Ask anyone who’s ever travelled to Edinburgh about their impression of Scotland’s capital and most will enthuse about the warm welcome they received. Whether it’s during the summer for the Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival, or during the winter for Hogmanay, Scotland’s new year celebration, guests are guaranteed to be swept up in the excitement of visiting a city with a Unesco world heritage site at its centre. At the heart of that generous greeting is whisky, Scotland’s national drink, and Edinburgh is the ideal location to begin exploring this amber nectar.
Five of the Best Whisky Bars in Edinburgh
The easiest way to get to grips with whisky’s regions and categories is with a glass of Scotch – more affectionately known as “a dram” – sitting in front of you. And Edinburgh is blessed with a plethora of whisky bars, stocked with Scotch from around the country and staffed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable bartenders who can help to unlock the secrets of “uisge-beatha”, the Gaelic name for the “water of life”.
1. Kaleidoscope Whisky Bar & Shop
Scotch Malt Whisky Society. 28 Queen Street, EH2 1JX
Kaleidoscope Bar. Photo Credit: The Nudge
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s venue in the New Town was once shrouded in mystery, open only to members, who had access to its exclusive bottlings. All that changed in 2016 when the society opened its Kaleidoscope bar, welcoming the public for the first time to see behind the veil and enjoy more than 200 whiskies on offer. Members of the society can also venture down to Leith, Edinburgh’s historic dock district, to visit The Vaults (87 St Giles Street, EH6 6BZ), an 18th century wine warehouse kitted out with leather sofas and roaring fires.
2. Usquabae Whisky Bar & Larder
2-4 Hope Street, EH2 4DB
A popular basement bar at the west end of Princes Street that stocks a whole gambit of whiskies and which specialises in older and rarer Scotch, including pre-Second World War bottles. The food is worth a try too, including traditional dishes such as: haggis, neeps and tatties; Cullen skink; and cranachan.
3. Scotch Whisky Bar
The Balmoral Hotel, 1 Princes Street, EH2 2EQ
The place to go if you want to impress the in-laws. More than 500 malts, blends and vintages are available, with many of the more expensive items kept locked behind the grills in the back-lit display cases. Pricey, but worth it for a touch of luxury.
4. The Devil’s Advocate Bar & Kitchen
9 Advocate’s Closw, EH1 1ND
What happens when you mix whisky and tapas? You get The Devil’s Advocate, one of my favourite places to enjoy a dram in Edinburgh. Located in a Victorian pump house in one of the lanes that runs off the Royal Mile, the restaurant and bar boasts 400 whiskies and offers tapas-style dishes to share or larger plates made with seasonal Scottish ingredients. The wine list ain’t half bad either because it’s run by the people behind The Bon Vivant’s Companion bottle shop.
5. The Albanach
197 High Street, EH1 1PE
Don’t be put off by it being part of brewer Belhaven’s chain of pubs, The Albanach takes its whisky seriously and offers some tasty pies and burgers too. Perched on the Royal Mile, the bar parades 220 single malt whiskies and is a great place for “a hauf an’ hauf”, a pint of beer with a whisky chaser.