Despite its growing popularity, whisky still has a reputation as being a slightly insular passion. The impression that fine whisky is a drink for connoisseurs, rich with history and a depth of complex flavour notes, can sometimes be a little intimidating for whisky novices.
There’s a whole glossary of terms, traditions, and whisky appreciation rules that might leave the whisky newbie feeling that this isn’t the drink for them.
Johnnie Walker’s ‘Whisky Wonderland’ is on a mission to dispel that intimidating aura and prove once and for all that whisky is a drink for everyone.
An extravagant and interactive journey through the Johnnie Walker whisky-making process, the eight-floor visitor experience on Princes Street in Edinburgh is pure whisky edutainment from start to finish.
Edinburgh’s own ‘Malt Disney’
Opened in 2021, the stated mission of the Johnnie Walker Princes Street visitor centre is to educate both novices and connoisseurs on the complex process of making fine whisky. However, the experience to be had on Princes Street is from just being a distillery tour without the distillery.
On entering what the locals have dubbed ‘Malt Disney,’ each customer is asked to take a questionnaire that helps to define the kind of whisky they genuinely enjoy. Having decided if they prefer citrus notes to apple pie aromas and their thoughts on peat, each guest is given a colour-coded wristband that reflects their choices. They are then whisked away on a 90-minute crash course on the history of whisky.
Malt Disney is more than just a snappy name. It goes some way to describing the style and production values of the Johnnie Walker experience.
The first step on the tour is a bright and engaging multimedia performance where the audience is treated to a brief history of the Johnnie Walker brand. There’s a Jurassic Park-esque animated section, dynamic set dressing and even some stirring music at the right points.
Poorly done, this might seem a bit cheesy, but the money, Johnnie Walker has poured into this experience, combined with the genuinely interesting information on offer and the sheer enthusiasm with which it is presented, makes the whole process thoroughly enjoyable.
After the presentation, guests are taken through a series of rooms that expand on the histories of the four ‘cornerstones’ distilleries. These distilleries produce the whisky that gets blended into Johnnie Walker.
The sections on Cardhu, Caol Ila, Clynelish and Glenkinchie distilleries are really very interesting. If you go into this experience as a complete novice, you’ll come out the other end with a solid grasp of how Johnnie Walker is made.
Having educated guests on the complexities of whisky making, the tour takes a break at a comfortable cocktail room that dispenses whisky cocktails into colour-coded glasses. The glasses are matched to the wristbands participants were issued after the initial questionnaire, matching the drinks to their personal preferences.
The first cocktail bar is an excellent chance to enjoy a great whisky cocktail if you’re already a whisky connoisseur, or to experience how adaptable and approachable whisky can be if you’re a novice.
There’s even the option to add additional botanicals to your cocktail to refine the flavours further. It’s an enjoyable hands-on experience that helps connect guests with just how versatile a good whisky can be.
From this point, the Johnnie Walker experience leans into letting guests relax and really get to grips with enjoying the whisky. The next stop is another cocktail bar that allows participants to try new cocktails relevant to their personalised tasting profile. There’s also the option to try a dram or two of Johnnie Walker’s expansive range of fine whisky.
The experience ends in a pair of delightful top-floor bars. The 1820 Rooftop Bar looks out over the beautiful city of Edinburgh, making it the perfect spot to have a lovely meal and yet more fantastic whisky cocktails. The Explorer’s Bothy, on the other hand, is a dream come true for whisky lovers. Packed with some of the sought-after whiskies in Scotland, it features 150 bottles of fine and rare expressions and even one-of-a-kind cask editions.
Despite the rarity of whisky, the Explorer’s Bothy has a very approachable and relaxed atmosphere and the extremely knowledgeable bar staff are always on hand to make suggestions. This is a place where the whisky novice is truly welcome!
Who is the Johnny Walker Experience for?
Everyone. Inclusivity is the name of the game at the Princes Road visitor centre.
As we mentioned, Johnny Walker’s aim with building their own Malt Disney was to dispel any lingering idea that whisky was a drink for the educated and insular minority, and it does that perfectly.
The initial tour and edutainment sections give novices a solid grounding in how whisky is made, while still being genuinely interesting for more experienced connoisseurs. From there, the progression of the tour introduces the vast range of flavours you can find within whisky in the approachable and unintimidating shape of personalised whisky cocktails.
By the end of the tour, even the most novice whisky drinkers should have a solid grounding in the whisky-making process, what flavours they like, and which whiskies offer those flavours.
Ending the tour with the Explorer’s Bothy and 1820 Rooftop Bar allows guests to test that new knowledge while sampling some of the best whisky Scotland offers.
In short, this Whisky Wonderland is perfect for anyone, from a lifelong whisky veteran to someone just taking their first steps on their whisky journey. With Mother’s day just around the corner, a trip to Malt Disney would make the perfect gift for any whisky-loving Mum.