Whisky Diversity in Scotland
The Whisky world is very diverse and even within Scotland there are strong differences in the taste of Whisky. This diversity is also strongly related to the region a Whisky comes from. Some people think that this is related to the respective region’s microclimate. Others say it is due to the people in the area and their way of making Whisky. Regardless of the reason for the difference, all those who have ever tried a Speysider compared to an Islay Whisky will probably agree that both taste very differently. Using the range of the 'Remarkable Regional Malts' as an example, we will explain the diversity within the Scottish Whisky regions.
The Scottish independent Whisky bottler Douglas Laing has an exciting range of Blended Malts in its portfolio called Remarkable Regional Malts, where each of the Malts represents a Scottish Whisky region. Blended Malts are Whiskies that are blended from Single Malts of different distilleries - in contrast to Blended Whiskies, which always include Grain Whisky. In our Live Tasting last month we tasted the five Remarkable Regional Malts for you.
The Lowlands are the most densely populated region of Scotland with the two major cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Most of Scotland's barley is grown in the Lowlands. Since the distilling of Whisky was legal there earlier on, many beautiful old distilleries can be found in the Lowlands. These Whiskies are often triple distilled, which makes them particularly mild and soft in taste. The Epicurean Blended Malt from Douglas Laing is composed of Lowland Whiskies. An 'Epicurean' is also shown on the label: The figure represents important people who appeared in the vibrant party life of Glasgow in the 1930s. The Epicurean contains Malts from Scotland's east and west coast. Its aroma is typical of the Lowlands: fruity and fresh, grassy and malty with hints of citrus fruits, herbs and flowers, as well as sweet sugar.
The Highlands are located north of the Lowlands and occupy the largest area in Scotland. As the name suggests, they are situated higher above sea level, with many hills and heaths, and correspondingly much heather. The eastern Highlands are rather gentle, whereas the western Highlands are very rugged and rocky on the wild coasts. In the middle, between the two coasts, there are higher mountains. Whisky distilleries can be found everywhere in the Highlands. Because of the many different distilleries, the Highlands also have a great variety. Nevertheless, there is a typical Highland style, which is reflected in Timorous Beastie by Douglas Laing. The timorous beastie is depicted on the bottle in the figure of a little mouse. In the old days, when distilleries still had their own malting floors, mice were a plague: they ate their way through the malt (which is why there was traditionally at least one cat living in each distillery). The Blended Malt contains Whiskies from Blair Athol, Glen Garioch, Dalmore and Glengoyne. The taste is typical of the Highlands: fresh and fruity, slightly heavier than the Epicurean, with notes of apples and oranges, heather and some honey. On the palate it is even more intense and spicy than on the nose.
The Speyside is a sub-region of the Highlands, around the river Spey, which also gives the region its name. This relatively small region is home to a particularly large number of distilleries. A typical Speysider is dominantly fruity and distinctly malty - qualities that most people associate with a Scotch Whisky. Sherry cask maturation is also widespread in the Speyside. The Speyside Whisky among the Remarkable Regional Malts is also matured in Sherry casks and is called Scallywag. The little rascal is a fox terrier like the one owned by the Laing family. The little dog was the inspiration for the bottle design. Scallywag contains Malts from Macallan, Mortlach and Glenrothes, which are matured in a mixture of Bourbon hogsheads and Sherry butts. The latter provides the significantly darker colour in the Malt. The clear Sherry influence can also be noticed during tasting: Ripe dark fruits and vanilla are found in the spicy-sweet aroma. The taste of Scallywag is very intense and full-bodied with spices and oranges.
The Islands north and west of the Highlands used to have their own king. At that time, many distilleries were established on the islands. Due to their geographical location, isolated from the mainland, many traditional forms of production have been preserved on the islands for a long time: for example, drying barley over peat fires, while in the rest of Scotland other types of fuel could be used. So, here you are dealing with the more traditional Whiskies, which are wilder, like the Islands themselves: rocky and windy with rough coasts. Relatively many distilleries have been built directly at the seaside, as they used to be supplied by ships. The Island Whisky among the Remarkable Regional Malts is called Rock Island, formerly Rock Oyster - an oyster is still on the bottle label. It contains Whiskies from the islands Orkney, Arran, Jura and Islay. Compared to the other three, Rock Island is smoky, although still moderately at first. There is also a maritime note. In short: Everything you expect from an Island Whisky. Slightly sweet and peppery spicy notes are also found in the Rock Island aroma; in taste even more intense with a distinct smoky note.
The Isle of Islay is something special because it has its own distinctive character. Islay was the residence of the 'Lord of the Isles'. Accordingly, the island had a relatively high population density and most distilleries were located there. Islay has a special position as a Whisky region in its own right: At present, nine distilleries are producing Whisky on the small island. On Islay, barley is mainly dried using peat smoke, which gives the Malt an extremely smoky taste. The Islay Blended Malt by Douglas Laing is Big Peat, which contains Malts from Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen. The bottles always show the fisherman with the bulbous nose, in all possible and impossible situations. Big Peat is no exaggeration here: the Blended Malt is very peaty, both in the nose and on the tongue. If you try harder, you will discover a slightly sweet aroma in the background. On the palate the sweetness of Ardbeg and Caol Ila is clearly noticeable.
For the sake of completeness, we would like to mention Campbeltown, the capital of the Kintyre Peninsula. Campbeltown was once known as the 'Whisky Capital of the World' and in its heyday around 1825, it was home to over 30 active distilleries. Over the decades, poor economic conditions reduced the number of active distilleries in the town to just three: Glen Scotia, Springbank and Glengyle. There is also a Campbeltown Malt by Douglas Laing 'Gauldrons', but due to the low supply of Whisky from the town, it cannot be produced as regularly as the other Remarkable Regional Malts.
Would you also like to taste Scotland? In our Live Tasting you can join us on a Scotland Tasting Tour!