Review: Kaleidoscope launch at Scotch Malt Whisky Society
over 1 year AGOIain Fenwick
by Ailidh Forlan
Kaleidoscope, the new whisky bar located on the ground floor of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, first opened its doors to the public on the 1st of September.
The official launch, which I attended a week later, welcomed Edinburgh to marvel at the recent £300,000 renovation, which updated the Georgian townhouse to a more contemporary design.
Walking through the front doors you can't help but notice an enclosed glass cabinet rammed wall to wall with whisky bottles; the new bottle shop with over 100 to choose from. It's pretty clear that SMWS are passionate about whisky. Fortunately for me (an infrequent whisky drinker) they'd managed to diversify the evening with prosecco, nibbles and even psychology.
Ground floor: Kaleidoscope Whisky Bar & Taster Bar
Ironically I spent the least amount of time in the new bar itself. Although the venue boasts three floors and a number of different themed rooms, when attempting to squeeze past the other guests, it was immediately apparent that – shock – free whisky is an instant crowd pleaser. But also, the small bar fails to achieve what the SMWS hoped for: it does not give off a friendly, 'everyone is welcome' vibe. The bar is crammed. The space clearly cannot accommodate large numbers and the minimalist clubhouse feel continues to remind you that this is an exclusive whisky society.
Turquoise high stools and brown leather sofas add a splash of colour, but nothing to override the olde worlde aura.
The staff, dressed in tweed waistcoats, were friendly - but when I approached the bar to order a drink, I got the sense that Kaleidoscope were mainly catering to clientele with existing whisky knowledge. Little bottles of water taken from various highland springs were offered with the whisky, as it was suggested that water sourced closest to the distillery complimented the flavour best. This was a fun addition to the bar top but I didn't have a clue.
I felt quite out of place... until a glass of prosecco was placed firmly in my hand (Prosecco Bianco/Nero Spumante DOC Extra Dry, £10.45 a bottle, served in a branded Charles Heidsieck flute).
We snacked on a mixture of both sweet and savoury canapés. Unfortunately the dry pâté (pictured above) looked appealing but left much to be desired. Kaleidoscope normally offers sharing platters, a grill selection and nibbles to pair with whisky.
Next door was the Taster Bar; where the real fun began. Project Flavour Behaviour (www.flavourbehaviour.com), ran by one of the Edinburgh University psychology lecturers, created an unconventional and interactive way of selecting whisky. After a wittily worded 35-question test, you are told the perfect whisky to suit your personality.
You are The Perfect Norm and your perfect whisky is JUICY, OAK & VANILLA - you have a very moderate character with no one clear dominant personality trait, so this balanced whisky flavour is sure to float your boat. Based on your personality type, we would also recommend trying the following flavour profiles: • SWEET, FRUITY & MELLOW • DEEP, RICH & DRIED FRUITS.
So, I sampled the very vanilla-y and slightly coconutty 48.69: Folly from France (62.1% ABV).
The emphasis on whisky flavour aligns with the whole concept of the SMWS. Rather than serving whisky from branded distilleries, such as Talisker and Laphroaig, the society conceals the origin of their impressive range of single malts in an effort to eliminate the impact of branding. Whiskies are then chosen by their flavour profiles, rather than the status of the distillery.
The first number is the unique distillery number; the second refers to the cask, i.e. the 31st cask bottled from that distillery.
First floor: The Dining room
We then went up the beautiful spiral staircase, to the Dining Room (previously located on the ground floor). This was a natural day-lit restaurant filled with comfy chairs, on this occasion, serving a tasty terrine of Gartmorn farm with brioche and pickled mushroom.
Photo credit: Edinblogger
An eye-catching unique piece of artwork representing the Society’s single cask ethos adorns the main wall in the Dining Room –it's 1.5 meters long and holds around 220 Society bottles, visually demonstrating the size and volume of a real whisky barrel.
Here you can experience a five course tasting menu with paired whiskeys (£75 per head) or a very reasonably priced three courses for £43 on the à la Carte menu, which features pigeon breast with pan-fried foie gras, lobster canneloni and an impressive selection of organic meats and roasted fresh fish, to name but a few. This menu, I'd certainly return to try!
If whisky's really not your thing, the impressive marble topped Charles Heidsieck Champagne Table stands proudly in the dining room, where a minimum of four can enjoy a 5-course meal matched with Charles Heidsieck champagnes. However, I feel this experience would be better enhanced with a private room or concealed booth.
Photo: Champagne Table without marble top
Second Floor Members' Lounge and Members' Snug.
In addition to the new bar, the SMWS have opened two new private lounges exclusively for their members. Unlike Kaleidoscope, here table service is provided and you can rest assured that 'no riff-raff will enter', I heard a nearby table scoff.
Again this lounge is on the smaller side, and many visitors remained standing.
The evening was an interesting exploration of a refurbished venue and a unique whisky tasting concept, and as Jan Damen, Operations Director for the Society, explains:
“Kaleidoscope is open to all types of visitors, from local whisky fans to international visitors who are just starting out on their whisky journey. The Society is all about exploring the spectrum of flavours within the whisky category and we’ll have one of the biggest selections of rare single malt whisky in the country. More importantly, our selection will change constantly as we release new whiskies each month, providing guests with new flavours of whisky to discover each time they visit.”
However for me, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society still strongly caters to whisky enthusiasts and more specifically, it's own private members. In fact, the whole idea of launching a public bar, seemed to be an attempt to increase membership numbers. That said, the award winning Dining Room certainly caught my eye and I'll be back for veal sweetbread and organic Peelham farm pork belly before the year ends.
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