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My Life's A Trip

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Bagpipes and Booze

I’m married to a Scotch man. Not a Scotsman, mind you. There were no kilts or bagpipes at our wedding. In fact, he was pretty happy with Miller Genuine Draft back then. But as my friends started subscribing to ‘Wine Spectator’ and spending weekends at Napa vineyards, I wound up touring whisky bars and distilleries. As a side effect, I’ve gotten cozy with the charming sheep-filled country of Scotland, and its laid-back capital of Edinburgh. It’s friendly, quietly stylish, and just a pleasant train ride away from London on the Flying Scotsman.

Edinburgh erupts with life every August, during festival season. “The Edinburgh Festival” is a collective term for three separate happenings: the military-centric Tattoo festival; the cultural and arts-focused Edinburgh Festival; and its alternative alter ego, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The Fringe claims to be the world’s largest arts festival and has no entry requirement. This means anything goes — all kinds of experimental events are allowed. My last trip to Edinburgh coincided with the Fringe, and it’s the perfect time to take a stroll down The Royal Mile to people watch and browse for booze.

Even sober the line between art and life is blurry at the Fringe, but as far I could tell, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Street performers, artists, musicians, and all kinds of alternative art performances take place on all over Edinburgh. I saw a Buddhist monk struggling to haul a fuchsia suitcase over the medieval cobblestone street past a feather-filled zorb. I have no idea if the monk was part of the performance or just looking for a cab. When the streets got too wacky, there was always a pub or whisky shop nearby to seek solace.

Scotland is divided into five distinct single malt regions: Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Islay, and Cambeltown. You can take a whistle-stop tour of all of them in specialist malt whiskey retailer Royal Mile Whiskies, followed by a good pub crawl. The friendly staffers at Royal Mile will hook you up with something from their well-edited selection that works for your budget, and show you a few rare, gorgeous bottles reserved for advanced Scotch drinkers willing to pay for the best.

Despite my notorious lightweight status as a drinker, I’ve learned you don’t have to actually imbibe whisky to enjoy it. Scotch is interesting stuff. Ranging in color from pale straw to mahogany, it’s pretty to look at. Its bouquet ranges from fruity to deep, lingering caramel. My nose has gotten savvy enough to differentiate between the pete-rich, smoky-sweet distinctive signature of Talisker and the velvety mellow vanilla and leather chair notes of a 40-year-old Macallan — which smells so delicious that your nose knows instinctively that it would be insulted by the presence of an ice cube.

My afternoon ended at the chic bar at the Hotel Missoni, where I enjoyed a satisfying whiff (and tiny sip) of my husband’s Scotch before turning to my tipple of choice, Hendrick’s gin and tonic with cucumber. As it turns out, my favorite gin is distilled in Scotland.