It seems inevitable to be curious about whisky and its making process when you live in Scotland! I never had a good whisky before and I don’t like “bad whisky” but today I clearly enjoy a drop from time to time of delicious Scottish single malt whisky. It is keeping the doctor away according to the Scots! 😉
There are hundreds of whiskies in Scotland but to be a real “Scottish Single Malt Whisky”, distilleries have to follow a few specific rules and conditions:
– the whisky has to be produced from barley and clear water (not from corn like Bourbon)
– it must be made from whiskies of the same distillery (but as you can understand, you can mix different whiskies from the same distillery like Glenfiddich does)
– it must matured at least 3 years in casks
– it must be bottled in Scotland
Why 3 years? There is no taste or production reason for this number. I was disappointed to learn that the reason is purely legal. The whisky legislation was first written in the 1940’s to regulate the consumption of this alcool and try to stop people to spend their weekly salary in whisky by reducing this amount of whisky available on the market (according to what I heard). However you never see in a shop a 3 years old whisky, there are all around 10 years for the youngest one. This time, it is mainly for marketing purposes (unfortunately).
Scotland is divided in 4 whisky production regions. Each region is characterised by different flavours that you can find in the whisky. The regions and flavours are the following:
– Lowland (south of Scotland) is characterised by light flavours such as flowers, grass freshly cut, nuts, biscuit or barley. These light and fresh flavours are attributed to the natural environment of the region. The barley used to produced whisky in the whole country is mostly grown in this area. If you aren’t keen on peaty whisky, Lowland whiskies are perfect for you.
– Highlands (North part of Scotland Mainland) flavours are smooth and floral including honey and sometimes sea salt for production near the sea like in the Oban distillery. This area is well known for his unbelievable scenery, his peaks, glens and lochs…This natural environment plays an important roles in the flavours developed by the whisky overtime.
– Speyside (the whisky production gold triangle in Scotland). This area is characterised by the fruity flavours (pear and apple), vanilla, rose, honey and other sweet flavours. Half of the whiskies are produced in the area. The distilleries were originally developed in this region because of the clear water coming from the springs feeding the second biggest river from Scotland: the River Spey.
– The Islands produce the most famous Scottish whisky characteristics : the peat flavour. The second Island flavour is sea salt because of the proximity with the sea. This region groups together all the West coast islands such as Skye, Isley, Mull or Arran and the North East island such as the Okney Islands. Most of the whiskies produced in this area are coming from Isley. This very small island counts 8 active distilleries.
On the Classic Malts Selection website, there is a very useful flavour map which localised the whiskies according to their main flavours. I know that they have created a new version which includes almost all the whiskies from Scotland but I couldn’t find it on Internet. I did you a picture of the paper version I found during our trip. Fortunately I like to keep all scrap of papers I receive during my trips! 🙂
I read that the Speyside whiskies are more complex and subtile than whiskies from other regions but I think it is not doing justice to the other great whiskies. I tried whiskies from other regions and they have complex and deep flavours at least according to my taste.
In my next article, you will discover the secrets of the making process and the art of tasting. While you are waiting, why don’t you check my Scottish whisky discovery guide and look at my articles about Scotland on my travel blog!