If you’re anything like me, when you think of Scotland, the first thing that comes to mind, besides great golf, is Scotch Whisky (and notice, they drop the “e” in whisky). And the reputation is well earned, as there seem to be more Whisky Bars and here in Edinburgh than there are sheep in Ireland. But for a one-stop, all-encompassing tour of this golden elixir, you can opt for the “Complete Scotch Experience” near the base the Edinburgh Castle. It is a tour that takes roughly an hour, walking you through the basics of how Scotch is created and matured in bourbon casks, an interactive exercise to teach you what tastes and aromas to expect from Scotches made in the various regions of Scotland, a tour of the largest Scotch Whisky collection in the world (as seen in the opening photo), and finally, a tasting a Scotches from each region.
Scotland isn’t completely obsessed with whisky, however, as they have developed a burgeoning beer scene, too, along with the various hard ciders that are ubiquitous in the UK. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me, as I was growing a bit tired of Ireland’s lack of beer selection (they have a notorious drinking reputation, but very few beers available beyond Guinness, Murphy’s, Beamish, and Smithwick’s). But unlike in the US, the beer highlights are all cask-conditioned and hand-pumped at just below room temperature. These factors combine to create a smoother and slighty subdued beverage that excels at being infinitely drinkable, as in “you can have a lot of these in one session.”
But for those thirsty travelers looking for a little more edge to their brews, Scotland has a great answer in Brewdog Brewing company. Their motto is “Beer for Punks,” and their offerings take the lead from many of the craft breweries and the United States in attempting to push the boundaries on what is defined as beer. Though they do export a series of their beers to the US, the range offered here in Scotland is significantly more extensive. Additionally, their list of guest taps and bottles is one of the best I’ve ever seen anywhere (think rare Mikkeller sours, Lost Abbey, Port, De Struise, and even a few Hoppin’ Frog beers from Akron, OH). And I’ll be honest, though I wanted to try more of Brewdog’s offerings, at the time I visited, I found it difficult to stray away from the 3 different barrel-treatments of Mikkeller’s Black Hole Stout: one aged in Bourbon barrels, one in Cognac barrels, and the final in Tequila barrels.
Scotland isn’t all about whisky and beer, though. Whereas they are somewhat cursed by the same poor culinary reputation that Ireland and the rest of the UK carry, there are some positive notes. Still, the national dish is the ghastly-looking conglomeration known simply as haggis. Basically, you would take the offal or left-over parts of a sheep or lamb (the heart, liver, kidney’s, etc.), chop them all up and mix them with oats, onions, suet (a kind of fat), and seasonings, then stuff it all into a sheep’s stomach and let it simmer for a few hours. When it is finished, it comes out looking something like a sausage, but having the spreadable consistency of gooey paste. If you can get past the look of it, Haggis is actually surprisingly delicious.
But as mentioned above, Scotland’s cuisine has taken on a whole new personality from the days of meat and potatoes, incorporating a wide variety of techniques and influences that were brought here from the many ex-pats that have flocked here over the years. Although I found it a bit difficult to pin-point what is “Scottish Cuisine,” there certainly isn’t a lack of great dining options.
And finally, although I’m trying to keep a completely open mind to any and every new experience that may come my way without any limitations, I still have one absolutely unbendable, unbreakable rule: “If you are walking down the street and see a storefront with an entire pig carcass in the window — of which a chef is actively hacking off pieces – stop what you are doing, abandon all plans for the rest of the day, and immediately enter said establishment.” And in case you are ever visiting, the name of this new favorite restaurant of mine is appropriately “Oink.”