Words by: Simon Diffford
Single Malt Scotch whiskies are grouped by region, each embracing certain characteristics. These are: Highlands (inc. & Speyside), Lowlands, Islands, Islay and Campbeltown.
By far the biggest region with wide variations in style, The Highlands officially encompass the islands of Arran, Jura, Lewis, Mull, Orkney, Shetland and Skye, but many, including us group these under the heading 'Island' (see below).
The Western part of the Highlands, at least on the mainland, has only a few distilleries and due to their scattered nature it is difficult to make generalisations over their character. However, the whiskies tend to be rounded, firm and dry with some peatiness.
The north of the region has several whiskies with a heathery, spicy character, partly due to their coastal location and heather in the peat. The more sheltered East Highlands and the Midlands of Scotland tend to produce fruity malts.
Speyside, the main Highland distillation area, lies between the cities of Inverness and Aberdeen. Speyside malts are noted in general for their elegance and complexity and often have a refined smokiness. Speyside boasts so many distilleries that, like 'Islands', that malts produced here are categorised under the distinct Speyside heading, rather than the more general Highlands.
This region is defined by a line following old county boundaries and runs from the Clyde estuary to the river Tay. The lowlands tend to produce whiskies in which the softness of the malt itself is more evident, unaffected by Highland peatiness or coastal salt and seaweed.
Of the nearly 800 islands scattered off Scotland's coast malt whisky distilleries lie on the islands of Arran, Jura, Lewis, Mull, Orkney, Shetland, Skye and Islay. So many distilleries lie on Islay that the island is categorised separately while the other islands are technically part of the Highland designation. The whiskies produced at these far flung distilleries varies greatly, hence the 'Island' categorisation should be considered one purely denoting location rather than style.
Eight distilleries huddle on Islay, a windswept island lying off the West Coast of Scotland, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides. Pronounced 'Eye-La', the island is 25 miles long and is populated by a little over 3,000 people. Its climate and rich peaty soil contributes to malts that are noted for their seaweedy, iodine-like character.
Situated on the peninsula called the Mull of Kintyre in Argyllshire, the fishing port of Campbeltown was once home to over thirty distilleries hence it being considered a distinct region. But during American Prohibition, many bootleg malts were labelled as coming from Campbeltown. The town's reputation plummeted, and today there are only two distilleries left. Campbeltown malts are distinguished by their briny, seaside character.
Single Malt Scotch Whisky...
How Single Malt Scotch Whisky is made...
Launched in June 2016 and resplendent with new contemporary packaging, this whisky’s premium positioning affirmed by the intertwined letters of the Grant family monogram, ‘J’ ‘R’ and ‘G’ proudly mounted just below the bottles shoulder. Pear, apple, cut grass, toasty brazil nuts, biscuit and creamy vanilla. Water amplifies green apple and pear drops.
This new sherry cask finished addition to the Glen Moray Classic range was released in June 2016. Creamy toffee fudge, dried fruit, vanilla and mild cinnamon with faint coal dust, dried apricot and almond paste.
This long awaited elderly distillery bottling from Craigellachie was released in April 2016. Crème anglaise, leather, toasty oak, tobacco leaf, roasted brasil nuts and spice (cinnamon and nutmeg). More buttery, pasty and vanilla with water.
Released in January 2016, this no-age-statement speyside malt is matured in three types of cask: hogsheads, oloroso sherry seasoned casks and ex-bourbon barrels. Pungent and fruity. Red apple, banoffee pie, cream-of-soda vanilla, caramelised pears, fragrant peach and spiced toasty oak with cracked black pepper spice. More biscuity/bready, Creamy cream-of-soda with water.
Distilled in 2007 and initially matured in first fill ex-bourbon barrels before being re-casked and finished for 24 months in former Sassicaia wine casks from Bolgheri. A limited release of 3500 bottles in April 2016. Biscuity chamois leather, vanilla, vinous fruit, cinnamon and faint crystallised ginger. Pleasing herbal notes emerge with water.
A very special bottling from the Kininvie Distillery’s first day of production on 25th June 1990, aged 25 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead. Bottled at cask-strength without chill-filtration. Sweet corn, toasty oak, dried fruit, cream-of-soda vanilla and elegant Christmassy spice. More vanilla and toasted almond with water.
Matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks for 14 years before being finished for a short period in American oak casks previously filled with Caribbean rum – not just any rum, Malt Master David Stewart, used his own blend of West Indian rums. Fruitcake, tropical fruit salad, toasted coconut, walnut, nutmeg and cinnamon spice with creamy fudge and marshmallow.
Part of Diageo’s Special Releases in October 2015 with 6,000 bottles available worldwide. The first release for six years, this Dailuaine 34 year old was drawn from 32 refill American oak casks from two fill dates. Dried fruit and orchard fruit with faintly smoked malted barley and desiccated coconut. Water reveals zesty orange marmalade and creamy oak.
A rare Pittyvaich from the distillery that closed in 1993. This release was drawn from refill American oak and first-fill American oak (36 casks and three refills). Malt extract, nutty cake mix vanilla, honey and fruit salad chews. Water amplifies dried fruitiness with red apple skin, faint baked apple pie and cinnamon.
Released in September 2015, Aultmore 18 Year Old is bottled without chill-filtration or the addition of caramel colouring. Pear, green apple, pear drops, candied fruit, leather, sea salt, and vanilla custard. More salty old oak with water.
Released in January 2014 as part of Dewar's ‘The Last Great Malts range’. This 21 year old expression is aimed at the travel retail (duty free) market. Salty olives, new leather, galia melon, marzipan and maple with tangerine and rosemary. Water amplifies leather, plump green olive and melon.