The Scotch Whisky Experience

(The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre)

The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, Edinburgh
©2021 Gazetteer for Scotland

The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, Edinburgh

The Scotch Whisky Experience occupies a former school on Castlehill, at the top of the Royal Mile, below Edinburgh Castle. It was established as the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre to provide a showcase for the whisky industry in Scotland. The Experience includes a Disney-esque tour introducing the history and production of whisky in one of several languages. Visitors are conveyed through a replica distillery by a car in the form of a whisky barrel, while the manufacturing process is demonstrated. The tour continues with the Sense of Scotland, an interactive portrait of the regional nature of whisky with colour, smell and taste revealed in terms of their geographical provenance, and the differences between single-malt, grain and blended whiskies explained. The centre also includes a whisky bar with over 300 different varieties and a restaurant, both introduced in 1998, and a shop. Whisky masterclasses are also offered, together with tastings, private events and corporate hospitality.

Launched in 1987, the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre was a joint venture between nineteen individual whisky Companies, who together invested £2 million to promote their product to tourists visiting Edinburgh. Partners today include multi-national companies with whisky interests in Scotland such as Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (based in France), Pernod Ricard (France), United Breweries Group (India), Distell (South Africa) and ThaiBev (Thailand), together with locally-based producers such as Morrison Bowmore Distillers. Although there were once several distilleries operating within the City of Edinburgh, today only the North British Distillery remains. Its highly industrial process, which makes alcohol from imported grain, is not greatly representative of the heritage of Scotland's traditional small malt whisky distilleries, nor the romantic image that an industry which is worth £5 billion to the Scottish economy wishes to present. The nearest traditional malt whisky distillery is Glenkinchie at Peaston Bank in East Lothian, now owned by multi-national Diageo.

Within the centre, visitors will also find the Diageo Claive Vidiz Scotch Whisky Collection, said to be the world's largest collection of whiskies. Comprising 3,384 individual bottles, the collection was amassed from 1971 by Claive Vidiz, a Brazilian pharmaceuticals executive. It was bought by Diageo and has been displayed in the Scotch Whisky Experience since 2009.

Castlehill Primary School was built in 1887 and comprises a two-storey ashlar construction, with red sandstone details on the façade in the Scots Baronial style. The stone comes from Hailes and Corncockle quarries. The construction extends back from Castlehill to become a larger building facing onto Johnston Terrace. The school closed in 1951 and was B-listed in 1987, when the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre took it over. Since 2001 the building has also been home to the Scotch Whisky Training School, which ensures that those involved in the sale and service of Scotch Whisky understand their product. The Heritage Centre was rebranded as The Scotch Whisky Experience in 2006. The tour was subject to a £3-million refurbishment in 2008 and an interactive experience was added in 2012 at the cost of £1 million.

The centre employs around 50 staff and had 270,000 visitors (2012).

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