Sip Single-Malt Whiskey in Scotland
Scotch is certainly having a major moment, but it’s been the favored libation of every Scot from shopkeepers to kings for two centuries. The single malts, which are distilled, barrel-aged and bottled by Scotland’s 120-plus whiskey (which, here, is spelled whisky) makers, are more popular now than ever. Meant to be slowly savored, single malts warm the palate with intense flavors that range from light and delicate to rich and smoky. The spirit is produced mainly in the Highlands (but also along the western coast and on islands such as Islay and Skye). Scottish whiskey- tasting adventures are the perfect complement to the country’s romantic craggy landscapes, secluded castles, cozy tartans and crackling fireplaces.
Photo courtesy of Kinloch Lodge
Where to Taste: Begin in Edinburgh, where there’s no shortage of whiskey bars, such as sophisticated Scotch at The Balmoral hotel. Here, an ambassador will customize a three-dram Whisky Journey culled from 400 single malts and blends. At trendy The Devil’s Advocate, you’ll find more than 200 options, plus delicious whiskey-based cocktails. And the old-school Bow Bar is popular with visitors and locals. Hire a driver/guide to explore the heart of single-malt country in Speyside and you can learn how malted barley, spring water and yeast combine to create this strong (40 percent alcohol) spirit. Two favorite distilleries include Strathisla, the region’s longest operating (since 1786) and most photogenic distillery, and Glenlivet, where history meets modern mega-commerce. Then head to the Isle of Skye to visit Talisker — the producer makes whiskies with a smoky taste, which is created as barley is malted over a peat-fueled fire.
Other Adventures: From the cobblestone lanes of medieval Old Town to the prim, flower-box-adorned Georgian townhouses of New Town, Edinburgh is quite charming. Walk the Royal Mile from brooding Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of the Holyroodhouse (home of the British Royal family when they visit). Book a table before 6:30 p.m. for the superb market menu at Restaurant Mark Greenaway or enjoy modern Scottish brasserie fare at lively newcomer The Raeburn. Stroll the picturesque gardens at Cawdor Castle near Inverness and look for the pasture of adorable shaggy-haired Highland cattle. En route to the Isle of Skye, tour haunting Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness and postcard-perfect Eilean Donan Castle near Kyle of Lochalsh. And once you’re on Skye, you won’t want to leave. Its panoramas are seductive, especially from late July to early September when its hills of heather are colored dusty purple for as far as the eye can see.
Where to Stay: Indulge in five-star Scottish hospitality at The Balmoral, offering 188 luxurious rooms and suites, many with splendid views of Edinburgh Castle (room rates start at $340 a night; roccofortehotels.com). En route to the Highlands settle in at Fonab Castle Hotel in Pitlochry, where baronial architecture meets eye-catching interior design, delicious food and wine and, of course, warming whiskey (room rates start at $230 a night; fonabcastlehotel.com). Travel back in time at Culloden House near Inverness, a classic ivy-covered 18th-century manor house where a bagpiper calls you to cocktails (room rates start at $285 a night; cullodenhouse.co.uk). At Kinloch Lodge on the Isle of Skye, the welcoming Macdonald family, talented chef Marcello Tully and friendly bartenders pour from a selection of about 70 whiskies (room rates start at about $550 a night and include a tasting dinner; kinloch-lodge.co.uk).