floral tones like vanilla
Lowlands – Citrusy tones like grapefruit
Speyside – Fruity tones like banana
Islay – Smokey or earthy tones.
Blend – A blend can be a mix of 15 – 50 different types of whiskies. It is a difficult art to master as blends are often branded and need to be consistent, and the different malts making up the blend will vary from year to year. The Master Blender makes the blend and checks them all to ensure a consistent product (mostly by smell rather than taste).
After talking through the flavour profiles you get to choose and try the whisky you think you will enjoy the most. I chose a malt from the highlands which is meant to have hints of vanilla in the hope that may counter act the gag inducing burn. Whisky tasting attempt number two didn’t go any better than whisky tasting number one. It may have hints of vanilla I’m not sure but as my throat was burning and I was trying not to be sick it was quite hard to pick up any delicate tasting notes.
The next room is incredible! It is the collection on which the whisky experience is founded on and is very impressive. Claive Vidiz collected over 3500 bottles of whisky and the overall worth must be astronomical (we did ask but one of the clauses in the contact when he sold the whisky collection was the selling price would remain a secret). They are mostly unopened but I don’t blame him for not drinking them!
The whisky experience is great fun but unfortunately none of us have been converted into whisky lovers, if anything it has intensified my dislike! If you do have a spare afternoon in Edinburgh though, I would definitely recommend it and if you are a whisky fan you will be in heaven.
Fletchie Stars 3 out of 5 ***