Scotland is famous for its whisky. Whisky was invented and perfected here and it’s one of our most important industries. While we think the Americans, Canadians, the Irish, and the Japanese all make some great whiskies, Scotland’s vast range of whiskies puts us way ahead of the pack. Anyone coming to Scotland looking for the most authentic experience possible simply must try a few whiskies. Before you come, we thought it might be good to give you an introduction to whisky, so we’ve put together this handy wee guide!
Is it Whiskey or Whisky?
If you’re just saying the word to bartenders, then the spelling won’t matter, but it never hurts to know the correct spelling. Scottish people always spell it whisky — without the E. Whilst Irish people spell it whiskey — with an E before the Y. The difference in spelling simply comes from the difference between the way the word was translated from Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic language. Because of a huge influx of Irish immigrants in the 18th century to America, Americans spell it the same way as the Irish. Canadians spell it the Scottish way. This isn’t the most important thing to know before your visit, but maybe you can pass the test in a whisky bar if you get chatting to the locals.
Ask for a Dram
You’ve probably heard of this word before, but its usage isn’t very common outside of Scotland. Today, the word ‘dram’ is used to just mean ‘a glass of whisky’ but it comes from an old measurement equivalent to 1/8 of a fluid ounce. However, no one asking for a dram would be happy if they were only given 1/8 of a fluid ounce of whisky and the word simply means a serving of whisky, usually around a fluid ounce. When ordering a whisky, it’s fine to ask for a dram of X (where X is the name of the whisky).
Ordering a Whisky at a Pub
On the topic of ordering a whisky from a bartender, it is often a good idea to ask for any recommendations. We Scots take our whisky seriously and most trained bartenders will know what they’re talking about and will be happy to recommend a few whiskies depending on your flavour preferences. If you go into one of Scotland’s many specialist whisky bars, you will find an entirely different level of knowledge and the bartenders will be able to tell you every possible detail about the various whiskies on offer.
Talking to bartenders, learning about the different flavour profiles and distillation methods, is a really fun part of the whisky experience, but it also serves a practical purpose: the bartender can help you find the perfect whisky for your palate and they may even take you through a few different whiskies as they gauge your preferences. Even if you’re not a connoisseur, it’s still an interesting, immersive experience to try a few whiskies and talk about them with the experts. You may even find your perfect dram!
Beginner’s Tip: Consider Adding Water or Ice
Many people have to slowly acquire a taste for whisky and are rewarded for their efforts. It’s a very strong drink and it usually overwhelms first timers. However, if you tell the bartender that you’re a newbie, they will probably have a few smoother drams for you to orient yourself and acquire a taste for whiskey. Another great way of making whisky smoother is to add a little water or ice. The true whisky anoraks tend to prefer it straight, but some strongly believe that adding a little water can improve its flavour — there’s even a little science to back this up! If you’re new to whisky, you may struggle with its often-smoky, peaty flavour, so a little ice could make it a little smoother by anaesthetising your taste buds a little. Then, as you get more used to the flavour, you may like to omit the ice, or just add a wee dash of water.
There is so much more to whisky that we haven’t covered — such as which ones we think are the best and visiting a distillery for a private tour. But we think people should discover their favourite whiskies for themselves and we need to keep some cards close to our chest! If you’re especially interested in whisky, we can help you design your own whisky trail of Scotland. If you have a specific budget, distillery or itinerary in mind our team can help you to build the perfect tour to suit you. We also have a set tour Whisky Trail by Luxury Train & Taste of Edinburgh packed full of tastings and distillery tours, formal dinners and visits to castles. If you have a question about any of our tours or need advice on our custom Scottish tours, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We can plan your next big Scottish adventure together!