6 Jun 2009

Slàinte mhath! Whisky Treats!

I’m sitting in a giant whisky barrel, being wheeled through a cloud of scent that makes me think the sea has been set on fire and is being smothered with centuries-old garden mulch.

“That’s the smell of burning peat!” bellows the tour guide, a mustachioed ghost who appears and disappears from a series of screens as the barrel inches ever onward.

I know that the men in the barrel ahead of us are listening to their tour in Japanese, but I can’t hear it. I am enveloped in my own wee world, where the mulching machine is now threatening to puree my thoughts.

We go through the entire process, rounding the corner into the land of popcorn lights that are meant to represent the power of yeast. Then past the copper stills and onto the silent store of casks, where time is the lone employee.

Following the barrel ride, a real-life guide takes over and leads us upstairs to a room where we are taught the various olfactory tones that are present in the single malts around Scotland. We are told that only whisky that is distilled and matured in Scotland can be called Scotch Whisky

We hold our noses over a series little jars, and are told to try to catch a whiff of one or another flavour, like flowers or fruit. There is a jar containing a smoky aroma that is strong enough to make us cough. I fall in love with the jar that holds the scent of warm oat biscuits.

They are broken down for us thus:

Lowlands - warm and malty (my favourite)

Highlands - spicy, floral

Speyside -fruity (think pears with a hint of nail polish remover)

Islay - deep smoke and earthy

The one that was missing was the tiny whisky region of Campbeltown, which I have read carries a scent of nutmeg and light smoke.

We choose which we liked best and are poured a sample from that region. But we don’t drink them straight away. Instead we are asked to carry our glasses through to a neighbouring room, where we will be taught advanced whisky swirling, sniffing and tasting skills.

I will pause here to mention that this entire revamped story of the “Water of Life” is part of the
Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre’s recent £2 million investment. They have done a spectacular job, but as wonderful a sensual experience as it is, it just wouldn’t have been the same without this new addition:
This is the moment you walk into a specially designed vault that holds the world’s largest whisky collection. Gathered together over 35 years by Brazilian Claive Vidiz, the collection has been purchased by the whisky manufacturer Diageo, who have loaned it to the Whisky Centre in Edinburgh.

All 3,384 bottles are on display, with glass, mirrors and carefully planned lighting working together to compliment the amber glow generated from such a gathering.

It is in this room that our noses begin a synchronized descent into our glasses, and where those of us whose palates and bodies can tolerate alcohol (mine, sadly, cannot), tip the glass to send the golden rivulets streaming onto our tongues.

For the momentous effort the Whisky Centre has put into involving all the senses in their new visitor experience, I ply them with my child-like way of applauding when I’m really excited, combined with a special I’m-ever-so-delighted squeaky noise that I sometimes make. Even for those who, like me, have never been fond of alcohol, if you’re a sensual creature, then this is for you.

Because I was so deeply impressed by everything, and because whisky is one of the big things for which Scotland is undeniably known, I thought this would be a great sojourn into my monthly GIVING OF TREATS.

I had it in mind that I would gather together a wee sample bottle from each of the regions around Scotland, and send them to one lucky, interested person. However I then did some research on sending alcohol in the post and found that overall, it is not a good idea. Most customs departments would just nab the parcel and I would be dubbed very naughty indeed.

I was sad for awhile, but then I put on my creative hat (I have one now) and thought of ways I could still bring the idea and delight of whisky to someone, without actually sending whisky. And I’ve come up with a collection of great little treats.

First of all there is this DVD, which is all about whisky is Scotland. However I thought that a DVD alone would just focus on sight and hearing, and I wanted to involve the other senses more fully. The other treats that shall join the DVD in the whisky parcel are here:

1. The Story of Scotland: Home of Whisky from The Chocolate Library. Learn about the history of whisky and eat chocolate at the same time!
2. A Glencairn Whisky Glass
3. A stack of wee dram containers from
Dewar’s Whisky in Aberfeldy (these would be perfect for camping)
4. A wee sachet of Whisky toddy sugary goodness

My rules for my gift giving are very simple. First of all, please don’t be shy. I think that sometimes people don’t want to put their hand up because they don’t want to seem greedy or cause inconvenience. But let it be known: I REALLY LIKE GIVING THINGS AWAY. It makes me happy (what with the clapping and the squeaky noise and everything). And yes, I ship overseas (or at least try, customs being what it is).

Having said that, the most important thing is that you have to be genuinely interested in the items involved. If the
world of whisky isn’t for you, just hold off putting your name in the hat until you see something that really takes your fancy. That way I can feel good about sending a parcel to someone who will glean real, giggle-inducing pleasure from it.

The only person who will not be eligible for a prize is the person who won the month before. However, the introductory tablet giveaway does not count! I was just testing out my parcelling skills. Besides, if I discounted the tablet, I probably wouldn’t have any applicants.

Raise your cyber hand by emailing me at
scotland4thesenses@googlemail.com. Write “Whisky Parcel -Eeee!” or something similar in the subject line and in the email let me know your name and your blog link if you’ve got one.

The deadline to apply for this present is Sunday, 14 June. On the 15th I shall put all the names in my
fancy new hat and get JP to draw the name, because he’s a Scotsman and has magic hands.

I shall announce the winner and email to get your address (that is, if I don’t already have it from the tablet adventure).

And that’s it! Long post - I know. But does anyone want some whisky treats?


p.s. Slàinte mhath is Gaelic for "good health", and is a traditional toast

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