Winston Churchill once said that “of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind”. And he’s right.
The Greeks gave us democracy, geometry and the Olympics, so it’s pretty hard to discredit them from that, but what the Scots gave us – outside of the only current leader of a political party speaking any sense and an inspirational desire to work together as part of the European Union – among many other things is some of the most beautiful poetry in the history of literature through the likes of Robert Burns, the telephone and, of course, Scotch whisky.
Seeing as we’re spouting off citations, another one from James Joyce springs to mind: “The light music of whisky falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude.” And there’s no place on the planet this music sounds sweeter than in Scotland herself, which is why we packed our bag, hopped a flight to Heathrow and set our sights on the medieval capital of Edinburgh.
And it was during this little jaunt up to bonnie ol’ Scotland that we had the rare and exciting opportunity to have a gander at how the country’s chief – and might we add, greatest – export is made. The good folk at Haig Club, one of Scotland’s oldest and grandest producers of single grain, single malt whisky, invited us for a glimpse behind the curtain in the centuries-old process of making the good stuff – and indulge in a couple of tassies along the way.
First up on our whisky walkabout was the vast, sprawling Blackgrange site – where ten miles of roadways connect sealed warehouses containing millions of gallons of maturing spirits. These casks of liquid are just waiting for the year they can be retrieved, removed and bottled for the thirsty masses. Roughly four million casks are stored there, which equates to approximately one fifth of the maturing scotch in the world.
Just beyond this gargantuan site is one of the world’s most advanced cooperages where, each year, thousands of casks are repaired, rejuvenated and re-shaped by hand. As the barrels are spun across the ground, checked for quality and repaired when needed, a glorious woody alcohol aroma fills the nostrils and the sunlight filters through the towering pyramids of barrels.
Moving on from the cooperage comes the Cameronbridge distillery itself – this huge factory is strictly off limits to the public, partly due to the sensitive and secretive recipes that the master blenders come up with – so containing our inner whisky geek while we donned our protective gear was difficult, to say the least. Sitting at the centre of the facility are the towering Coffey stills, which pump out thousands of litres of pure spirit every day. This raw spirit is then shipped off back to the Blackgrange, for maturation, years later they’re uncasked and bottled and the glorious boozy cycle continues.
Whisky has become an ambassador for the country, and if you’ve ever raised a glass of the golden treat, we’re certain you’ll appreciate the hard work that goes into it. All over Scotland there are museums, tours, tastings and even trails devoted to teaching its legacy, and even if you’re not planning your trip around Scotch, it’s certainly worth checking out what’s going on while you’re there.
Any trip to Scotland obviously demands a visit to the glowing capital of culture that is Edinburgh. This superb city should be an unmissable addition to anyone’s itinerary. Take in a show at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre or peruse the ‘Pink Triangle’ and drop into one of the city’s fantastic gay bars – The Street or CC Blooms are both ideal for a quick dram of whisky before venturing out and exploring the city proper.
But for folks who don’t enjoy a city break and for those who decided to venture up to Scotland for the stunning scenery, fresh clean air and iconic sweeping roads through the mountains, then a little jaunt up towards Tweedbank should certainly been on the cards. Here, away from the hustle and the bustle of city, life moves at a different pace. Climb a little hill and call it a mountain, snap some photos next to the huge Leaderfoot Viaduct, or simply find a cozy pub and a handsome pub dog.
We need to take a minute to talk about Haig, though. There’s a common misconception that Scotch is reserved purely for stuffy old geezers in wingback leather chairs while reading a copy of the Financial Times, or something along those lines. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. What Haig are trying to do with Scotch is reinvent it for a younger generation – with the help of David Beckham, no less – and they’re doing a damn fine job of it with their different expressions. Whether you’re enjoying a Haig Club single grain over ice, or adding a splash of coke or ginger to the new Haig Club Clubman – with sweet coconut and vanilla toffee from the nose between layers of mild oak spices and a touch of citrus, honey and vanilla sweetness – Scotch is a drink that can be enjoyed by all; there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy it and, like all great things in life, it’s about experimentation and getting creative to find the right way to drink it for you.
So while we can’t all hop on a flight to Scotland for the pure purpose of enjoying whisky at the cradle of its creation, we can take a moment this Christmas break and into the New Year to sit back, relax, say goodbye to the woes of the last 12 months and toast to a more optimistic future with future with a Haig whisky the way you want to enjoy it.
Haig Club single grain Scotch is available nationwide from £39.95, with Haig Club Clubman available from £15, haigclub.com, @haigclub.
Words: Ryan Butcher and Josh Withey