Complete 500 word article


Not for a minute did I doubt the popularity of whisky in Scotland, but had I done so a visit to Edinburgh's Whisky Heritage Centre would have made me a true believer. Opened in 1989, the centre received 100,000 visitors during its first eight months. Even on a November weekday I had a short wait before being admitted to the award-winning museum.

Although the origins of malt whisky distilling in Scotland are lost in the mists of time, legend tells us St Patrick introduced the practice here during the fifth century. Certainly by the fifteenth century Scottish monks had their own stills, and after the mid 1400s distilling was widespread. And then the trouble started. First an Act of the Scottish Parliament restricted distilling to the upper classes. To help finance their rebellion against King Charles 1 in the mid 1600s, an Excise Duty was imposed on whisky produced by all registered distillers except land-owner Duncan Forbes. Because he supported the Protestant King William 111 his estate had been razed by Jacobites fighting for the Catholic King. As compensation Forbes and his descendants were given the right to distill duty free, from grain grown on their property. They purchased more land and eventually had three distilleries. Small stills producing whisky for personal consumption were also exempt. Like the Forbes family they found a ready market for their whisky, leaving other distillers frustrated by their inability to compete.

In our barrel-car we glide past smells and sounds emanating from realistic dioramas. Such is a seventeenth- century farmhouse where an enterprising Highlander makes whisky on a simple domestic stove. In remote glens lookouts guard illegal stills from the beleagured Excisemen. A greedy John Forbes counts his duty-free profits from his three distilleries. Sir Walter Scott, who did so much for romanticizing Scottish history, is here for his part in managing a royal tour by King George 1V. On this the first royal visit to Edinburgh by a reigning monarch since 1633, the King wore Highland dress (outlawed 40 years before) and put his stamp of approval on Scotch Whisky by downing quite a bit. At the ride's conclusion we return to whisky's natural origins as water from a Highland spring cascades against striking Scottish scenery. A sign informs us that since we began our journey 15 minutes before, 143,700 bottles of Scotch whisky have been produced for worldwide distribution. I wouldn't doubt it for a minute.

IF YOU GO: The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre is a few yards from Edinburgh Castle, at the top of the Royal Mile. Open daily between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. with extended hours in summer.

TRAVELLER'S TIPS: The centre's gift shop has 60 different brands of whiskies, many gift packed with crystal or Wedgwood glasses and decanters.