Need help choosing a whisky?
This section is designed to help de-mystify the different types of whisky, the regions, the descriptions (year, strength), and the distillers versus the bottlers.
On the famous Mull of Kintyre two Campbeltown distilleries remain, Glen Scotia and Springbank, the latter of which occasionally produces the Malt known as Longrow. Springbank is a benchmark of a Malt and Longrow is a gem to be appreciated when it is available.
Highland and Island Region
This region has probably the greatest diversity of styles. Whiskies are often dry, with some peatiness in the West, sometimes fruity in the South and East, spicy to the North. Seek advice when considering a Malt with which one is unfamiliar.
Depending on ones point of view this island (Islay) of the famous brown waters produces either the greatest spirit in the world or something akin to medicine. The full iodine / seaweed flavours are not for the beginner.
Lowland is the most southerly Malt producing region, the boundary being a line roughly between the mouth of the Clyde and Dundee. The whiskies tend to be soft and approachable and are often enjoyed as a first step on the Malt ladder for those used to quality blends.
Speyside is probably the heart of the Malt industry, with distilleries almost shoulder to shoulder along the Spey and its tributaries. Speysides can be huge and sherry wooded, with smokiness, great length and complexity. Often the nose is enough to entrance.
Single Grain Whiskies
Once only considered for blending, these whiskies, made from continuous rather than pot still, produce whisky which is sometimes unfairly promoted for the younger consumer. Grain whisky is produced from a single distillery and is made from a combination of cereals which may include some malted and unmalted barley
Vatted Malts are produced from a blending of Single Malts from more than one distillery. Vatting may seem to be contrary to the idea of a single Malt with all its individual character, yet who is to say that the sum cannot be greater than the individual parts. Vatted malts must not contain any grain whisky, otherwise they are known as blended whisky.
Blended malts are produced from blending Malt Whisky and Grain Whisky. These are not currently available for sale online.
between standard and cask strength whiskies, most regions offer both. Cask
strength malts have had no water added since being placed into cask,
following distillation. Their strength can vary with time in the cask due to being stored in either a dry or a damp atmosphere.
Cask strength Malts have greater concentration than standard strength and many aficionados will add a touch of water to achieve the correct balance of power and flavour. Many of these Malts have not been chill-filtered and thus retain all their natural elements, they may go cloudy if chilled or throw a slight sediment with age.
Most whiskies detail an age and a strength.
Age - the age must be that of the youngest whisky in that particular bottling. The age (e.g. 1981) can be the year that the cask was distilled or it can be the actual number of complete years that the whisky remained in the cask (from distillation year to the year it was bottled). Some whiskies will also detail on the label the year of bottling. Sometimes an age statement is not given at all - in some cases the whisky may be from more than one cask (from the same distillery) and possibly be a mixture of ages.
Strength - The strength of a whisky
is its % alcohol by volume. Typically non cask strengths are approximately
40-43% whereas cast strengths are closer to 50-60%. The exact strength of
a bottling depends on many factors : the longer the whisky remains in the
cask, the lower will be the alcohol content; the type of cask; the
location of the distillery etc all have any effect on the whisky.
Whiskies can be bottled at the distillery or can be bottled by an separate bottling company e.g. Cadenhead, Black Adder, Flora & Fauna etc. One distillery can sell their whisky to more than one bottler.
The label on the bottle will normally indicate the bottler. Many whiskies are labeled under the name of the distillery, however this is not always the case e.g. the single malt produced by the Knockdhu distillery is marketed under the name An Cnoc (probably to avoid confusion with the similarly named Knockando distillery).
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