Food & Drink Features

When in Scotland, there’s more to drink than just whisky

Why opt for just Scotch whisky when there’s quality gin to be enjoyed in the heart of Edinburgh, oh and afternoon tea, too.
Marilen Fontanilla | Sep 10 2019

All too often, Edinburgh has labored under the traditional notion of being solely a whisky and ale-loving capital, with the golden liquid being chugged in pubs and hidden whisky joints that dot the city. But nothing could be further from the truth as a recent sojourn opened my eyes (and palate) to how this adventurous Scottish city has been shaking more than just Old Fashioneds in the past few years. The drinking scene has livened up, and it goes beyond the eponymous Scotch (although that still remains personal favorite)!


A “gin-volution” at Pickering’s Gin

When your first steps into Pickering’s Gin’s working distillery lead you through a bar named The Royal Dick, you already have an inkling that this will not be your run-of-the-mill distillery tour.

Head of Experiences Victoria Izatt-Lowry allows visitors to immerse themselves in the working distillery as she takes small groups to the rooms where they distill, fill, label, wax, and bottle Pickering’s Gin.

For founders Marcus Pickering and Matt Gammell, it was fortuitous timing when the old Royal (Dick) Veterinary School kennels became vacant and Pickering inherited a gin recipe from his late father. Dated July 17, 1947, this original Bombay recipe produces a gin full of fragrant spices and fresh citrus fruits. With the duo’s penchant for good gin thrown in, it was a natural evolution for them to start Pickering’s Gin in 2013.

The gin’s balance results from specially crafted 500-liter copper stills which coax out subtle flavors during a slow luxurious simmer.
The gin is engineered from 9 botanicals including juniper, coriander, cardamom, angelica, fennel, anise, lemon, lime, and cloves as seen in its core expressions line of Pickering’s Gin, Original 1947 Gin, and Navy Strength Gin.

Pickering’s Gin is located in the sprawling arts complex of Summerhall, where visitors can soak in some contemporary artwork at the bar before heading off to their next sipping destination.

After the tour, visitors get a chance to drink straight from the tap at The Royal Dick.


Afternoon tea at Signet Library

Not all afternoon teas are created equal and this is especially true for the Signet Library afternoon tea at The Colonnades. The 500-year-old Georgian building is home to the Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet, a venerable association of Scottish lawyers.

The Signet Library is marked by Corinthian columns and ornate balustrades, with paintings by Thomas Stothard.

Among the historical tomes that line the library’s bookshelves, visitors can partake of a traditional British afternoon tea, complete with savory and sweet selections that reflect fresh, locally sourced produce in line with the seasons. These are artfully arranged on cake tiers and accompanied by unlimited refills of fine blended tea by Wee Tea, or for those who prefer, Champagne, fizz, or cocktails.

A tier of savories: salmon, smoked haddock, and saffron pie; Moroccan spiced lamb with couscous and tzatziki; olive, rosemary, and goats curd sablé; ham hock terrine and piccalilli, mushroom and tarragon choux; prawn Caesar salad; Scottish salami, pesto, and fennel baguette; egg mayonnaise, tomato chutney, and watercress.

The afternoon tea is available from 11 am to 5 pm from Sunday to Friday and reservations are recommended, although a few tables are left free for walk-ins. Away from the hustle and bustle of The Royal Mile, this is a welcome respite that takes you back to the grandeur of the 19th century for one afternoon.

Sweets include passionfruit and coconut shot, rhubarb and custard macaron, green tea and lemon tart, carrot cake, banoffee delice, dark chocolate “Alaska,” freshly made fruit, and plain scones with clotted cream and jam.


A fitting whisky finale at Whiski Rooms

I could not leave Scotland without partaking of its most famous libation. So on our last night in Edinburgh, we were lucky to grab a table at Whiski Rooms, panoramically positioned at the top of The Mound (although another one is around the corner at The Royal Mile). If the restaurant is full, the bar offers some bar snacks to while away your hunger pangs, accompanied by guided whisky tastings before settling down for a range of seasonal dishes that gives a real taste of Scotland.

A Highland malts flight takes you on a tasting tour to the highlands with Blair Athol 12 years old, Chynelish 14 years old, Edadour 10 years old, and a Gland Garish Founders Reserve.
Haggis spring rolls with plum sauce offer an Asian twist to this Scottish delicacy.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to sample the creations anchored on local produce which the restaurant champions. And the best part are the recommended whisky pairings which simply heighten the dining experience.

Tenderly braised Perthshire lamb shoulder with sautéed potatoes, glazed parsnip, carrots, shallots, thyme jus, and mint sauce, paired with a Bunnahabhain 12 years old.

If you have time, do try to avail of the whisky tastings which expand on the experience, allowing you to appreciate the different characteristics of malt whisky, accompanied by tasting notes. Slàinte mhòr!