Friday, 29 October 2010

Drinking a Man's Drink #2: Scotch Whiskies

Ahoyhoy internets, DaveHowitzer here with the first of a couple of drink's articles to be released today. Now I've been promising an article on the drink of my homeland so I figure I'd better sit my arse down and write it! Prepare for a monster post folks, for it has driven me mad! Enjoy!

So Scottish Whisky (or just whisky if you live in the UK...tends to be either foriegn folks -who are allowed- or pretentious people who think they know more about the world than they actually do who call it Scotch) is an old, old spirit. The drink was first noted as the Gaelic "usquebaugh", meaning "Water of Life", phonetically became "usky" and then "whisky" in modern English. According to the Scotch Whisky Association, no one knows exactly when the art of distilling was first practised in Scotland; it is known that the ancient Celts practised distilling and that the liquid they produced -the usquebaugh - evolved into Scotch Whisky.

The legal definition in current Scots Law is given through the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 (SWR) [23 November 2009] which replaced those in the Scotch Whiskey Act 1988 and Scotch Whisky Order 1990
Whereas the previous legislation had only governed the way in which Scotch Whisky must be produced, the SWR also set out rules on how Scotch Whiskies must be labelled, packaged and advertised. It will also be illegal as from 23 November 2012 for Single Malt Scotch Whisky (this does not include blends) to be exported from Scotland other than in a bottle labelled for retail sale.
The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 define Scotch Whisky in UK law.
Under the legislation, Scotch Whisky means whisky:
(a) which has been produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been:
(i) processed at that distillery into a mash; (ii) converted at that distillery to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems; and (iii) fermented at that distillery only by the addition of yeast;

(b) which has been distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8% so that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production;

(c) which has been wholly matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres, the period of that maturation being not less than three years;

(d) which retains the colour, aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation, and to which no substance other than water and plain caramel colouring may be added.

There are several types of Scotch Whisky and several means of production available but at it's core, Scotch Whisky can be divided into two categories from which all others derrive:

Single Malt Scotch Whisky:-
Malting Floor at the Highland Park distillery.
Made from one type of malted grain and typically only distilled at a single distillery. Typically barley cultivated near the distillery is used as the malted grain added to the water although there are cases of some single malt rye whiskeys.

Single Grain Scotch Whisky:-
Scotch Whisky distilled at a single distillery but which, in addition to water and malted barley, may also be produced from whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals. The majority of grain Scotch Whisky produced in Scotland goes to make blended Scotch whisky. Some higher quality grain whisky from a single distillery is bottled as single grain whisky.

From these we can derrive other popular forms of whisky:

Blended Whisky:-
The average blended whisky is 60%–85% grain whisky with the remaining being malt. Blended Scotch whisky constitutes over 90% of the whisky produced in Scotland and were initially created as an alternative to single malt whiskies which were considered by some to be too harsh. Master blenders combine the various malts and grain whiskies to produce a consistent "brand style" - The Famous Grouse, Whyte & MacKay etc.

Vatted/Blended Malt:-
A blend of single malts from more than one distillery and with differing ages. Vatted malts contain only malt whiskies—no grain whiskies—and are usually distinguished from other types of whisky by the absence of the word ‘single’ before ‘malt’ on the bottle, and the absence of a distillery name. To qualify as a Vatted Malt, the mixed single malt whiskies are matured in the barrel for 1 year, after which the age of the vat is that of the youngest of the original ingredients. A vatted malt marked “8 years old” will include older whiskies, the youngest constituent was 8 years old before vatting. Johnnie Walker Green is an example of a vatted malt. As of November 2009, no Scotch whisky could be labelled as a vatted malt, with UK Government guidelines requiring them to be labelled blended malt.

As a further means of distinguishing Scotch Whiskys the region of Scotland in which they are distilled makes a great difference to the taste: due to environmental factors, ingredients and local means of production. Scotland was traditionally divided into four regions: The Highlands, Lowland, Islay and Campbeltown. Speyside, encompassing the Spey river valley in north-east Scotland, once considered part of the Highlands, has almost half of the total number of distilleries in Scotland within its geographic boundaries; consequently it is officially recognized as a region unto itself. Campbeltown was removed as a region several years ago, yet was recently re-instated as a recognized production region.

Lowland: only three distilleries remain in operation: Auchentoshan, Bladnoch, and Glenkinchie. Traditionally Lowland Single Malts are triple distilled giving them a lighter taste.

Speyside: has the largest number of distilleries, which includes: Aberlour, Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Speyburn, The Glenlivet, The Glenrothes and The Macallan. The two best-selling single malt whiskies in the world, The Glenlivet & Glenfiddich, come from Speyside.

Highland: distilleries include : Aberfeldy, Balblair, Dalmore, Dalwhinnie, Glen Ord, Glenmorangie, Oban and Old Pulteney

Campbeltown: once home to over 30 distilleries, currently has only three distilleries operating: Glen Scotia, Glengyle and Springbank.

Islay: has eight producing distilleries: Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin and Laphroaig. The whiskies of the distilleries along the southeastern coast of the island, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg, have a smoky character derived from peat, considered a central characteristic of the Islay malts, and ascribed both to the water from which the whisky is made and to the peating levels of the barley. Many describe this as a “medicinal” flavour. They also possess notes of iodine, seaweed and salt. Caol Ila, on the northern side of the island, across from Jura, produces a strongly peated whisky as well. The other distilleries on the island make whisky in a variety of styles. Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich make much lighter whiskies which are generally lightly peated, though Bruichladdich also produces several heavily peated products. Bowmore produces a whisky which is well balanced, using a medium-strong peating level  but also using sherry-cask maturation. The newest distillery, Kilchoman, started production in 2006. In location it is unlike the other seven distilleries, which are all by the sea.

The Islands: an unrecognized sub-region includes all of the whisky producing islands (but excludes Islay): Arran, Jura, Mull, Orkney and Skye — with their respective distilleries: Arran, Isle of Jura, Tobermory, Highland Park and Scapa, and Talisker. Although people equate "Island" whiskies as having similar smoky or peaty overtones to the whiskies of Islay, this is far from true. The whiskies produced on the Islands are extremely varied and have few similarities to point to.

With that in mind, lets go onto talk about some well known and some not-so well known Scotch Whiskies that you can try at home or at the bar. Just a little...and by little I mean HUGE note...DO NOT DRINK A MALT ON THE ROCKS. This is due to the fact that as the alcohol cools it will be harder to distinguish the subtle notes of each whisky. But, another Huge note: ALSO DO NOT DRINK NEAT, because then you'll be overpowered with the alcohal on the tongue.Always when tasting a malt whisky just a splash of water does the trick.

The Glenlivet: It is described in packaging and advertising as "The single malt that started it all". It was founded in 1824 and it has operated almost continuously since. The distillery remained open throughout the Great Depression and its only closure came during World War II. The Glenlivet distillery has grown in the post-war period to become one of the biggest single malt distilleries in order to keep up with global demand; The Glenlivet brand is the biggest selling malt whisky in the United States and the second biggest selling single malt brand globally. today, the distillery is owned by the French alcoholic beverages company Pernod Ricard and they oversee the distillery's production of 5,900,000 proof litres per year.
The distillery draws water from Josie's Well and other springs a short distance from the distillery. The barley comes from Crisp Maltings of  Portgordon. Lastly, Glenlivet's stills are lantern shaped with long, narrow necks, all of which helps to produce a light tasting spirit.
[Tasting Notes: The Glenlivet 12 yr Old 40.0% ABV]
Medium-bodied, smooth and malty on the palate, with vanilla sweetness. Not as sweet, however, as the nose might suggest. The finish is pleasantly lengthy and sophisticated.

Glenfiddich: Glenfiddich means ‘Valley of the deer’ in Gaelic, hence the presence of a deer symbol on Glenfiddich bottles.
The Glenfiddich Distillery was founded in 1886 by William Grant in Dufftown  in the valley of the River Fiddich. The Glenfiddich single malt whisky first ran from the stills on Christmas Day, 1887. Following difficult times for the market as a whole in the 1960s and 70s, many small, independent distillers in Scotland were bought up or went out of business. In order to survive, W. Grant & Sons expanded their production of the drink, and introduced advertising campaigns, a visitors' centre and from 1957 packaged the Scotch in distinctive triangular bottles. Later, W. Grant & Sons was one of the first distilleries to package its bottles in tubes and gift tins, as well as recognising the importance of the duty-free market for spirits. This marketing strategy was successful, and Glenfiddich has now become the world's best-selling single malt. It is sold in 180 countries, and accounts for about 35% of single malt sales worldwide.
It's fashionable in some quarters to sneer at Glenfiddich as a malt for those who know no better, but this is actually well made whisky, and would catch out many ‘connoisseurs’ in a blind tasting.
[Tasting Notes: Glenfiddich, Special Reserve, 12yr Old 40.0% ABV]

Rich, fruit flavours dominate the palate, with a developing nuttiness with a light nose of peat.

Lagavulin: The distillery of Lagavulin officially dates from 1816, when John Jonston and Archibald Campbell constructed two distilleries on the site. One of them became Lagavulin, taking over the other—which one is not exactly known. Records show illicit distillation in at least ten illegal distilleries on the site as far back as 1742, however. In the 19th century, several legal battles ensued with their neighbour Laphroaig, brought about after the distiller at Lagavulin, Sir Peter Mackie, leased the Laphroaig distillery. It is said that Mackie attempted to copy Laphroaig's style. Since the water and peat at Lagavulin's premises was different from that at Laphroaig's, the result was different. International Spirit ratings competitions have generally given Lagavulin's 16-year spirit extremely high scores. The San Francisco World Spirits Competition, for instance, gave the 16-year four consecutive double gold medals between 2005 and 2008 and has awarded it gold medals in the years since.
[Tasting Notes: Lagavulin, 12yr  Old 57.7% ABV]
Cask strength 2006 Special Release, matured in refill American oak casks. Intense on the nose with sweet peat, sharp fruit and medicinal notes. Initially sweet and malty, getting progressively bolder with notes of hot peat and salt.

Glenkinchie: Glenkinchie lies in a glen of the Kinchie Burn near Pencaitland, East Lothian. It is situated about 15 miles from Edinburgh. The distillery is set in farmland. The name 'Kinchie' is a corruption of 'De Quincy', the original owners of the land. Its origins date back to around 1825 when it was founded by brothers John and George Rate. The original name was Milton Distillery. The brothers probably renamed it in about 1837. In 1969 the distillery stopped malting its own grain and the malting floors were turned into a museum of malt whisky. The Glenkinchie label was relatively little known until 1989, when United Distillers started marketing it under their Classic Malts brand. The standard 10 year old Glenkinchie has now been replaced by the standard "12 year old".
[Tasting Notes: Glenkinchie 12yr Old 43.0% ABV]
 The nose is fresh and floral, with spices and citrus fruits, plus a final hint of marshmallow.Medium-bodied, smooth, sweet and fruity, with malt, butter and cheesecake. The finish is comparatively long and drying, initially rather herbal.

The Macallan: Produced at Macallan Distillery near Easter Elchies House, at Craigellachie in the Speyside region. Originally, The Macallan was only matured in oak sherry casks brought to the distillery from Jerez, Spain. Beginning in 2004, The Macallan introduced a new main product, the Fine Oak series, with the whisky mellowed in bourbon oak casks as well as sherry ones. he distillery produces a number of expressions, the most generally available being the 12-year-old, though the 18-year-old is also well known. Expensive 25- and 30-year-old versions can also be found. Additionally, a 58% cask strength version is widely available. The Elegancia, is available only at duty-free shops. The Macallan is one of the ingredients of The Famous Grouse blend.
[Tasting Notes: The Macallan 10yr Old 40.0% ABV]
The nose is sweet and distinctive, with sherry, toffee and malt. Big bodied and distinctively Sherried on the palate, but always refined and elegant. The Sherry lingers long in the finish, accompanied by orange, oak and just a wisp of smoke.

I reall hope you guys have enjoyed this article as much as I have done writing it, no doubt I've missed something that I'll go back and edit, but in the meantime, go out tonight and try something a little more...Scotch!

Love, Dave

Whiskey Pages  
The Whiskey Shop


  1. Thanks so much... I have some new booze to try!

  2. Well I did promise you I'd do one eventually Loq =P Hope it did you justice.

  3. I'm in the process of marking some essays at the mo, so I only skimmed it, but I enjoy the passion of your writing, mate: thanks.

    I was never a whisky drinker until one night when I found myself in the sergeants' mess at a para barracks...with nothing in stock except lager, whisky and alcopops (for the wives). Not being a lager drinker (I prefer cider) left me with only one option which wouldn't result in getting punched by the massive barman...

    And what a great night that turned out to be!

    Right then: back to work.

  4. MMmm... I love single malt. Macallan is certainly the best of the ones you show here with Lagavulin being a good second. I polished off my bottle of Macallan 18. I'd like another, but at $130.00 a bottle it'll probably be awhile. I once pony upped $50.00 for a shot of the Macallan 25, best I've ever had... EVER.

    I also highly recommend Aberlour, The Balvenie, Glenmorangie, Glenrothers, and Oban.

  5. Dave: never let it be said you left a lady unsatisfied =)

  6. -sigh-

    Good to see someone giving the greatest of whiskies its due.

    I have always liked Glenfiddich best. Though since I am cheap I usually drink blends except on special occasions.

  7. I love that this combines my two non human loves, 40k and Scotch(I'm a Texan, per your criteria I can say Scotch).

    I'm a Glennfiddich kind of guy, though I really liked Glennkinichie when I tried it once.

    I had a post on my blog about the combination of my two past times a while back.


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