The greatest debate that exists is the origin of mankind. The origin of whisky, however, comes a close second. While there are many contenders for the formal title of this alchemy’s origin, Scotland is truly the spirit’s most sacred home. What was once a cottage industry, is today a burgeoning commerce with a sizeable contribution to the nation’s GDP. Scottish history is irrevocably intertwined with whisky. Beat this – Scotland introduced excise duty on whisky back in the 16th century.
There are some nifty points to keep in mind. The Scotch Whisky Regulation Of 2009 defines five protected localities of Scotland: The Highlands, Speyside, The Lowlands, Islay and Campbeltown. Each region has a specific soil, climate, terrain unique to itself, lending a certain character to the resultant whisky. However all whiskies from the same region may not be alike and even the many whiskies from the same distilleries can be very diverse from one another, depending upon the skill, interventions in the process by the Master Blender.
Let’s explore each region to understand this diversity.
This is the largest region of Scotland, with a diverse landscape of moors, mountains and shores. Distilling in this region was done as a part of the agricultural life and gradually whisky developed its own styles. The Highlands are almost as if they are the microcosm of the world, with a dizzying variety of whiskies, all being fiercely individual tastes. Hardly a surprise, some of the most famous whisky brands originate here.
Malts from The Lowlands tend to be dry and fragrant. They don’t offer much complexity as opposed to the many Highland malts. Gentler than other whiskies, Lowland drams are often called “Lowland Ladies”.
This region boasts of the largest number of distilleries in Scotland, and thus exhibits a greater variation than anywhere else. Unlike other regions the name Speyside defines a style of single malt that is characteristically elegant & fruity. Most of the Speyside whiskies are either unpeated or lightly peated.
Known as the “Queen of Hebrides”, the Islay is certainly the monarch of peat. Whiskies here are noted by peaty aromas, which can be defined as smoky, medicinal or burnt. The drams here are characterised for being full bodied, smoky and complex.
A region that could once swagger under the prolific comfort of 34 working distilleries was reduced to two, owing to the economic depression across the Atlantic, supplemented by prohibition era and also some distilleries spoiling the region’s reputation with poor quality. In the last decade, owners of Springbanks restored and reopened Glengyle Distillery, raising the count to three. The nearness to the coastline gives the Campbeltown whiskies a salty tang, attributed poetically to the “mist rolling from the sea”.