Is Edinburgh the new whisky capital? by Paul Mclean of Whisky Tours ~ Mclean Scotland

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Is Edinburgh the new whisky capital?

Edinburgh is thinking of itself as a whisky destination with four new distillery projects and the multi-million-pound Johnnie Walker experience. Scotch whisky tourism is at an all-time high in 2019. Figures from back in 2017 show there were almost 2 million visits to distilleries – tourists from all over the world, who spent almost £61 million between them. Whisky producers across Scotland have at last – for many of them – realised the value of the tourist pound and have invested – and continue to invest – in incorporating visitor facilities at their distilleries. Of the 800,000 tourists visiting Moray (Speyside) each year, three out of five visit a distillery for a tour, cup of tea, bite to eat or shop. The density of distilleries in the region – there are 51 operational sites – along with outdoor pursuits, visitor attractions and breath-taking scenery, make Speyside a popular destination with international whisky enthusiasts, as well as those as yet unfamiliar with the drink. But what about Edinburgh – the second-most visited city in the UK, attracting over two million overseas visitors each year – the Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile has been the city’s only real whisky visitor attraction. Glenkinchie is the closest malt distillery, a 15 mile confusing drive from the Royal Mile is no an easy visit for tourists. Thirty odd years after the Scotch Whisky Experience opened there are now four new distillery projects underway, a major revamp for Glenkinchie in the works plus the construction of a multi-storey Johnnie Walker whisky experience.

Can Edinburgh become the centre of Scotch whisky tourism? NO (Paul). Edinburgh as our capital attracts tourists aye, but in the main not the dedicated whisky geek. Susan Morrison, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Experience, welcomed around 400,000 visitors in 2017. No bad you think, but let’s see what Edinburgh Castle and the National Museum of Scotland – the top tourist attractions outside of London – both suck in over two million visits annually. Diageo’s multi-million-pound, seven-storey Johnnie Walker whisky experience was given the all systems go by city planners within the former House of Fraser store on Princes Street, right in the city centre, the attraction will feature a ‘multi-sensory’ experience guiding visitors through the art and science of whisky making as well as the 200-year history of the blended Scotch brand. A rooftop bar – which is yet to receive approval – will offer views of Edinburgh Castle and across the city skyline, while a ground-level shop will provide tastings and whiskies from the Johnnie Walker and Diageo range. The attraction forms part of a £150m investment by Diageo in improving its whisky visitor experiences. Cristina Diezhandino, Diageo global Scotch whisky director, says the group expects the Johnnie Walker Experience to attract the same level of interest as its Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, which welcomes 1.71m visitors each year. Aiming at opening in 2020, the brand will create a welcome for whisky fans around the world… meantime, the revival of John Crabbie, one synonymous with Edinburgh’s 19th century blending heritage, is well underway. Brand owner Halewood International began distilling single malt spirit at Chain Pier, a small site at Granton Harbour in December 2018, although plans are to relocate its core single malt production to a larger premises in Leith. The new £7m distillery, named Bonnington, is currently being built on Graham Street, near to John Crabbie’s original premises at Yardheads. This will be followed by Holyrood Distillery. Situated in the renovated Engine Shed on St Leonard’s Lane, a 15-minute walk from the Royal Mile, Holyrood distillery has been built with the visitor experience at its heart. With an interactive distillery tour, bespoke cask ownership scheme, and expects 45,000 visitors in its first year, building up to 200,000 by year five. The unique vertical Port of Leith distillery on the Firth of Forth is expected to commence imminently, the £5m scheme will be the first Scottish whisky distillery to be built vertically, with the production process laid out from top to bottom. The rooftop bar and restaurant with views across the Firth will no doubt attract a less experienced crowd.

All this is grand aye, but the real whisky geeks like myself will still flock to Speyside and Islay, not to mention Skye, with three to visit now  and superb scenery. Just think of the west coast; fabulous scenery, distilleries all along the coast and islands. Perthshire with many diverse distilleries including my favourite Edradour, will continue to draw the whisky crowds. So, will Auld Reekie be number one whisky location anytime soon?  NO.

A personal blether from Paul McLean whiskytours.scot

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