Finding rare Scotch whiskies among Edinburgh’s tourist traps

The little shop on Cannongate: Cadenhead's Edinburgh

The little shop on Cannongate: Cadenhead’s Edinburgh

A trip to Scotland would not be complete without a whisky stop.

However, my itinerary was far too short during a recent journey for a stopover at one of the country’s many distilleries. One possible alternative: a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience, close to historic Edinburgh Castle and my lodgings. I quickly ruled that out after a consult with various online travel forums. No need for a Disneyesque ride explaining the whisky making process.

Hope remained.  About a half mile from of Edinburgh’s Holyrood Castle is Wm. Cadenhead, a tiny outpost of Scotland’s oldest and largest independent bottler of spirits, which is based in Campbelltown in the Speyside.

Until the mid-20th century there were many small firms that bottled and sold the pure product of Scotland’s distilleries. Cadenhead, among them, has been doing this for about 130 years. A loss of public interest caused the small producers and bottlers to close and today only a small handful of distilleries remain in the ownership of their founding families and even fewer of the bottling companies remain active. Others indy bottlers include Compass BoxGordon & McPhail and the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, the name a few.

The shop at 172 Canongate on the Royal Mile, a touristy stretch of pubs, souvenir shops and store upon store selling cashmere scarves, is a tiny affair. No more than a half dozen people could fit into the small shop. Inside you’ll first see a display of fairy usual whiskeys.  Cadenhead casksTo the right, a chalkboard lists the store’s large cache of rare, aged whiskeys. To the left, just inside the store’s window, are several spigotted wooden casks, each containing a cask-strength expression of one of Scotland’s whisky producing regions—and a cask of rum.  It’s from these barrels that the shop sells bottles — 30cl, 35cl and 70cl — of whiskeys for takeaway.

Scotch whisky display at Cadenhed's

Scotch whisky display at Cadenhed’s

I explained to a gent who asked how he could help that I wanted to find a whisky that I could not find in America. I listed some of my favorites from the Speyside and The Highlands and the flavors I seek in a bottle, i.e. chocolate, spice, candied fruits, etc. He took a tiny plastic cup and poured a taste from a bottle next to a cask labeled Campbelltown. No details except a proof statement: 59.7—that’s 119 percent abv, a drink that must be cut with water. I’m told its been aged 15 years and that it’s a Springbank, which like Cadenhead, is owned by J & A Mitchell & Co. Ltd. Springbank Whisky is lightly peated and twice distilled. It’s smooth and offers up chocolate and dried fruit nuts.  Just right for. I’ll take 35cl.

Can I sample the Highland malt? I’m poured a taste. It’s sweeter than the Campbelltown as well as smooth. All the flavors I’m fond of in whisky are here. I’m told its origin is Glenfarclas and its age is about 10 years. Another bottle to go home.

Not a long shopping expedition, but enough to satisfy my whisky desire.  Next stop, Heathrow Duty Free.




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