Tag Archives: Scotch Whisky Experience

A visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience

My promised contribution to this blog is long overdue. It’s been more than a month since my visit to Scotland, and, more specifically, the Scotch Whisky Experience (SWE) situated on the Royal Mile, a stone’s throw from Edinburgh Castle.

The slick SWE entrance set amidst old Edinburghian stone

Before I continue, let me make it very clear that I know next to nothing about whisky. What I do know has been gleaned from many a night listening to my husband wax lyrical about his favourite drink.  So any knowledge that I might have acquired has been incidental.

I was in Edinburgh to visit my dad – a very Italian whisky lover, conveniently living in Scotland.  The last time I visited we took a lovely drive through the Highlands and stopped off at a few well-known distilleries along the way.  On this occasion we didn’t have the time to travel out of the city however we had been offered a complimentary visit to the SWE, courtesy of the very friendly and welcoming team (thanks to Angela in particular!) that WoW had come to know through this post.

The SWE building is surprisingly modern, considering the historic nature of its immediate surrounds.  The tour options cater for varying needs, from those wanting a relatively quick introductory circuit, to those wanting something a bit more in-depth (with a couple of extra tastings thrown in of course!).  We were offered the Silver tour, which lasted approximately 1 hour.

It began with an entertaining audio-visual presentation: we were seated in a “vehicle”, aesthetically fashioned like a still, which then moved around like the teacups and saucers ride at a fairground.  This was followed by a ten minute browse in a room decorated with photos and information that explained the whisky-making process in some detail.  For foreigners there is a very nifty tool, resembling one of the original Motorola cell phones, which takes you through whisky-making blow-by-blow in your preferred language.  My father tried out the handset and was highly impressed with the quality of the Italian translation!  It saved me from having to explain some of the more technical English terms.

The next stop was a small auditorium, where all the seats were accompanied by a tasting glass, and a colour and taste chart.  A short presentation followed, which took you through key information about the whisky industry, the difference between single malts and blends, the defined whisky regions in Scotland, and the styles of whiskies that emanate from each region and why.  This presentation is great for novices like myself and even for the more informed I would imagine that it would be very entertaining, if not terribly educational.

Our colour charts were divided into the 4 whisky regions and as we were introduced to the characteristics of each region we were prompted to scratch the corresponding section on the cards to release aromas typical of the whiskies from that region.  This was a very interactive and engaging way of demonstrating the various flavour groups.  We were then given the opportunity to choose the profile that most appealed to us so that we could have a tasting of a whisky from that region (if you were fortunate enough to be on the platinum tour you got to have a dram from each region).  I chose a whisky from the Lowlands, because whiskies from this region were described as being light and fragrant, and more palatable for those of us who are not yet accustomed to drinking whisky.  For the first time in my life I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed a whisky!  I fell in love not only with the whisky, but with its lyrical name – “Auchentoshen”.  The distillery is actually owned by the famous Japanese whisky company Suntory.  Unfortunately I haven’t come across it again since returning home to Cape Town.

Triple-distilled Lowland Scotch whisky

Our final destination, and the real highlight of the tour, was a viewing of the worlds’ largest whisky collection.  Previously owned by Claive Vidiz of Brazil, who had amassed over 3300 bottles during the course of many years, in 2009 the collection was sold to Diageo, the world’s largest distributor of whiskies.  To be in a room surrounded by so many different, special whiskies was awe-inspiring.  Claive did not discriminate and his love of whisky led him to collecting all sorts from blends to malts – some young, some very old.  The collection is very well looked after with the bottles cleaned regularly (I would hate to be entrusted with that responsibility – I recall not too long ago knocking over what remained of my husband’s Chivas Century of Malts, much to his dismay!).  The tour pretty much wrapped up as we finished our drams, while looking on in awe at the incredible collection of bottles that lay before us.

The well preserved Claive Vidiz Collection

The experience managed to be highly informative, without being overwhelming.  As I already mentioned, there are a number of tours to suit one’s specific needs – the silver, gold and platinum tours which are 50mins, 1h10 and 1h30 long respectively.  Each tour offers slightly more value, although the 50min tour was just perfect for me, as a relative newcomer to the world of whisky.  I would imagine that the gold and platinum tours would suit those of you who are already passionate.  The staff were extremely knowledgeable and although Diageo is a major player supporting the SWE, there was no bias at all (except toward Scotch whisky in general!).  All in all, well worth the visit.   Don’t miss out if you happen to be in Edinburgh.

Wrap party at Pepénero Restaurant

Last night saw the WHISKYdotcoza site wrap party take place.  There’s still some information to chase up from errant suppliers, and a few final tweaks to be made, but we’re almost there.  The opening bell is about to sound.  Let the trading begin…soon.

I sneaked in a quiet one before the festivities began

Our event was held at Pepénero in Mouille Point – a venue that I frequent regularly, and so do many other Capetonians it seems; Wednesday night and the place was packed to capacity.  We chose it for the party because it’s a great place to drink whisky.  For starters there’s a meaty selection of whiskies, as one would expect because it’s owned by the scion of one of the doyens of the local liquor industry.  The bar area is atmospheric – featuring an opulent décor style (which extends to the restaurant), large comfortable leather couches,  and a massive travertine bar counter, which is just perfect for propping up whisky-sipping barflies.  Take a bow Paul Kovensky.

I asked to bring in my own whiskies – their selection is wide, but by no means exhaustive – which they graciously allowed, so we worked our way through bottles of Macallan 12yo Sherry Oak and Highland Park 12yo, a taste journey starting from preserves and working its way to soft smoke.  I appreciate Islay malts once in a while, but I’m by no means a peat-freak, and this Highland Park is just right; enough peat into which to sink your teeth, but not so much that it clobbers you over the head.   Awesome stuff!

On the culinary front the restaurant was as reliable as always.  They have a fairly broad menu, but I find myself gravitating to their sushi more often than not.  It’s delicious and reasonably-priced, a winning combination in my books.  I like my sushi with strong wasabi, and too often restaurants don’t get this right.  Pepénero’s wasabi takes no prisoners – it sits up and punches you in the nose.

On the whole a great evening with our web designers and friends from Milk, who have done an amazing job.  Whisky, good company, and a great setting…what more is there?

Happy Easter everyone.  May the dram be with you.

The world’s greatest whisky collection

I mentioned in the post In Memorium that Lesley Zulberg’s magnificent collection should have been exhibited rather than languish as it did, lost amidst the pith of the Big Naartjie.  Whilst he was amassing his specimens locally, on the other side of the Atlantic a Brazilian by the name of Claive (Clive but with amended spelling so that Brazilians don’t pronounce it “Cleeve”) Vidiz was putting together what would become the world’s largest whisky collection.  Housed for many years in a private museum – in fact a remodelled wing of the man’s home in Sao Paulo – it was bought lock stock and cask by Diageo in 2008 for an undisclosed sum.

Claive Vidiz

Liquor giant Diageo is not typically known for its benevolence, however in what has been a grand gesture to both the industry and to whisky lovers, it has (for the foreseeable future) bequeathed the collection, now called “The Diageo Claive Vidiz Scotch Whisky Collection, to the Scotch Whisky Experience, an exposition located on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The collection is thus being exhibited and is accessible to the general public in the heart of the Scottish HQ, a more appropriate scenario one could not hope to imagine.

The Collection in its new home

I decided to contact the SWE to see if I could wangle from them a catalogue of the collection, previously unpublished.  Where the BBC and the Scotman had failed perhaps Wordsonwhisky would prevail…haha.  The weight of my journalistic influence unfortunately leaves much to be desired – I was politely rebuffed, but it appears with good reason.  The catalogue is still being compiled; researching 3000 plus whiskies is a seemingly lengthy task.  Angela Keir, the expo’s Deputy General Manager, was nonetheless very forthcoming in response to my enquiry, and she provided me with the following information about some of the more interesting and obscure bottles:

James Buchanan’s:  The Diageo Archive Team has dated this bottle back to 1897.  It is the oldest bottle in the Collection.

Strathmill: To celebrate the distillery’s 100th anniversary, Strathmill produced only 100 bottles of this particular expression.  These bottles were gifted to sitting Presidents, the Queen and Claive Vidiz.  Claive’s bottle was number 69.

Jubilee Collection: This is the full collection bottled by Gordon & MacPhail in 1977 to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (25yrs).  It is very rare to have the complete collection.

Dewar’s Centennial Flagon: In 1986 Dewar’s produced their “Centennial Flagon”, a replica ceramic decanter to celebrate the historic brand of whisky.  Each person gifted a flagon was asked to record their thoughts about Scotch Whisky.  These records were then stored to a time capsule which was buried in the Dewar’s gardens in Perth.

I was a somewhat concerned that collection would become static, and potentially overhauled at some point in the future, but my fears were unfounded.  There is a firm plan in place to grow the collection consistently over time.  The SWE’s stakeholders, which include all the major Scotch whisky distillers, will on an annual basis set aside samples of their new bottlings to be added to the collection.  Imagine being included on those mailing lists!  One can only dream.

Anyhow if you find yourselves in Edinburgh, be sure to bear witness to Brazil’s greatest contribution to Scotch whisky.  In the meantime, have a great weekend and may the dram be with you.