Your mission is to “make the world fall in love with Scotch whisky”. So, first things first, what makes a whisky ‘Scotch’?! And what makes it so loveable?!
Scotch whisky is the simplest of drinks with only three very natural ingredients. We are blessed in Scotland with pure, soft water, and the geography and climate to grow golden fields of barley, add the final ingredient of yeast and that’s all you need. There are, however, two other critical components that are essential in making Scotch unique. One is time. Scotch must, by law, be matured here in Scotland for at least three years, and the oak which is chosen together with careful maturation has significant impact to the final flavour and character.
The second is people. I’ve met thousands of people who work in the Scotch whisky industry and each one plays a critical role in how our whisky is crafted, the quality of the spirit, the choosing of casks, and then all the roles that bring Scotch from the cask in the warehouse to the dram in our glass.
Here at Scran & sIPs™, we love talking to established Scottish manufacturers and more fledgling businesses alike. The common factor with between them is pride in their Scottish heritage – much like yourselves – why do you think this is the case?
Working in the tourism side of Scotch whisky I have a very strong view on this. Many small countries have incredibly strong identities, but I can’t think of any that are so internationally recognised as Scotland. Sometimes these icons of Scotland are dealt with in a heavy-handed manner; we can all think of occasions when tartan, whisky, castles, golf and our history have made us cringe with the stereotypes, but the reality is that for the few times things don’t hit the mark, there are millions of interactions with more authentic and inspiring examples.
I believe that Scotland is more global than we can even imagine. For the size of our country it’s incredibly well known, and loved, throughout the world. Why would any business not make the most of their Scottish roots?
You have said you want to showcase Scotch whisky to international visitors – are there any nations with which The Scotch Whisky Experience is particularly popular? And why do you think that is?
Our visitors are drawn to us based on the incredible reputation that Scotch has developed over the centuries. Scotch whiskies started to be recognised as brands back in the 1800s and some of the pioneering whisky makers and merchants of the day began travelling globally to spread the word with a few of their finest cases for sampling. You could say that they planted the first seeds to inspire our present-day global visitors.
A strong reputation was built up with our close neighbour France, strengthened by our “auld alliance” and shared history. We have always had a strong French market and they are particularly interested in our whisky and food matchings! Beyond Europe, Scotch also quickly spread to the USA, again with a backdrop of Scottish heritage and feeling of nostalgia to those with Scottish heritage.
The US market is strong for us and has been our biggest market by far in 2022. Our US guests love the culture and history behind the drams and how the distilleries are connected to the wider Scottish landscape. A market which is yet to return to us is Asia and in particular China which has shown incredible growth in tourism over the past decade.
There are fantastic distilleries open to the public across Scotland – what more would visitors learn by enjoying your interactive experience?
We are very clear that we want to tell the story of Scotch in a way that does not seem exclusive and only something for the “initiated”. The way we tell the story of Scotch is light-hearted, interactive and touches on culture, geography, history and heritage, as much as the production and tasting of the dram.
We are fortunate to be in a unique position covering all Scotch whiskies, and, as a result we have quite a different market of visitors to the distillery visitor centres. The privilege of introducing Scotch to those who are not necessarily already whisky drinkers is what really makes our job feel worthwhile.
Another common theme we are seeing amongst our clients and contacts is the desire to support their local communities. Does the Scotch Whisky Experience run any CSR programmes and if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
As part of our Gold Award with the Green Tourism scheme we ensure that we balance our partnerships and activities between work to support people, our own team and our communities, and our environment both here in Edinburgh’s Old Town and throughout Scotland.
Our local Edinburgh partners are the Grassmarket Community project and The Scottish Wildlife Trust. Both have sites within a few minutes of our home on Castlehill. Nationally, we work with SAMH and The John Muir Trust.
We also have an ongoing programme to support the charities and community groups which are important to our team through personal and family connections. Each year we donate hundreds of tickets to fundraising activities through our staff request programme.
Some of our readers are whisky connoisseurs and would no doubt love the Scotch Whisky Experience but would it also be relevant for newcomers to the world of whisky?
Our main tour experiences are the perfect introduction to Scotch whisky, either the Silver or Gold Tour give a real appreciation for how and where the different types of Scotch whisky are produced and how best to appreciate them.
Whisky fans tend to gravitate to our Amber restaurant and whisky bar. It’s a lovely open and inclusive place to enjoy whisky with a stunning range of over 400 whiskies, together with whisky-based cocktails, and whisky and food matching. The restaurant never leads too strongly with whisky – it just sits there gently as an option so it allows whisky fans to enjoy the bar and restaurant with friends and family who may not be quite as committed to the amber nectar as they are!
We also developed a fantastic weekly tasting called Tasting Tales, which does just that! The tales of four whiskies are presented by one of our brilliantly knowledgeable and enthusiastic team, through a special theme and stories which tie them together.
With a little food taster to accompany each, this tasting is perfect for whisky and food lovers who are interested in a different take on things to the usual tastings.
The festive season is truly upon us. With this in mind, what would be your ultimate Christmas Scotch whisky you would recommend?
That’s a tricky question! There’s a different perfect whisky for everyone, so I’ll just have to give you some of my favourites for this Christmas. I love an Old Fashioned cocktail at this time of year and I’m planning on using Highland Park this year. We’ve just managed to source some Aberfeldy 18 year old finished in red wine casks so that’s the dram that Santa will be enjoying, I’m sure it will pair well with a mice pie, but I’m not so sure about the pairing with Rudolf’s carrot!
Other brilliant themes for a Christmas dram are; Glenfiddich – the distillery which first ran its still on Christmas Day 1887, Glenmorngie’s “Tale of Winter” – a liquid version of a cosy Christmas jumper, and Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold whose spirit is distilled in the coldest winter months. All bang on theme for the festive season.