Scotch Whisky and Haggis

Scotch, Scotch, Scotch…Down Into My Belly

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.

Each photo can only capture about 10% of the total collection

Samples from the Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, and Islay regions. Though apparently I’m a bit in the minority, the smokey-peatiness of the Islay Whiskys clearly puts this one above the others as my personal favorite

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.”

Cask Delivered Beer Taps

26 cask-congitioned IPA’s? Don’t mind if I do…

The interior of a lively pub

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.

The recently opened Brewdog Bar

If you look closely at the bottles along the left wall, you’ll see smack in the middle at the apex of the logo an empty bottle of “The End of the World,” Brewdog’s 55% alcohol, exceedingly rare beer (only 12 made?) that is not only served in a taxidermied rodent, but costs roughly $760 per bottle

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.

Prepared Haggis along the left-side of the window

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.

A typical cafe scene

Vegetarian Antipasta Plate with Ginger-Lemon Tea

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.”

At this point, I’ll go ahead and apologize to any vegetarians who may happen to be reading this

The Sandwich: A base layer of haggis spread on a brown roll, piled up with the pork from the window, and then topped with a spicy chili sauce. And notice, the salty, crispy cracklin’ (pork skin) that they threw in as a bonus

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

13 Responses to “Scotch Whisky and Haggis”

  1. andrew, you are having WAY too much fun. You must have the greatest parents (stepdad) on earth to let you take such a journey. a ‘normal’ parent would have tied you to your desk in columbus ohio and never let you escape from the rigors of the (real) working world. if it sounds like your readers are jealous, its only because they are!

  2. So jealous right now…

  3. Those aged Mikkeller stouts sound amazing. Which one did you prefer?

    • Though it is the most common barrel-aging treatment, I still have to say that the Bourbon Barrel was the best. The Cognac was a bit too sweet, and the Tequila was a lot of fun, but nothing beats a bourbon barrel (also why the Scots age their whisky in these same barrels).

  4. Andrew so glad to see your blogs. I am impressed with your pictures and your verbage and you are doing a wonderful job. Keep it coming

  5. Oh. my. god. You had me at the first picture.

  6. Huge BrewDog fan here. They are wildly popular in Sweden, and they are making the most fascinating extreme beers right now with names like “Tactical Nuclear Penguin” and “Sink the Bismarck”. Enjoy the Royal Mile!

    • I was holding out a small ounce of hope that they would have had the Tactical Nuclear Penguin available, but alas, there was none. It was probably a good thing, though, as I’m sure the price tag would have decimated my budget.

  7. How was the Mikkeller’s from the tequila barrel? As much as I like tequila, I don’t know how that would taste.

    • It had a definite tequila-boozy edge to it and smelled like a shot, but the coffee and roasted malt flavors of the stout itself were a bit conflicting. As I said above, it was fun to try, but it probably wasn’t their strongest offering. I still like that they are at least attempting to be creative like that, though.

  8. Have you spotted my twin while traveling in Scotland?

  9. I lived in Edinburgh in 2009-2010–LOVE that hog roll shop with the pig in the window….soo good while you’re eating it and then you feel horrid all afternoon.

    Have enjoyed your blog–jealous of your travels since getting settled myself…looking to plan a big trip sometime this spring.


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