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The Whisky Regions of Scotland

Article by James Macintosh

Some countries excel at growing different types of crops – tomatoes in Guernsey for example, or apples in England. The most delicious apple I ever ate was one I picked from a tree growing at Kew Gardens in southwest London, England. Even the thought of that makes my mouth water now, some 7 years later.

Anyway, the point being that Scotland not only excels for its potatoes – yes, potatoes tend to like the cold, wet conditions that Scotland is known for. But Scotland also also excels at whisky making and has many different whisky regions, just as France has many different vine growing regions used for wine production.

Each different whisky possesses a noticeable difference to the next one. Aroma, colour, taste. Each distillery in Scotland has its own way of production and its own natural water supply, gained from the hills or mountains nearby.

Lets have a brief intro to just a couple of the whisky-producing areas of Scotland.

Lowlands:This area takes into account from the borders between England and Scotland up the coastal areas on both east and west – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and more. Because there tends to be less peat in these areas and also due to the lighter lowland barley that is used in the distilling process, lowland whisky tends to be light, both in colour and in flavour. They are somewhat sweet to the palate and thus can be a super introduction to some one who is new to the delights of whisky. Among the favourite lowlanders we have: Glenkinchie, Inverleven, St Magdalene (don’t know the last one, personally).

Highlands:The largest region in Scotland stretching from the boundary of the lowlands to the north coast, up past Inverness. There are different regions within the highland area to consider:

Northern Highlands: tends to be stronger in flavouring and complex in aroma. Smokey and lightly peaty producing a medium bodied whisky. Among the favourites are Glenmorangie, Dalmore, Ben Nevis (yes, named after the famous mountain).

Southern Highlands: very gentle flavouring as the soils in the southern highlands are light which thus produces a light tasting barley. Sweet, fragrant and also somewhat flowery. Drams to be sampled are – Dalwhinnie, Glengoyne.

Whisky Tasting 10: Lagavulin 16 Yr from Islay, Scotland

Lagavulin is from Islay. A distinct island region renounced for producuing peaty whiskies. 4 distilleries especially produce whiskies BIG in peat: Laphroaig, Port Ellen (silent now!), Ardbeg (reopened) and Lagavulin followed by the medium peat distilleries Bowmore and Caol Ila then the least peaty Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain. Lagavulin 16 is the flagship of this distillery. On the nose, sea breeze, sea mist, peat, sweet sherry, sweet maltiness, gun powder and smoke. Very complex nose! More of the above mixed in harmoniously with a velvety, full and round body. The finish is powerful and long with sustained peat and dark chocolate. The single malt is heavenly scoring extra points on complexity. Not a style for the faint hearted and can be a shock to the system! Just a note, I often serve a good malt whisky (or two or three!) rather than dessert wines after dinner. Is this an after dinner malt? Yes but for me an all day 24 hours malt! Yahoo! (95-97 points) Tasted by Michael Lam of the Beverage Review

Whisky Regions of Scotland

Just as France has its wine regions, Scotland has its whisky regions. Each one produces whiskies of various qualities which, even to the novice, are noticeable in taste, colour and aroma. Every distillery in Scotland has its own story to tell and peculiar traditions, adding to the romance and mystique of Scotch whisky distilling.

A visit to a whisky distillery is an unforgettable and unique experience, and no matter where you are in Scotland there will be a distillery nearby. A trip round Scotland isn’t possible for everyone, so it helps to be informed about the characteristics of each region’s whisky, and tailor visiting distilleries to individual taste.

Lowlands

The lowland region covers the area from the border with England and from the Clyde estuary to the Tay estuary. The main feature of lowland whiskies is their dry, light flavour and colour, mainly due to the lighter lowland barley and smaller amount of peat used in the barley drying process.

Although they are light, they have a sweet, almost fruity taste and make a great aperitif, perfect for the newcomer to Scotch whisky drinking. Notable lowland whiskies are Auchentoshan, Bladnoch, and Glen Kinchie.

Highlands

This is the largest of the Scottish regions and stretches from the lowland boundary right up to the north coast, and from west coast to east coast, taking in all the mountains, glens and moorland inbetween. It is also the most complex of whisky regions because of the different sub-regions, each one producing whiskies of different qualities.

Northern Highland

Northern Highland whisky tends to be stronger tasting with a complex array of flavours and aromas.

Hints of heather and spice mingle with light peaty, smokiness to give a medium-bodied character. Some whiskies even have a very slight tinge of salt, perhaps due to the coastal locations of most distilleries. Notable northern Highland whiskies include Glenmorangie and Brora.

Southern Highlands

Whisky from the southern highlands is typified by its gentleness. The soil in the rolling hills is light and produces similarly light tasting barley which forms the bulk of whisky’s taste. It is also very fragrant and flowery, with a soft, sweet taste. Celebrated southern Highland whiskies are Glengoyne, Edradour, and Tullibardine.

Western Highlands

The western highland whiskies are more robust in character than those of other Highland regions. Slightly peatier than inland whiskies, they have well-rounded flavours, and are very smooth on the palate. Notable western Highland whiskies are Oban, Glen Lochy and Ben Nevis.

Speyside

Although Speyside is in the highlands, it is classed as a whisky region because of its high concentration of distilleries. This is the heartland of whisky with two thirds of all Scotland’s distilleries, some of them the most famous in the world. Rivers such as the Spey and Livet flow from the Cairngorm mountains and their waters’ purity is hallowed by distillers.

Speyside whiskies are light and sweet, elegant and complex. They are not peat-heavy and have only a hint of peaty smokiness. Some Speyside whiskies are household names, such as Glenlivet, Macallan, Glenfiddich and Aberlour.

Campbeltown

Situated near the bottom of the Kintyre Peninsula, Campbeltown was once a major centre for Scotch whisky distilling with around 30 distilleries. Now there are only three. Their whiskies have a distinctive full-bodied “maritime” flavour and aroma and are among the less peaty malts. The three Campbeltown distilleries are Glengyle, Glen Scotia and Springbank.

Islands

Among whisky connoisseurs, the “island region” isn’t really a region at all. Some argue that it can’t be a specific region because some of the islands are very far apart, for example, Arran and Skye, whose whiskies have very different flavours. However, the islands of Mull, Jura, Skye, Arran and Orkney “traditionally” make up the Island malts. All have peaty, smoky bodies and full flavours, but there are marked differences in taste, colour and aroma. Famous island whiskies include Tobermory (Mull), Isle of Jura, Talisker (Skye), Highland Park (Orkney), and Arran Single Malt.

Islay

Islay (pronounced “eye-luh”) is so famed and loved by whisky experts it is classed as a region in its own right, although it is nearby the other west coast whisky producing islands. Its eight distilleries distill the strongest whiskies in Scotland and are distinctive by their rich, peaty flavours with hints of the sea, deep colouring, and full bodies. Islay’s better known whiskies are Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig.

Sage Advice

Scotch Single Malt Whisky is a very strong alcoholic drink. Once a taste for it has been acquired, the palate becomes more alive to its full, complex flavours, and its smoothness makes it a pleasure to drink. Please enjoy your dram responsibly.

Top 10 Single Malts From Scotland

Many people love a “wee dram” as the Scots say, and have their own preferences when it comes to drinking whisky. Of course, not all of these come from Scotland even the Welsh are now marketing Welsh whisky and the Japanese have long been in the whisky market. However, as connoisseurs will tell you the best whisky is single malt which has been matured in an oak cask for a number of years. These are more expensive than cheaper supermarket brands, but well worth the extra even if you are not a Scot and have no intention of celebrating Burn’s Night with whisky and haggis and the skirl of bagpipes.

 

1. Glenmorangie

Top of the list has to be the single malt which is best loved. or at least most often bought in the homeland of whisky. It has a smooth taste and gives your whole body a feeling of being at ease the moment you take the first sip and feel the amber nectar flowing down your throat. Happily it is not the most expensive of the single malts and pus it in most people’s price range.

 

2. Laphroaig

This one is less well-known but is my personal favourite. It has a very distinctive aroma and taste. It tastes a little of peat and is very different to other malt whiskies. They say it is an acquired taste, but I loved it from the very first sip. It is paler than other whiskies and looks more like a dry sherry, but it warms you and makes you feel at peace with the world almost instantly.

 

3. Glen Grant

The fifty year old Glen Grant is one of the finest you could ever wish to drink, but there are other younger one’s made by the same company which, while not as spectacular, are enjoyable to savour. The whisky is matured in wooden casks and some are very pale for Scotch, but this shouldn’t put you off purchasing a bottle.

 

4. Single Speyside Malt

This particular brand has a very long history and the manufacturers have been in the whisky-making business for hundreds of years. The 41 year old Speyside is a treat for the taste buds, but is expensive and rarer now than it once was of course because of its popularity. However like Glen Grant there are younger ones that deserve to be tried and you won’t be disappointed.

 

5. Macallen Fine Oak

The Macallen as it is known has been appreciated by many who have become aficionados of this brand of whisky. You can buy 20 year old malts and younger ones which will delight your palate. It has been matured in oak casks as its name suggests.

 

6. Bowmore

Bowmore is popular single malt, with a long distilling tradition behind it. Each of the years has a different flavour to the discerning taste buds, and the older it is, the finer the flavour, but the 12 year old is a very good buy.

 

7. Dalmore

This isn’t very well-known, nut if you can track down a bottle, you won’t regret it!

 

8. Talisker

Talisker is easier to find than Dalmere, and is well worth partaking of. Again there are different ages of this single malt, and the older are usually better.

 

9. Glenfarclas

Glenfarclas comes in various ages and is worth scouting around for. It is popular in Scotland, but has only relatively recently been discovered by Sassenachs (foreigners). Be one of the first of your friends to sample it.

 

10. GlenFiddich

GlenFiddich is not one of the best single malts, but it gets a mention in this list because it is the top selling single malt in the States and in British pubs. When I worked in a pub with a rather eccentric landlord who knew a lot about whisky and actually never drank anything else, he regarded this as “cooking” whisky, and the only single malt which he would allow to be served with adulterants such as ginger ale.

 

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It should perhaps be noted that good single malts should be drunk with water only. If you add any other liquid you will lose the fine flavour of the malt. If you treat a glass of single malt as you would one of fine armagnac or cognac, and warm the glass in your hands before drinking the malt, you will release the flavour so that you have the full magical experience of the amber nectar trickling down your throat. Your taste buds will appreciate this too, so try it neat or with a little water.

The Glenfiddich Distillery Scotland 2004 Single Malt Whisky

The Glenfiddich Distillery Scotland 2004