Get to know your Scotch whiskies by region
Want to know how different regions impact your favourite Scotch whisky sips? Of course, you do. We get it. So, consider this your cheat sheet. Cheers!
Introducing award-winning bartender Ervin Trykowski.
He's pinpointed the locations in Scotland to showcase the differences in history and style to help you choose the right whisky cocktails to serve your guests at your next at-home event.
"It may sound simple, but a walk always makes a Scotch whisky taste better single, and there is no better way to enjoy a single malt than taking a walk up to Dunyvaig Castle at Lagavulin or up the Dullan Water at Dufftown."
Let’s start with the place where the story begins, Scotland. The landscape in Scotland is often said to shape the flavours of the single malts it produces.
Landscapes can influence flavours in two ways. The first is geographical locations and their associated conditions historically affected production processes.
For instance, a high elevation point, like Dalwhinnie, will have a colder climate throughout the year. This cold temperature will promote a more rapid condensation of alcoholic vapour, creating a heavier style.
In Scotland, five regions produce Scotch, each with a unique character. The climate and location of each distillery add different flavours to each whisky, giving them flavours and notes unique to the region.
There are five well-known regions: Lowlands, Islay, Campbeltown, Speyside and Highland.
Let’s take a look at Islay
A diverse topic of conversation, some people say it’s included as part of the island. Others argue that it has a unique character and is, therefore, a region in and of itself.
What’s interesting is that the peat in Islay, fed on a constant diet of rain and sea spray, is particularly pungent and adds a strong smoky, earthy taste with a touch of salty seaweed. You wouldn’t be able to reproduce this anywhere else, which gives another reason why Islay whiskies are so unique and vital to the Scotch whisky map.
The second way Scottish whisky is influenced, is through the people.
The environment dramatically influences the choices of the people who make the whisky. A great example of this is Talisker – the landscape and climate of Skye shape the people who live there, and this is mirrored in the style of whisky they choose to create. The intensity and the maritime character are reminiscent of Skye itself.
Interestingly, sometimes we don’t know how the influence occurs. We just see its effect. Let’s stick with Talisker as our example. We don’t know why it has that salty hit. And sometimes that’s ok. It just adds to the magic of single malt.
If we were to break down the actual flavours that we get from the four corners of Scotland, we would come up with the list below.
Smoky, peaty noses, black pepper, honey, salt, sea air, bonfire. Intense spice and maritime. White pepper, almonds, sea spray, whetstones. Slight hints of cured meat.
Nutty flavours, apple, pear, honey, vanilla and spice. Freshly cut grass. Categorically fruity, although which fruit may range from whisky to whisky, spanning from light citrus and fresh pear to rich dates, plums, raisins.
A wide range from peat to salinity, grass, cream, ginger, toffee, toast and cinnamon. Flowers, bees and honey, lemon butter and baking.
Some powerful peaty drams, silky floral elegance, cereal, honey and nuts. Rich, sweet and warming, tropical.
Some of these flavours are, at most, just a hint in the final product. Many of them are wrapped up in the local area and the experiences of those who have been there.
But should we be tying regions to certain flavours? Scotch whisky has the most diverse of flavours of any whisky family. Although it is helpful to understand regional character to give a general idea of what the whisky will taste like, especially if you haven’t tried it before, too much emphasis on regionality does a disservice to Scotch whisky. For example, people may be unwilling to explore due to preconceived notions of style and region.