Tonight I was invited to host a tasting for a group of 25 whisky enthusiasts at the local tennis club. As is almost customary for an introductory whisky tasting, we decided to journey through each of the Scottish whisky regions to sample what its distilleries have to offer. Although the Scotch Whisky Association formally only recognises five whisky regions, I decided six whiskies is better than five, so we added the Islands as a separate region.
What I find amazing about whisky is that it’s made using only three ingredients, which are transformed into a wealth of different flavours, the variety of which is truly mindboggling. Tonight’s line-up traverses this spectrum from grassy, delicate Lowland all the way to peaty Islay. While each of the whiskies was chosen because they embody their region’s style, they have also received different types of maturation, further adding to the diversity on offer. You can find a short description of the whiskies below, including a link to the full review. Slàinte!
Lowland: Douglas Laing’s The Epicurean
It’s always a bit of chore finding an original Lowland whisky, given the limited number of distilleries to choose from. With Bladnoch all but unavailable and Daftmill and Annadale not yet on the market, the choice inevitably came down to Glenkinchie or Auchentoshan. Having used both in recent tastings, I opted for something else instead: a Lowland blended malt by Douglas Laing. Part of the company’s Remarkable Regional Malts range, The Epicurean is family to bottlings such as Big Peat and Scallywag. Displaying the delicate, grassy character so typical of Lowland malts, The Epicurean nonetheless lacks the smoothness and finesse you’d expect for a whisky from this region. Perhaps it’s the bottling strength of 46.2%, but this dram comes off as a little raw and rough around the edges. Although it’s nice to try something new, I can’t say this choice paid off very well.
Speyside: Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask
Balvenie is the quintessential Speyside malt, silky smooth with lots of honey, barley and dried fruit. The Carribean Cask adds to this the effects of a finish in casks that previously held rum, imbuing the whisky with notes of caramel, brown sugar and tropical fruit. Although rum casks have a tendency to overpower any whisky placed inside it, this dram is a brilliant display of balance between distillery character and maturation. Bottled at 43%.
Highland: Fettercairn Fior
It’s of course impossible to speak of a real Highland style, given the huge geographical spread of the region. Still, Fettercairn Fior fits the bill, being a bit more fruity and robust than most of its Speyside neighbours. A vatting of 14-15 year old sherried whisky and heavily peated young spirit, Fior is wonderfully floral, with notes of heather and raisins, mixed with a healthy whiff of smoke. A pleasant dram that forms the perfect bridge to the Campbeltown whiskies. Bottled at 42%.
Campbeltown: Glen Scotia Victoriana
One of Campbeltown’s three remaining distilleries, Glen Scotia is known for its fresh, relatively light character. However, Victoriana has been aged in heavily charred oak and bottled at cask strength, giving this whisky quite some punch. Notes of caramel, crème brûlée and dark chocolate mingle with a toasted smokiness to produce a quality dram that’s come as a very positive surprise. Possibly my favourite in this tasting, bottled at 51.5%.
Islands: Talisker Port Ruighe
Continuing the streak of special casks in this tasting, Talisker Port Ruighe has been finished in port casks. Medium-peated, this Island whisky adds the first real peat smoke to tonight’s line-up. I’m a big fan of Talisker’s maritime distillery character, and the typical salt and smoke fuse effortlessly with the sweet, fruity notes that Port Ruighe brings to the table. There are many quality Island whiskies I could have chosen for this tasting, but Talisker Port Ruighe is a dram I will gladly keep coming back to. Bottled at Talisker’s standard strength of 45.8%.
Islay: Port Charlotte Scottish Barley
Arriving to Islay at last, Port Charlotte Scottish Barley is a smoky heavyweight, being peated to 40 ppm and bottled at 50%. Despite these figures, this dram is quite accessible, even for those new to Islay whiskies. Its sweet, floral character combines nicely with the peat smoke to produce a clean, crisp dram that’s an excellent introduction to the even smokier Islay whiskies from the south of the island. But that’s for another tasting 😉