I have spent most of my life in Leith and love to take advantage of what Edinburgh has to offer, particularly food and drink!
Published November 27th 2012
Take a tour of Scotland's whisky regions
Whatever leads people to first try Scotch malt whisky, many are won to its charms. However buying those first bottles can be a little daunting, especially when spending a little more than you might normally on a bottle of spirit or venturing beyond what is available to sample behind your local bar. This list is intended as an aid for those who are new to malt whisky or who want to explore the world of Scotch malts. I've tried to recommend quality brands that are readily available in the UK and all are priced around the £30-£35 mark (c. 45AUD-55AUD).
Many people use the 'whisky regions' (see below) as a reference point for the character of Scotch malts and it's a good place to start. Although some experts might say that geographical provenance is not important, it is true to say that many producers aim for a style that has become associated with their region. Our whisky odyssey will comprise a whistle-stop tour of the six areas.
We begin with the gentlest of regional profiles, the Lowlands. Glenkinchie distillery sits a few miles from Edinburgh, and is one of only a handful of Lowland single malts still being produced. Part of Diageo's Classic Malts series, the 12 year old is a characteristic Lowland malt. Fresh and light in character with a sweet, citrus nose and grassy, dry flavour - a good introduction to the world of single malts if there ever was! In the UK, Glenkinchie is available from some supermarkets, specialist off licences and whisky merchants.
2. Highlands - Aberfeldy 12 (40%)
Spanning most of the north of Scotland and its coastline, it comes as no surprise that the Highlands region has a varied profile. Aberfeldy 12 year old is a great beginner's malt but still has fans among veterans as it is exemplary - smooth, sweet, reminiscent of oranges and with a creamy 'mouthfeel' (yes, that's the jargon!). Available from whisky merchants and good off-licences.
3. Speyside - Glenfarclas 12 (43%)
The third recommendation in my list hails from the region most synonymous around the world with whisky. Speyside has more than 50 working distilleries due to its bounty of natural resources, particularly water. It is also home to the two best-selling single malt whiskies in the world, The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. However, at entry level, these two are really nothing to write home about. Much more interesting, I think, are the distilleries known for their extensive use of sherry casks (as opposed to bourbon casks). Glenfarclas is a good example: produced using traditional methods; good value for money; with a wide range, of which the 12 year old makes for a smooth butterscotch experience with a grape-like sweetness from the sherry influence. If you have a sweet tooth this is recommended. Not one that you'll find down the supermarket but good off-licences will stock it.
Springbank is a special distillery, one of perhaps only two that perform every step of the production process locally, using local resources. The distillery is in the Campbeltown region, a peninsula that once sported 34 working distilleries before prohibition, the great depression and decades of decline reduced the number to three. Springbank 10 has a good mix of cask types and is quite complex with cereal, fruit, spice and a touch of smoke that comes from a light peat influence. This may be a challenging dram at first as there's lots going on but a bit of time left in the glass really helps it to settle. Another that you may have to visit a spirits merchant to find.
5. Islands - Talisker 10 (45.8%)
The Islands region is officially unrecognised by the Scotch Whisky Association but it's on our map so any excuse will do! The region covers eight distilleries across seven islands and there's more diversity than similarity. The sole malt produced on the isle of Skye is Talisker which is pretty unique in character and is well regarded among whisky fans for its balance. The core expression, Talisker 10, has sweetness, smokiness, brine and spice notes in quite a full on profile. Talisker 10, again, is one of Diageo's Classic Malts series so you may find it behind your local bar or in supermarkets. If the smoky notes aren't to your liking then beware the sixth region - here be dragons!
6. Islay - Bowmore 12 (40%)
The tiny island of Islay, host to eight working distilleries, forms an entire whisky region of its own. Its malts are famous for their fierce, peaty character. With few trees around, peat was traditionally used to dry the germinating barley resulting in a nose and palate that variously reminds people of iodine, seaweed or bonfires. Islay whiskies divide opinion, they are the hot rods to Speyside's limousines if you will. I hesitated to include an Islay whisky in a beginners' list but I picked an example that, though peaty, is still accessible. Bowmore was founded in 1779 and is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. The flagship 12 year old has a floral heathery nose with gentle peat notes and a briny, smoky palate and finish. This malt can also often be seen in supermarkets, sometimes discounted.
I hope that you enjoy sampling a little of what Scotland's whisky regions have to offer, just remember that whisky is a world of wonderful diversity and enjoy exploring it. I'd be glad to hear how you get on!