edinburgh whisky

Learn the finer points of Scottish whisky at these classic pubs. (Photo: Getty Images)


Tak’ a Dram´: A Whisky Lover´s Guide to Edinburgh

The Scottish Gaelic word for whisky is uisge beatha, or “water of life,” and a trip to Edinburgh wouldn’t be complete without takin’ a dram: having a glass of whisky. Here´s our guide to the best whisky bars in the Scottish capital.

Whisky is a warm, amber-colored mixture of cereals, water and yeast and has been distilled in Scotland since the 15th century. Today there are five official categories of Scotch whisky; they are based on what the spirit is distilled from, be that a blend of cereals or from malted barley alone, and whether it is distilled in several different distilleries or just one. The most luxurious category is the single malt, which must be distilled at a single distillery from malted barley.

Many factors contribute to the distinctive flavor of each whisky, including the water used (for example, water that is rich in peat is famous for producing a smoky taste) and the artistry of the distillers themselves. Variations of landscape and climate, found in areas such as the Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside and Islay, also influence character.

Prepare your senses for sampling the world´s finest blends and malts, such as Laphroaig, Talisker and Glenmorangie, in Edinburgh — one of the world´s most beautiful and historical cities. As we say in Scotland, Sláinte! (Cheers!)

The Bow Bar

This traditional pub has a cozy, old-school vibe and is popular with a local crowd. Its grand wooden gantry (bar shelving) is stocked with more than 310 single malts from across the Scottish mainland and islands.

The Bow Bar is also famed for its delicious pies, which include the curious but delicious combination of haggis, cheese and chili. Dog lovers can even bring their pooches along for a dram and post photos on the Furry Friends page of the bar´s website.

The Canny Man’s

The Canny Man’s was established in 1871 in Morningside by James Kerr, and it remains a family-run freehouse, or independent pub, to this day. This special spot is notable not only for its extensive selection of blends and malts, but also for its convivial environment, wonderfully quirky decor and popular beer garden.

The walls and ceilings are adorned with antiques and curios, such as antlers, old clocks and oil paintings, and parts of the impressive gantry date back to James Kerr’s day. Popular with celebrities, British TV chef Rick Stein pronounced The Canny Man’s the “Best Pub in the World.”

Teuchters Landing

Teuchters Landing in Leith was once a waiting room for passengers taking the steamboat to Aberdeen, and the name is a teasing reference to this history.

In Scotland, “teuchter” is a derogatory name for a person from the countryside, or as this dockside bar helpfully explains on its website, “a contemptuous word for a Highlander or anyone from the North; an uncouth, countrified person.”

Teuchters Landing offers 90 single malts and some excellent blends, and if the Scottish sun happens to make a special appearance, or you´ve packed your umbrella, you can enjoy your dram outdoors on the pontoon.

Whiski Rooms

In the heart of Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town, close to the castle, Whiski Rooms offers clientele from around the world the chance to sample different whiskies in classic, refined surroundings.

Take a seat at the bar and ask staff for recommendations, or join a session in the tasting rooms. Connoisseurs will love the Premium Tasting, which offers an opportunity to sip rare and superior aged whiskies. If you like to match fine foods with whisky, don´t miss the cheese or homemade chocolate pairing sessions.