When you think of single malts you think of Scotland. That’s just the way it is. They’ve been doing it for centuries and they’re damn good at doing it too! Japan has its’ whisky regions too but we’re going to discuss the Sottish whisky regions and what comes out of each of them.
Look at the map and you’ll see the region is split into different areas: The Highlands, Lowland, Islay, Islands, Campbeltown and Speyside.
Each region is responsible for creating a unique tasting single malt. While it’s not entirely correct to judge a whisky simply by it’s region (two distilleries side by side could be creating single malts that are miles apart in flavors and aromas) it is generally a good indication of what is in store for you if you know the region the whisky is from.
Speyside. This is probably the most popular whisky producing region of Scotland. When I say popular I mean the one that sells the most whisky. Speyside malts are by and large sweet, fruity and floral and most single malt drinkers prefer them early on in their journey since they are so easy to drink. It’s no surprise then that the largest selling single malts in the world, Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, come out of the Speyside region. Other extremely famous single malts out of Speyside are Macallan, Glenrothes, Balvenie, Aberlour, Cardhu and Glenfarclas.
As a collector I naturally began with collecting Speyside whiskies and here are some that I strongly suggest you get your hands on : The Glenlivet 12 & 18, The Glenlivet 15yrs French Oak Reserve and The Glenlivet 16yrs Nadurra Cask Strength (my absolute favorite). Glenfiddich 15 & 18. Macallan Fine Oak 12 & 18, Macallan 12yrs Sherry Oak. Glenfarclas 15 and the Glenfarclas 105 (super awesome cask strength single malt). Balvenie 17yrs Sherry Wood, Balvenie 21yrs Port Wood (amazing!) and Balvenie 14yrs Gold Cask (Rum finish).
The above are simply suggestions and a generally good way to start your collection.
The Highlands : Single malts from this region are also extremely popular and I find them similar in taste and stature to their Speyside cousins. For me they begin to show traces of smokiness as well, a trait not found often in Speyside single malts. Highland whiskies are generally considered to be quite complex in character and there are some absolutely brilliant expressions out there. Some famous single malts out of The Highlands are Dalmore, Dalwhinnie, the uber popular Glenmorangie, Oban and Old Pulteney.
Some Highland whiskies in my cabinet and ones I urge you to consider : Dalmore 12, Dalmore Cigar Malt. Glenmorangie 10, Glenmorangie Necta D’Or, Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, Glenmorangie Astar (brilliant cask strength), Glenmorangie Lasanta & Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX (awesome!). Dalwhinnie 15. Oban 14. Old Pulteney 12, Old Pulteney 17 and the award-winning Old Pulteney 21.
Lowlands : Not a very prolific whisky producing region since all but three distilleries remain in operation : Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie. I’m personally not a big fan of Lowland whiskies but that’s just me. I have an Auchentoshan Three Wood in my cabinet and that’s not so bad. I’ve had a few Bladnochs and Glenkinchies but wasn’t overly impressed. Once again that’s just a personal opinion and I suggest you try them first hand and not take my word for it.
An interesting fact about a single malt that is split between two regions: The Highlands and Lowland. The Glengoyne. One of my favorite distilleries, it lies upon the Highland Line, the division between the Highlands and Lowlands. It has it’s stills in the Highlands while it’s maturing casks of whiskies lie in Lowland across the road giving it the unique distinction of being a Highland and a Lowland malt at the same time.
Some Glengoyne expressions I would recommends are the 10yr, 12yr cask strength, 17yrs and 21yrs. The 21yr expression is particularly awesome!
Campbeltown : This region at one point had over 30 distilleries but now has only three. Glen Scotia, Glengyle and Springbank. Interesting fact about the Springbank distillery is that it produces three different malts from the same distillery simply by using slightly different barley and a modified distilling process. So from one distillery comes the Springbank, the Hazelburn and the Longrow. Each a truly distinct malt in it’s own right. The Glengyle distillery produces the lovely Kilkerran which is currently putting out a series known as the Work In Progress which is absolutely sublime. Glen Scotia on the other hand I had the chance of sampling an 18 year old expression which was quite terrible. Let me have a go at a few more Glen Scotias before damning the entire distillery to hell!
Campbeltown lost its status as a recognised region because of the collapse in the number of active distilleries and whisky production. But it has once again been granted “regional status” by the Scotch Whisky Association.
Islands : This is an unrecognized sub-region and it includes all the islands expect for Islay. And this is where the fun for the experienced drinker starts. For in the Islands ( Arran, Jura, Mull, Orkney and Skye) are some of the best distilleries in the world. The famous Isle of Jura, Arran, Highland Park, Scapa and Talisker all call the Islands home. Island whiskies tend to be slightly smokier and oilier than the other whiskies but not so much as the Islay whiskies. I’m a big fan of the Island malts given so many amazing whiskies that come out of there.
Here are some Island malt suggestions for your cabinet : Talisker 10, Talisker 18, Talisker 57 North (sublime cask strength). Highland Park 12, 18 and 21. I’ve heard the Highland Park 30 is also awesome but I haven’t got my hands on it yet. Let me know if you manage to taste it. Scapa 14 and Scapa 16 are two firm favorites. And finally Isle of Jura Superstition and Isle of Jura 16 to round off your Island selection.
Islay : Saving the best for the last! There are some Islay single malts that have left a permanent impression, not just on me, but many a malty! Islay malts are known to be really smoky and powerful in their delivery because they burn peat to dry the malted barley before using it. This gives the malts a distinctive smokey flavor. You can also discern iodine, seaweed and a certain saltiness in most Islay whiskies given the type of water the distilleries also use.
Recommended Islay whiskies to stock in your bars are : Ardbeg 10, Ardbeg Supernova, Ardbeg Uigeadail, Ardbeg Corryvreckan & the awesome Ardbeg Alligator. Bowmore 15. Caol Ila 12 and Caol Ila 18. Kilchoman 5yrs Early Release. Lagavulin 16 and Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength. Laphroaig 10yrs Cask Strength, Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Laphroaig 18 and Laphroaig 25.
This rounds up our tour of the Scottish regions. The suggestions I’ve made are purely based on my own cabinet and should serve as a guide for the budding malty. These are some of the single malts that I purchased when I was starting out not too long ago and they’ve served me well. Maybe it’s because I keep an open mind and generally like to drink single malts.
I suggest you do the same.