Scotland has been divided into whisky regions each with a broad character of its own, or at least that would be the case in a simple world. The reality is that there is a lot of variation within regions and with distilleries experimenting and broadening their product ranges these distinctions can become very blurred. The general rule is that in Scotland there is a far greater chance of the whisky being peated. Whisky is made from malted barley in a pot still or grain whisky in a continuous still. All whisky has to be aged for at least 3 years in used oak casks.
Pronounced I – lah and never is-lay is the famous whisky island. The common association is that these whiskies are very strong flavours full of smoke and peat. Not so, there are those that are slightly peaty and some that are not peated at all. Even amongst the smokey ones there are still other flavours that give each one it’s own character. The location of the island also lends the whiskies a salty almost sea weedy taste. On paper it doesn’t sound so good but on the palate – well try it for yourself, for me it is a taste of heaven. Ask most whisky lovers what there favourite 10 whiskies are and there is a good chance 3 will be from Islay. Ask what the top 3 are and there is a good chance one will be. Very good single malts but also a vital part of many good blends.
Only a shadow of the great whisky producing town it used to be. Anyone travelling there by car will know why an area of good quality whisky grew up here and also why it declined – it is hard to get to by road. The route from the south is one of those annoying routes that takes you a long way past it just to go back in the same direction again – the joys of a peninsula. This distance made it more difficult for the excise men to make sudden raids on the illicit distillers, but it also made transportation of materials and whisky difficult. Only a shadow remains but what a shadow it is. Here you can find real character, not overly heavy but full of flavour, crisp and spicy with a bit of brine. When I was a child we used to sing a song that went –
Campbeltown Loch I wish you were whisky,
Campbeltown Loch Och Ay,
Campbeltown Loch I wish you were whisky,
I would drink you dry.
I went to a tasting event run by the brilliant Peter Curry in which he suggested that there was once so many distilleries discharging into the waters there that that song could have been more than just a wish. He then told a joke about lawnmowers that I thought was fantastic – but that is his joke not mine.
The southern part of Scotland is host to a number of distilleries that fail to be the well known names of other regions. In the early days it was the highland whiskies that had the reputation for being the best and the lowland whiskies that were given better incentives. The lowlands is where much of the grain whisky is made along with the gentler more delicate malts. Underestimated in my view. The full flavoured whiskies are great but there are times when one doesn’t want to run and shout, there are times when one needs to get out of the heat and into the healing shelter. Lowland whiskies lack the strong flavours but they make up with delicate subtlety. You may have to work a bit to open them up but it is worth it.
Geographically this is the big bit of Scotland each part having character. In the highlands one finds heather, dry rocks, fruitiness and textures of cream and oil. The variety is as great as the area is dispersed. A land of mountains, valleys and hidden lochs. No wonder the authorities found it a hard land to police. Within the Highlands there is a river called the Spey. Along this river, and a large area around it is the sub-region know as –
Here are the great names that most will know such as The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. It is where one can find the full fruity whisky and the dry and light whisky. It is an amazing fact that a drink made from 3 ingredients (barley, water and yeast) all made in the same area, often getting water from the same source can have such great variety.