Any holiday in Scotland isn’t complete without a swirl and sip of the national drink. Here’s how to follow a whisky trail, or blaze your own, in the search of the ‘water of life’.
Glen Scotia, Balwhinnie, Glenmorangie, Loch Lomond, Glenkinchie, Ardmore, Lagavulin … It was the last that had us hiking up the gentle slope of the Edinburgh Royal Mile in search of Scotland’s national drink. Though I don’t count myself as a connoisseur of spirits, my partner insisted we nose a dram or two while touring his home country. Lagavulin happens to be his favourite whisky, which is why, despite the cool evening and slight drizzle, we were en route to the nearest whisky bar.
He once described the whisky drinking sensation to me as a 'depth charge' with a hint of smoke, going down smooth then radiating an intense yet comforting warmth from somewhere deep within your belly. The Scots take their whisky seriously and it’s no wonder. Dating back to the 1400s, it was here the ‘water of life’ was first distilled. There are five different regions – the Highlands, Lowlands, Isle of Islay, Campbeltown and Speyside – with 100 or so distilleries producing three different varieties. Single malt is the most sought after, though blended and grain varieties aren’t far behind.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a whisky novice, expert or somewhere in between, it’s well worth seeking out a Scottish whisky experience wherever you may be spending your time in Scotland. It’s a chance to learn all about the role whisky has played (and continues to play) from those who know it best.
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There are countless designated whisky trails to follow, crisscrossing the Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown and Islay regions. Taking in dramatic coastlines, deep blue lochs, pristine sand beaches and mist-shrouded forests, these trails not only hop from one centuries old distillery to the next, but showcase the best of the Scottish landscape. Perhaps the most well-known trail, though, is the Malt Whisky Trail through Speyside. It’s billed as ‘the ultimate Scotch experience’ due to the sheer number of distilleries found here – the world’s largest concentration, to be exact.
For those times when you’re not learning how a few drops of water can open up the aroma and taste of a fine whisky (or how to pronounce those impossible names), there is plenty to occupy your time. Charming towns such as Keith, Elgin and Forres cater to adventure lovers, culture cats, foodies and history buffs alike.
Or, you can blaze your own trail. It’s not hard with quaint whisky bars in nearly any town or city you visit. You don’t have to be an expert either. Simply sidle up to the bar and ask for a recommendation. The Scots are among the world’s most welcoming people and are all too happy to share their passion. I know; I experienced it firsthand when we finally pulled up a stool at a dimly lit corner bar in Edinburgh.
The atmosphere was buzzing, with locals and tourists alike raising their glasses. The barman poured us a wee dram. I picked it up, and swirled the golden liquid, which clung to the glass like a slick of oil. A single sniff confirmed those smoky notes and then a sip. My partner looked on with anticipation.
“Smooth” was all I could muster in a breathless rasp. So, I may not have an acquired taste, but I did immediately feel that comforting warmth from top to toe and, funnily enough, it was just what I needed on that crisp Scottish evening.