When it comes to job titles, Whisky Ambassador isn't a bad one to land. But Fraser Robson, who works at Edinburgh's Balmoral Hotel, never thought it was one he'd want. His first nip of the drink was from the one bottle his parents stocked, the smokey, peaty Laphroaig, when he was 16.
"Absolutely hated it," Robson says.
But while working as a steward on the Royal Scotsman luxury train, which stopped at Highland distilleries, he started to appreciate what went into making Scotland's national drink. And later, when he needed something to calm his nerves before a toast at his brother's wedding, it was a 10-year-old Macallan that cemented his passion for whisky – and future career.
At Balmoral's Scotch bar, he helps guests figure out what they want to try: The hotel's whisky bar stocks bottles from every operating Scottish distillery. "It's so hard to pick when you have over 400 single-malt whiskies. So we offer a whisky journey."
Such journeys include ones focusing on different casking, rare bottles and Scotland's whisky regions, including to the Speyside village of Aberlour, which produces the rich and intense Aberlour A'bunadh.
Here Robson shares five places to start your own whisky journey in Edinburgh.
"Usquabae means 'water of life' in Scotch Gaelic. They have an extensive collection, around 400 whiskies, similar to [Scotch at the Balmoral]. It's quite an exciting new project. It's under street level, very tucked away. They have some very rare whiskies and nice prices as well. The person who runs it also runs Edinburgh Whisky Blog. So they had a big name for themselves before opening the bar." 2-4 Hope St.
Monteiths Kitchen & Cocktails
"This is a bar on the Royal Mile, the centre of Edinburgh and the stretch between two royal residences. They have a cigar area. There are hardly any places in Scotland where you can enjoy a cigar and a nice drink because the weather is not always permitting. But they have quite a nice cigar smoking area set up. And the drinks list is extensive. They do very good cocktails as well. An orchard bramble I had there really impressed me." 61 High St.
Heads & Tales Bar
"It's in the west end of Edinburgh. They are literally an underground gin distillery where they make Edinburgh Gin. It's quite a big brand in Britain. But the layout of the bar is fantastic. You can see the distillery through a window. They have an extensive list of gin, also whisky. Gin and whisky are quite close drinks, so it's a drink I appreciate. The bartenders are definitely masters of their craft. I always go for classics, so the last time I was there I had an old-fashioned." 1a Rutland Place.
Drink with a view
"Edinburgh [has] pretty open laws on public drinking. We have a large park in the centre called Princess Street Gardens. On a really sunny day, which does happen in Scotland sometimes, people are more than welcome to just openly have some ciders and sit in the gardens. Or go up Arthur's Seat or Calton Hill, two hills around Edinburgh with fantastic views of the city, and you can have a nice relaxed drink out in the open air."
"The Lowlands traditionally makes quite a light and floral style of whisky, and Glenkinchie very much does this style. They're just to the east of Edinburgh, near a village called Pencaitland. It's easily accessible from town, about half an hour's drive. And it's a fantastic tour. Their whisky is quite grassy. Their 12-year-old I would describe as a breakfast whisky, a good whisky for any time, a good starter whisky." Pencaitland, East Lothian.
This interview has been edited and condensed.