We visited SCOTCH Whisky Bar in Edinburgh for a whisky tasting masterclass with Whisky Ambassador Fraser Robson.
Not being whisky fans ourselves, we were unsure what to expect but we were pleasantly surprised. The experience was well rounded and about so much more than simply tasting the whisky. Fraser was full of personality, enthusiasm about whisky and his knowledge about everything from the distilling processes to cooking with whisky shone through – not in a boring way but entirely captivating! We learned how to identify aromas, flavours, which foods to pair different whiskies with and why, and what ‘Scotch’ really means. You’ll be surprised.
Here’s what how it went…
At the beginning of the session, Fraser advised us that ‘There are no rules to tasting whisky. It’s meant to be fun and about testing your own palate and senses, experimenting and enjoying. In a bar, it’s the perfect time to experiment. You don’t need to buy the whole bottle like you would in a shop and they'll often have a selection of 10-15 malts. Try the one you’ve never tasted before.’
We tasted 3 varieties of Scotch: Tomatin 12 Year Old, Springbank 10 Year Old and Balblair 1990.
WHISKY 1: TOMATIN SCOTCH WHISKY 12 YEAR OLD (25ml / £5.50)
- Aroma: A rich, fruity aroma with a sweet honeyed quality and notes of raisins and cinnamon, which are reminiscent of Christmas cake.
- Flavour: A sweet arrival and robust bitter finish with notes of cacao and coffee. This Scotch contains 43% alcohol so on the lower end of the spectrum where Scotch is concerned as it starts at 40%, yet it tastes stronger than it actually is. What we found most interesting was that the strength doesn’t hit you on the tongue; it hits you on the back of the throat so you can still taste the flavours accurately.
- Pair With: This Scotch tastes delicious with honeyed smoked salmon or smoked salted almonds.
Fraser recommends… Sampling the whisky alongside some Tomatin smoked salmon at Number One restaurant.
‘Number One is the Balmoral Hotel’s Michelin starred restaurant which sits alongside SCOTCH Bar here. Chef Brian Grigor’s secret Scottish smoked salmon recipe is specially smoked using Tomatin whisky chips and also has a sweet sugar quality in its cure so, despite the strong taste of the whisky, the rich, smokey sweetness of the salmon and the honeyed quality of the Tomatin whisky complement each other perfectly’ says Fraser.
- Distillery: This whisky is distilled in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks in Tomatin.
‘It’s nice to link the whisky to a specific distillery as you can never replicate the flavours elsewhere’ says Fraser.
WHISKY 2: SPRINGBANK 10 YEAR OLD SCOTCH WHISKY (25ml / £5.50)
Fraser says ‘This is one of my favourite whiskies. I always drink it with just a splash of water.’
- Aroma: This whisky has a much stronger flavour and robust aroma than the first. It has a peaty, earthiness caused by the barley producers who used peat smoke to dry the barley. This continues to infuse the whisky, influencing both its flavour and aroma whilst it was stored in the cask, and continued to do throughout the whole maturation process until bottling.
- Flavour: Springbank is a relatively savoury whisky, with an earthiness centring on the flavours of vanilla and apricot. We found that, after the initial intensity of the alcohol (46%) hits you and has mellowed, your taste buds begin to adjust and it’s in the middle of each sip of whisky that you begin to identify more of the flavours. That’s the most delicious part, as the whisky began to develop a smooth, rich, buttery flavour. Interestingly, rather than subdue, the intensity of the alcohol in the whisky actually begins to increase towards the end of the sip, creating a strong finish.
- Pair With: If you’re having a meal, Springbank works well with grouse or game. If you’re looking for a snack, smoked salted almonds will bring out the flavours of the whisky.
- Distillery: Springbank
WHISKY 3: BALBLAIR 1990 (£13.50 / 25ml)
- Aroma: Balblair has a fruity nutty quality to it, both in flavour and aroma. There are some stunning notes of cocoa and vanilla, and you can also identify fruity sherry aromas in the whisky, which were infused during its time maturing in the Spanish sherry casks.
- Flavour: This full-bodied whisky has the same alcohol content as the Springbank (46%) but somehow tastes much more robust. Like its aroma, the flavour of the Balblair whisky has a fruity, nutty quality to it, with sweet and spicy notes, punctuated with flavours of raisins, toffee, honey and citrus zest. It’s a very strong whisky but undoubtedly delicious, and benefits from a smooth and long lasting finish.
Fraser says ‘There’s no right or wrong flavour or aroma to note when tasting whisky. Whatever you say is correct as a whisky can have any number of notes depending on how complex it is.’
- Pair With: A good quality dark chocolate (>65% cocoa solids). This offers a mouth-wateringly delicious contrast between the sweetness of the whisky from the sherry casks and the bitterness of the chocolate. At SCOTCH Bar, they use Felchlin 65% cocoa Maracaibo chocolate and Valrhona chocolate - an intense chocolate with high cocoa solids and full of flavour, which taste delicious with the whisky.
- Distillery: The whisky is distilled in Balblair and maturated in specially imported sherry casks from Spain to help develop the unique flavour.
Whether you’re a whisky connoisseur or beginner, we highly recommend spending an evening whisky tasting with friends as it’s a huge amount of fun, highly interesting and, whether you enjoy drinking the whisky, testing your senses with identifying aromas (or eating the delicious chocolate and treats its paired with!), there’s certainly something to appeal to everyone.
Groups of friends or as a fun date. It’s also an ideal gift experience for people with inquisitive, adventurous personalities, especially those who enjoy puzzles or jovially competing with friends.