How do you spell it? Whisky or Whiskey? That depends on where it came from. If it came from America then it is whiskey, but if your golden “water of life” came from beautiful Scotland? Then you spell it the proper way – whisky.
Or not. Really, the spelling seems to be regional and depends almost entirely on the whim of the user. Based on the standards of most official bodies that have anything to do with spirits, or spelling, or the English language, both spellings are legitimate. I can say that I’ve never seen it spelled with an “e” anywhere in Scotland.
Also, “Scotch” is really just the short moniker for Scotch Whisky, which in Scotland is simply called “whisky”.
Are we clear now?
My Girl and I decided to stop in for the tour and see what we could learn. Brian is, of course, completely educated about all things whisky so we’ve never really given this tour a second though when we’re in town, but my Girl and I are whisky beginners. Since it was just the two of us on this trip while Brian was baking himself down in the heat of Brazil, we decided to see what we could learn.
We decided on the Silver Tour, which lasts about an hour and cost £12.75 for adults (about US $19). Children under 18 are welcome on the tour, but are given Iron Bru (a Scottish soft drink) instead of whisky during the tasting.
We didn’t know what to expect, so I was completely surprised to find ourselves in line for a ride. Yes, the virtual tour is an actual ride inside a barrel shaped, moving cart. Ever been on the Haunted Mansion tour in Disney? Imagine the chair from that ride, complete with metal bar over your lap, and you’ll have a very good idea of what we had. This was no problem for my daughter and me, we have some very good memories of the Haunted Mansion ride so we were quite giggly to find ourselves ushered in.
This portion of the tour is very visual, with lots of bubbles, barrels and holographic gentlemen explaining the process that turns ordinary water into liquid gold.
At the end of the ride is a tasting room where you’ll be greeted with a guide who walks you through a very clear explanation of how each different region of Scotland produces distinct flavors of whisky. It was all somewhat simplified, although very thorough, and just perfect for our level. I have to say that the scratch and sniff card seemed kind of over the top at first, but it really did help us!
The lesson included historical anecdotes, science, economics and quite a bit of Scottish agriculture and geography. Our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly, and we learned a lot.
At the end of the lesson we were given a choice of four whiskies to taste. My Girl and I each chose a different one and spent the next ten minutes trying to see if we could really taste the difference. We could! And as it turns out, we each liked a different flavor.
After the tasting we were escorted in to explore the Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection of over 3300 individual bottles of Scotch Whisky.
Claive Vidiz was a Brazilian who started collecting in 1973 when he was given several bottles as gifts from business associates, and now contains 3384 bottles, many of which are extremely rare.
Do you see that a few of those bottles above appear to have a little bit of whisky missing? No, they have not been opened. That missing bit is due to slow evaporation through the sealed tops and is called the Angel’s Share. Generally most of this evaporation happens during the aging process when the whisky is still in the wooden barrels, but it can still continue to slowly, every so slowly, evaporate after it’s put in the glass bottles. It’s particularly noticeable when the bottles are very old and were sealed with cork.
(By the way, there is a movie called The Angels’ Share that is fantastic! Take the time to find it and watch it if you can.)
When our tour was over we knew infinitely more about whisky than we did when we started, and we both agreed it was worth the time and ticket price. We were left with not only a new appreciation for the art of whisky making, but our very own souvenir whisky glasses as a reminder of our day.
And I’m happy to say that those two humble glasses survived in our backpacks for two train rides, a bus ride, two rough ferry crossings, several city treks and a few days on the Shetland Islands before we finally made it home to England again. We weren’t sure they would make it, but are very glad they did.
Have you been on a distillery tour? A winery tour? What did you learn that surprised you?