Alongside whisky, one of Scotland’s prominent exports is ‘Outlander’, the cult TV series produced by Starz, based on US author – Diana Gabaldon’s series of books.
Admired for its storyline, characters and portrayal of 18th century Scotland, whisky is often seen being imbibed throughout the plot. Back then, it might have been distilled at Ferintosh, or was equally likely to have been from an illicit still.
One of the two lead characters in Outlander, Jamie Fraser, is involved in the illegal smuggling of whisky, cognac, brandy, rum and French wine, from his Edinburgh base in 1765. Later, at their new home on Fraser’s Ridge’s, North Carolina, the first batch of Jamie’s illicit whisky is ready in 1768. By 1770 he was selling it at the Gathering at Mount Helicon, as whisky becomes the Frasers’ most valuable trading commodity.
The popularity of the Outlander books and TV series has been a prime factor in the growth of tourism to Scotland, which has been growing at 15% per annum for several years, until the pandemic hit. Recognising this opportunity and fancying a change in career, husband and wife team Andrew and Diane Nicholson set up their tour guiding business ‘Outlander: The Past Lives Experience’ in 2017 (www.outlanderpastlives.com). The business was doing well with high levels of advanced bookings for 2020 and into 2021 when the pandemic hit in March 2020.
Andrew says “after the predictable spate of DIY and gardening, recognising that international travel and tourism was unlikely during 2020, we focussed on rescheduling our bookings into 2022 and 2023. Then, we decided to have a go at creating some virtual tours”.
Other tour guides too were running virtual tours; these were usually a live walk around a venue whilst story-telling and sharing its history. Andrew and Diane wanted to do something different. They were already sharing the walkabout type live tours on their Facebook page, which has amassed 33,000 followers. So, they set about researching and producing tours with an Outlander theme, focused on 18th-century history, where they share in-depth knowledge and perspectives that you often wouldn’t get, even on an in-person tour. In this way, their virtual tours complement their in-person minibus tours.
Initially, their tours were delivered live via a Zoom meeting, for up to 100 people. The virtual tours include:
- The Culloden Experience Virtual Tour – in-depth tour all about Culloden and the battle. This presents a wealth of history and stories, many of which you wouldn’t get to see/hear even on a visit here in person.
- Virtual Tour of 1740’s Scotland – go back in time and eight well known and gorgeous Outlander filming locations, seven fascinating Outlander book locations.
- A Journey Through 18th Century Scotland – the sequel to our hugely popular Virtual Tour of 1740’s Scotland – featuring 20 more historic locations.
- Meet The Jacobite – learn about who the Jacobites were, how they lived, clan life, how they fought, their clothes and weapons and the Jacobite cause.
- Silent Stories from the Loch – an emotional journey into the history, the experiences, the lives, loves and hearts of the people who lived in one remote part of the Scottish Highlands close to Loch Ness.
Based on the success of these virtual tours and responding to requests, especially from overseas, to be able to view recordings of them 24/7, Andrew and Diane set up a new brand and website:www.virtualtoursofscotland.com and incorporated into this one of the leading video-on-demand streaming platforms. This allowed them to offer their virtual tours as a rental to watch at a time that suits the customer (think Netflix and Amazon Prime).
During lockdown, Andrew also decided that, as a tour guide, he ought to learn a lot more about whisky, especially Scotch, so he could share this knowledge with his tour guests. He says “I’d been on a few distillery tours and sampled a few bottles, however, like most of our guests, I didn’t appreciate the full production process that goes into making whisky, or the history and provenance, and I was fairly bemused when it came to making choices about what to buy and how to better appreciate whisky”.
Utilising his background in market research and his sleuth-like attention to detail and stoic determination, he started to research and compile a large dossier on all things whisky. This he then organised into sections on history, regions and brands, styles and international whiskeys, the A-Z of production etc.
“I never appreciated the many different facets of whisky. I ended up watching hundreds of hours of videos, reading several books and many more scientific and commercial articles. While doing this, Andrew realised that there wasn’t a concise one-stop-shop where you could efficiently learn all of this information. He reflects “If you wanted to become a knowledgeable connoisseur of whisky, you pretty much have to learn piece-mealby doing a lot of reading and viewing, tasting and following blogs and channels. There are a few academies, but they are expensive and mainly aimed at the trade”.
Andrew visited, at least virtually, all of the Scottish distilleries, including many ‘lost distilleries’ that are no longer with us. He approached several distilleries and whisky-related brands and ended up collaborating with twelve of them who contributed knowledge and content.
The result of all this work is 11 hours of video content organised into 10 episodes. Andrew featured several distilleries that have at least tenuous connections to the Outlander storyline and has incorporated some related 18th century history into his content for the Outlander fans. That said, over 95% of the content is directly about whisky, so you certainly don’t need to be an Outlander fan to get a lot from this production.
See below for a special offer on Outlander Distilled for followers of Great Drams. Here are the episodes in summary:
Special offer for Great Drams readers:
Already great value for around the price of a decent entry-level single malt, we have a special offer for subscribers and followers of Great Drams. Use the code GR8DRAMS for a 30% discount on Outlander Distilled. Find out more, register and apply the discount code here: https://vod.virtualtoursofscotland.com/programs/collection-outlander-distilled
Alternatively, you can club together with a friend and watch the entire series for half price (buy one get one free). Purchase one at normal price and contact Andrew via the site with the code GR8DRAMS and your booking number to qualify for a second place for free.
Read customer testimonials for Outlander Distilled here: https://virtualtoursofscotland.com/testimonials/
You can follow Andrew & Diane’s virtual tour activity on social media here:
Editor’s Note: The sixth series of Outlander is ‘in the can’ and scheduled to air in March 2022. The first of the Outlander series of books was published in 1990. The ninth book has just been published. The 10th and possibly last book in the series is now being written. These days, with all of her other commitments, Gabaldon takes around four years to write an Outlander book. This and delayed filming due to Covid has caused a condition amongst fans known as Droughtlander (a lack of new Outlander content). Andrew and Diane’s virtual tours are proving to be a popular antidote to this common ailment.
SOCIAL MEDIA POST:
Hi everyone. Are you curious about whisky? Would you like to learn more, hold your own in conversation and impress friends with your knowledge?
Would it be good to know more about the whiskies on the shelves of shops, to be able to choose wisely and develop your appreciation much further?
If so, then here’s a great solution and deal for you. I’m Tour guide Andrew Nicholson based in Inverness, Scotland. During lockdown, I have thoroughly researched the subject of Scotch, whisky and distilling, producing a virtual tour and webinar. I spent many hundreds of hours watching videos, Googling, reading books and papers, visiting distilleries and collaborating with a dozen whisky brands who contributed some great content.
This I have distilled down into ten episodes that you can rent for 3 months and stream over the Christmas period to help you go from curious to more of a connoisseur.
Already great value for around the price of a decent entry-level single malt, we have a special offer for subscribers and followers of Great Drams. Use the code GR8DRAMS for a 30% discount. Find out more, register and apply the discount code here: https://vod.virtualtoursofscotland.com/programs/collection-outlander-distilled
Alternatively, you can club together with a friend and watch the entire series for half price (buy one get one free). Purchase one at normal price and contact me via the site with the code GR8DRAMS and your booking number to qualify for a second place for free.
Read the awesome testimonials for Outlander Distilled here: https://virtualtoursofscotland.com/testimonials/
Thank you. Sláinte.