In Edinburgh we went to the Scotch Whisky Experience, which is sort of like a tour/ride about Whisky*. And apart from the fact that I like whisky, it was just a REALLY well-designed tour/exhibition. Probably one of the best I went on**.
First you get to go on a BARREL RIDE where a ghost tells you all about how whisky is made. it is very complicated and involves squishing a lot of barley together to make a fermented mash, and then adding yeast and doing lots of distilling.
And learn also about the barrels they mature the whisky in. 90% of Scotch barrels are first used in the US to make bourbon, and the other 10% are used first to make sherry. So they're all nommy and flavoury. Then sometimes they set them on fire for a little bit for a more caramelly taste, then put in the WHISKY. Because they're not airtight, the whisky breathes and matures... and evaporates. You lose 2% in 3 years, or 40% in 30 years. They say this evaporated whisky is for the angels.
Then you go and watch a video about all the different whisky regions, and a tour guide comes and talks about them all. And you get four little jars to represent the four main regions: Speyside, Islay, Highlands and Lowlands. Each jar contains some of the smells that you might find in each region's whisky. Lowlands is biscuity and vanilla-ish. Speyside is fruity, like pears. Highlands is sweet like heather and honey. Islay (which is a teeny island off the West Coast of Scotland) is smoky and peaty and by far MY FAVOURITE. So once you've picked your favourite, they pour you a glass of it and teach you how to taste it. There are five steps:
1. First you look at the colour. If it is a pale gold it was matured in a bourbon barrel. If it is darker it was a sherry barrel.
2. Then you swirl it around and look carefully to see how many teeny bubbles form and how fast the "legs" run down the sides of the glass. This indicates whether the whisky is full-bodied or light-bodied.
3. Then you nose the whiskey. This is the most important part because your nose recognises 40 different flavours, whereas your mouth only recognises 4 (actually there's some debate about whether there's a 5th but we didn't talk about that)
4. Then you put some of the whisky in your mouth, but don't swallow. This is the palate.
5. Finally you swallow it and think about the finish. The sweeter lighter whiskys have a flavour that disappears really quickly. The smokier heavier ones stay around for ages. Mine lasted over half an hour.
It all sounds very wankerish, but it was excellent fun. Then we went into this room which houses the biggest collection of whiskys in the world (this photo is only a fraction, it was impossible to photograph as it went round many corners):
This was my favourite: Inebriated Newt.
And then there was ANOTHER room with rare bottlings and wacky cases. Each one of these chess pieces is a small bottle of whisky - all together it makes up the volume of a normal sized bottle. The idea is every time you take an opponant's piece, you get to drink the contents.
We got to keep our special whisky nosing glasses, and then we were shown into the shop where we could buy the nommy whiskys for our VERY OWN.
*in case you are wondering, it's whisky if it's Scottish, and whiskey if it's Irish.
**Dear Underage Readers of this Blog: pls don't take this as encouragement to go out and get drunk. If for no other reason, a good single malt is VERY expensive and it would be a total waste of money.