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Issue 10 - Drinking neat and sweet

Scotland Magazine Issue 10
September 2003


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Drinking neat and sweet


A five star hotel it may be, but The Scotsman is kooky – and we mean that in the nicest possible way. Where else is reception on the fourth floor, where you have two lifts which serve different floors and don’t stop at all of them, and where the rooms are built in a rabbit warren of a former newspaper office? Or where you have little bridges held up by chains in dimly lit parts of the building, or the coolest swimming pool illuminated by trendy colour-changing neon?

We love it because it’s what we like to think we are – the best of the traditional brought to life in a modern context. And the ultimate combination of casual and class. Truly stunning.

The Scotsman Hotel,
North Bridge, Edinburgh
Tel +44 (0)131 222 8888

Taking a whisky writer to a liqueur tasting is a bit like taking a lifelong Rolling Stones fan to a Britney Spears concert – the best you’re going to get is a grudging acceptance that it’s okay if you like that sort of thing.

But the Scots are famed for their love of anything sweet. So letting a panel loose on a table of drinks that taste like vanilla ice cream and chocolate pudding at the same time should prove to be a sure fire success.

Ah, but what happens when you mix the two and hold a tasting with some whisky writers who also happen to be Scottish and Scottish writers who profess to liking whisky?

This, I concluded on the morning of our liqueur tasting, would be the whole point of this experiment. That’s why we do tastings; in the hope that we’ll mix up components and come up with a surprising blend.

What I hadn’t envisaged that morning was that the two types of writers would blend quite so well, but the range of liqueurs would split so absolutely down the middle.

We had seven to try, and by chance it just so happened that four of them were clearly whisky based ones with a range of flavours added to enhance and complicate the taste of whisky, and three were cream-style ones, in the style of Baileys. These were richer and sweeter and with the alcohol far less obvious in the final taste.

That’s where the unexpected hitch came from. Our judges made their decisions individually but when the results were in, it was clear they agreed with each other completely. And the main thing they agreed on was that they loved liqueurs based on their beloved whisky and they didn’t really like rich sweet cream drinks where the base spirit was concealed.

So in effect we had two tastings in one session. It was just one of those things. With a different set of judges it would have gone very differently, no doubt.

But on the day, the clear conclusion from our panel was that liqueurs can be exceptional when they’re made with whisky and don’t disguise the fact.

One other conclusion was reached: that nearly all the drinks would work as summer drinks with ice – music to the ears of the liqueur producers who have worked so hard to move the category away from just the Christmas market.