I really wanted to write this post because Scotland and Whiskey are two words that always go together. I want to tell you all about where to drink the best whiskey in Edinburgh , what types of whiskey it is advisable to try during your tri , and even where to start if it is your first time with this drink that the Gaelic-speaking Scots know as usquebaugh, or water of the life.
I must also recognize that writing this post was one of the funniest things we have done with the “excuse” of The Travel Blog, since for a few weeks we dedicate on Thursdays after working to try different pubs in Edinburgh, thus increasing our local knowledge and also accustoming our palates to new flavors and smells of this Scottish alcoholic beverage … to be consumed in moderation.
The Basics of Scotch Whiskey
The first thing you have to know is that for a whiskey to be Scottish it must meet a series of mandatory conditions, established by various official government laws and regulations.
That means that there may be other whiskeys around the world and if they don’t meet these standards, they can’t be called Scotch Whiskey or as the Americans say, “Scotch.”
The first rule is that it must be distilled in Scotland. In addition, its ingredients must be water and malted barley; In addition to some yeast for fermentation.
Once distilled, every whiskey that wants to be Scottish must age in Scotland, using oak barrels, for at least three years. After its rest time, Scotch whiskey is bottled with at least 40 degrees of alcohol by volume.
All whiskeys that comply with these indications are Scottish, and in turn will be divided into four different categories based on two factors:
Single or Blended
“Single” refers to the fact that whiskey has been produced in a single distillery, using water and malted barley, without adding anything else. “Blended” means that whiskey is a mixture of whiskeys from various distilleries.
Malt or Grain
“Malt” means that only malted barley (single malt, blended malt) was used, while “Grain” means that other cereals were used.
Combining the different possibilities, you can take for example a whiskey that is single malt, which means that it is only malted barley and produced in a single distillery with stills or a blended malt, which again would only carry malted barley in its cereal composition but it can be a mixture of two or more whiskeys of this type.
Each person has their preference in terms of type of whiskey and as always my recommendation is to try a little of everything to see what you like most.
Our favorite places to have a whiskey in Edinburgh
This is a traditional Edinburgh pub that has been open since 1839 – almost two hundred years of history, although it did not always have the same name. The decoration is the same as there was in the Victorian era and the truth is that it is a most cozy establishment.
It serves all kinds of drinks and also some food dishes; although it stands out for its extensive list of beers and its more than 150 varieties of single malt whiskeys . With so many names on the menu, we doubted ourselves what to ask for, so we asked the bartender who was behind the bar, who proved to be up to our demands: he not only knew a lot about whiskey but also knew how to listen to our taste personal.
In Bennets Bar we had a 12-year-old Glenlivet , a single malt that is light and soft but it certainly was a good start in our whiskey journey. It comes from the “Speyside” area , which is in the northeast of Scotland, just above the Highlands Whiskey area.
This area is home to some of the world’s best known distilleries such as Macallan, Glenfiddich, Cardhu or Tamdhu. Our recommendation is to try at least a couple of these brands and then move towards more complex flavors … although as we said at the beginning of the post, you can also follow your intuition.
Just at the beginning of Princes St we find this Whiskey bar that is a bit hidden since its entrance is quite confusing: instead of entering the first bar you see when you cross the door, you have to go down the stairs. We almost missed it but when we arrived at the place it really was, we loved it.
This is a more modern pub than Bennets where there are small reserved tables with tables so you can have dinner with absolute tranquility and privacy. A very special place where, in addition to having a whiskey drama, you can stay for dinner.
One thing that I liked a lot is that they offer an experience called “flavors of Scotland” (A Taste of Scotland) which consists of a typical tasting menu (4 dishes and two desserts) that you can accompany if you want a whiskey pairing. The price is very competitive and if it were not because there are not many vegetarian alternatives, I would have done it already.
In Usquabae we take a Kilchoman in its Loch Gorm variety . The distillery that produces it is in Islay, one of the Hebrides and we could feel how the taste changed completely compared to the others we tried. This region produces some of my favorites, such as Ardbeg and Laphroaig , only for those travelers who dare with some intensity. The Scots often say that the whiskeys of the islands are stronger because they carry with them the taste of sea salt … and although it is quite a romantic thought, I can not agree more.
The black cat
Edgar Allan Poe has a horror story entitled “The Black Cat” which is known as one of the most scary stories in the history of literature. In Edinburgh there is a pub that has this name and it is undoubtedly the most gothic and dreary of the establishments we have visited on our whiskey route. However, we were positively surprised, since their menu has about 200 brands of whiskey and although they do not have a tasting menu as such, you can ask the waiters to give you less of those that interest you, to try.
Another point in favor of ” The Black Cat ” is that during the week they have live Scottish music (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9.30; Sundays from 4.30), which makes it a flat for any traveler interested in the folkloric part of Scotland.
We take a Laphroaig, which is a single malt from the region of Islay … again, one of my favorites, and that is that the goat throws the mountain (or the region of Islay in this case!)
Scotch, at the Hotel Caledonia
The Hotel Caledonia is very close to the Waverley station, which in addition to being one of the most beautiful buildings in the center of Edinburgh, is also one of the best hotels in the city, with its five stars. Inside the hotel is Scotch, a very luxurious and 100% Scottish small bar that although it is a little more expensive than the average of places to drink whiskey, it is an experience that I would recommend to the most passionate . It has some brands that I had never seen and its barman is an expert.
I would recommend having a blended whiskey (since so far we have only taken single malts in this post). A good option is one of the blended malt as a Ballantine’s or Johnnie Walker, two of the most famous Scottish brands internationally.
Another interesting option is to dare with a single grain, that is, a whiskey that carries other cereals in addition to malted barley, such as Haig Club, which has a sweeter and vanilla flavor. This whiskey is produced in the distillery of Cameronbridge, the oldest in Scotland making single grain.
This pub , with two different venues in the city, is an institution in Edinburgh . In the area of Leith is the largest of the two, which you can take advantage of to visit while you go to see the Britannia or take a walk around the port. If you get better downtown, they have another one very close to St Mary’s Cathedral.
His whiskey menu is so long that you will be looking at it for several minutes and it is possible that so many options leave you even more confused. Luckily, both the bartender and the other staff of both places can make a recommendation.