Absolute Escapes August 24 2022

What whisky will not cure, there is no cure for” – Irish proverb

Our Irish neighbours have always had a way with words and we Scots couldn’t agree more about the restorative powers of whisky. The faith Scots have in the spirit can even be seen in the word’s etymology – the Gaelic word ‘usquebaugh’ (meaning ‘water of life’) is where ‘whisky’ comes from.

Whisky has been lovingly distilled in Scotland for centuries, with the earliest reference of the drink coming from 1494 – only two years after the Americas were discovered.

So when you visit Scotland, it almost seems sacrilegious not to sample the local fayre, and where better to do this than in the capital city of Edinburgh?

Absolute Escapes have specialised in self-drive holidays in Scotland since 2004, and from a brief scroll through our website, you might have noticed that we offer whisky-themed itineraries. These are perfect for whisky devotees who can think of nothing better than to plan their entire holiday around their favourite drink.

However, we know that circumstances don’t always allow for a full-blown week of whisky, but there’s no need to worry! Located in Edinburgh, each member of our team prides themselves on knowing the city inside out and we thought we’d share some recommendations for experiences that are sure to quench your thirst.

Read on for our recommendations of the best whisky experiences in and around Edinburgh.


Holyrood Distillery

Set in a very convenient location, Holyrood Distillery is worryingly easy to stumble into after braving Arthur’s Seat. The difficult part is stumbling out again!

This distillery takes inspiration from the beautiful city it is rooted in, echoing Edinburgh’s energy and spirit (pun intended!) when making their signature drinks. Their tours focus on the city’s compelling distilling history which they argue is not talked about enough, and they even created a smoky cask offering inspired by Edinburgh’s affectionate nickname, Auld Reekie (Old Smoky).

The distillery opened in 2019 so it isn’t steeped in history or shackled by tradition, allowing its owners the creative freedom to create a unique, interactive experience for their visitors.

You’ll be pleased to hear that the Holyrood Distillery offers an abundance of tours. For example, they run daily Gin and Whisky Tours as well as purely Whisky Tours and Tastings if you don’t want to be distracted by gin.

If you would like something a little different, on certain dates they run a walking tour focusing on Edinburgh’s brewing and distilling past and includes tastings.


Scotch Whisky Experience

Located at the top of the historic Royal Mile, the Scotch Whisky Experience takes pride in its ability to bring the story of whisky to life.

Its renowned barrel ride gently guides you from relaxing Gladiator-style fields of barley to the maturation of the whisky in oak casks. Taking you through every step of the process of making whisky, their barrel ride is relaxing, fun and informative – what more could you want?

After stepping back into the real world, your tour guide will explain the differences between Scotland’s distinct whisky regions and help you choose a dram that is perfect for your tastes.

I think the most captivating part of the experience is the unparalleled collection of over 3,300 whiskies. Visitors should not overlook the opportunity to visit such an influential collection of Scotch whiskies.

They offer different tours to fit exactly what you are looking for in a whisky experience. For example, their three-hour ‘A Taste of Scotland’ tour includes a tutored tasting of five different whiskies and a delicious tasting menu. On the other end of the spectrum, their ‘Silver Tour’ includes one tasting and lasts nearly an hour, so it’s perfect for visitors on a tighter schedule.

We recommend this experience so much that we include tickets for the Scotch Whisky Experience in our Highlands & Islands Malt Whisky Trail – so you won’t even have to book it yourself!


Johnnie Walker Princes Street

If you would prefer an experience which isn’t just interactive but immersive, the newly-opened Johnnie Walker Princes Street experience is for you!

The unbridled creativity of their tours creates a self-proclaimed ‘flavour-filled celebration’ which is designed to be memorable. However, the Johnnie Walker Experience may not be the best choice for die-hard whisky connoisseurs who might be put off by the ‘flashy’ presentation of their favourite drink.

Their daily Johnnie Walker Journey of Flavour includes whisky drinks that are personalised to your preferences. This experience is an excellent option for groups with members who don’t enjoy pure whisky, as they can try cocktails instead of drams and the tour itself is quite a spectacle.

As well as tours, they offer events such as ‘Funk, Jazz & Soul Sundays’. Tickets for this event include live music and a two-course lunch paired with drinks. It is always worth checking their website to see what exciting events they have planned next.


Whisky & Folklore Tour

If you would prefer a more sedentary whisky experience, this Whisky and Folklore Tour provides a fun, aural journey through Scotland’s distilling history.

These tours take place in a cosy, historic pub in Edinburgh city centre. Enjoy and compare four different whiskies from different whisky regions of Scotland whilst listening to the fascinating stories your guide entertains you with.

Some argue that storytelling and whisky form the backbone of Scottish culture so it is only right that they have been combined into one engaging tour.

To allow for complete flexibility, you can book a private tour for a time that suits you perfectly. Otherwise, these tours take place daily at 17.00 and take approximately two hours.


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Summerhall Drinks Lab

If sitting back and relaxing isn’t quite your style, and your favourite way to enjoy whisky is with a snack, you may be more interested in Summerhall Drinks Lab’s regular events.

Another conveniently-located venue, Summerhall offers a Whisky and Vegan Cheese experience and prides itself on the unique pairing experience it has created.

The experience begins with shaking your own whisky cocktail, which you can savour whilst your guide introduces you to three different single malt whiskies paired with locally-made vegan cheeses.


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Glenkinchie Distillery

On arrival at Glenkinchie Distillery, whisky-lovers are greeted by relaxing music, honey-coloured wood and gentle, enticing scents. This distillery perfectly walks the line between friendly and professional. You can tell that the tour guides take pride in Glenkinchie’s offering and they are prepared to answer any questions you may have.

This distillery is the Lowland home of Johnnie Walker and tours delve into the rich tradition of creating whisky as visitors learn about the distillery’s history.

Most of the tour is centred around the process of making their whisky. Believe me, when your guide explains how to create such a variety of flavours from the same three ingredients you’ll start to believe that Harry Potter isn’t the only magical thing about Scotland!

Before tasting the whisky, immerse yourself in their sensory theatre whilst you listen to the differences between the spirits made in the five whisky regions of Scotland – Campbeltown, Speyside, Islay, Lowland and Highland.

This is a fully operational distillery and they offer a selection of tours and tastings including a Journey of Flavour Tour, a Flavour and Cask Experience, and a Behind the Scenes Tour and Tasting.

This distillery is a 30-minute drive from the centre of Edinburgh, although we would recommend booking a taxi that will take you directly from the city centre to their doorstep so no one needs to suffer as a designated driver – just remember to book it first!


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Whisky Pubs

Perhaps even after reading through our suggestions, you’d prefer to experience whisky the way it was originally meant to be enjoyed – in a pub. In that case, these are some recommendations for our favourite whisky bars around Edinburgh.

  • Whiski Rooms: Here you can appreciate a wide range of whiskies whilst looking out over the city. With over 300 whiskies, even those unconvinced by the spirit will be able to find something they like. This bar also has a shop so if you try anything you like you can take a bottle home with you.
  • Teuchters Landing: Enjoy this bar’s beautiful waterside setting in Leith with a drink in hand as you explore their range of whiskies.
  • The Scottish Malt Whisky Society: Although this is primarily a member’s society, the Scottish Malt Whisky Society’s Kaleidoscope Bar on Queen Street is open to non-members six days a week. This prestigious venue has everything you need for an unforgettable whisky experience. It has even been recognised as the Icons of Whisky Global Bar of the Year in Whisky Magazine’s World Whisky Awards 2022.
  • Usquabae: With well-informed, welcoming staff and a cosy atmosphere, the bartenders at Usquabae are well-equipped to recommend whiskies that will suit you perfectly.


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Sample Scotland’s Whisky Trails with Absolute Escapes

So there you have it, although I have barely scratched the surface of what Edinburgh has to offer, this guide shows that the city has a whisky experience for everyone.

For an excellent way to experience Scotland, why not take a look at our award-winning self-drive holidays? However, if one whisky experience isn’t enough for you, perhaps one of our Whisky Trails will satisfy you!

For those people who are still unconvinced by whisky, if there was ever a place to be converted, it’s here!

Tessa Kilpatrick

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