A quick look at the regions and flavors of Scotland.
What and who are the Scots? The story of whisky is invariably a story of identity weather it be Scotish, Irish or American. Each whisky has a bit of an accent. Some have a hard peaty Gaelic accent from the west cost of Scotland, the Islands and Ireland. Others hit a milder lowland note with more delicate refined flavors. The Highlands, true to Walter Scot’s vision, are a mixed bunch of full-bodied malts some salty, some sweet but never lacking in character. But it is up north that one of the most recognized Scottish tastes is found, it is from the distilleries along the river Spey and known as Speyside. These malts are classically matured in ex-sherry casks and are the sweetest in Scotland.
To be considered Scottish malt whiskey, or as is sometimes called, scotch, the whisky must be distilled, matured and bottled in Scotland for at least three years and one day. Single malts must be made solely of three ingredients; barley, Scottish water and yeast.
How a whisky cask matures is one of the most fascinating parts of learning about whisky. It is the crafted variability of whisky that appeals to a romantic image of the spirit. The personality of a whisky is formed in the cask. Each cask acts as a lung breathing out alcohol and breathing in the flavors of the wood and the surrounding area. Most distilleries are in agricultural or wooded areas with the obvious exception being the costal distilleries that pride themselves on the sea spray flavor of their malts. Each cask is individual. Scotch whisky is matured in ex-sherry or bourbon casks. While the whisky is breathing some small amount of the spirit disappears, evaporates in to the air and is lost. This is called the ‘Angle’s Share’ and is a testament to the mystery of whisky and the dedication of the people who make it.
I started my scotch education in Aberdeen purely by accident. When I started at The Grill I didn’t know whether Macallen was a bottle or something off the tap. I am sure the regulars regarded me as something of a nuisance, always asking where things where, mixing up orders on top of not understand a word any one said. I remember the first time I had to serve a ‘half and half’ and poured the nip right in to the half pint, the shock and horror where instantaneous. For all my blunders those guys had all the patience in the world. Don’t get me wrong they still took the piss out of me for it but it is thanks to the regulars at The Grill I’m writing about whisky today. Because what they taught me is that more than the drink itself it is the stories of whisky that make it interesting.