Scottish whiskies are one of the most revered spirits in the world right now! Although there are varying styles to the spirit, each one can be delectable masterworks in its own right. Some scotch is heavily flavored by peat and smoke, while others can be fruity and light. The flavor profile here largely depends on the production region and distillery producing the whisky. A good example of that is coastal whiskies that are often recognized by their refined salinity.
Regional distinctions around Scotch Malt Whisky are similar to the wine appellations of France. Pungent and powered Single Malts of Highlands can be paralleled to the aromatic clarets of Bordeaux, while gentle and fruity expressions of Lowlands can be compared to the sweet floral whites of Alsace. It’s a lifetime journey of knowledge, history, and experience to truly master the subject.
Types Of Scotch Whisky
Now, let’s look at the main types of Scotch Whisky.
Scotch Single Malt Whisky
Single Malt Scotch whisky is considered on the most revered spirits across the globe. Its variations are limitless - from incredible complexity to astonishing simplicity, from unbridled power to nothing more than subtle notes. In order to be called a Single Malt Scotch, the spirit has to be distilled in Scotland, at a single distillery, from nothing other than water, yeast, and malted barley in a copper pot still. Later, the whisky has to be aged in an oak cast for a minimum of three years and bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV.
The character of your Single Malt from Scotland will largely depend on region, terroir, and geography, as there are many variations within the country. The oak barrel also plays a large role in forming the character of the final spirit. Some debate that it comprises no less than 60% of the final flavor.
Scotch Blended Whisky
Blended Whisky from Scotland doesn’t really need an introduction. Best selling of all whisky in the world, Jonnie Walker, Haig, and Ballantine’s have been filling back bars and liquor cabinets across the globe for decades.
Like Single Malt Scotch, Blended Whisky needs to be matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years. Made from grain whisky, which is incredibly efficient to produce, it’s later mixed with malt whisky to add body and complexity to the spirit.
Scotch Blended Malt Whisky
Blended Malt Whisky from Scotland is a little bit different from a standard blended whisky. That’s because the spirit doesn’t include any grain whisky added to it. Instead, it’s a blend of single malts. Generally, grain whisky doesn’t have nearly the same depth and character as malt whisky. Therefore, Blended Malt Whiskies are often more characterful than blended whiskies.
A great example of a Scottish Blended Malt Whisky is Compass Box Oak Cross that features single malts from the world-famous Teaninich as well as whisky from Varron and Brora. Put the three together and get an incredibly interesting and complex Scotch.
Scotch Grain Whisky
Blended Whisky has been the cornerstone of the whisky industry for decades because it’s much cheaper and easier to produce than Scotch Single Malt Whisky. The grain is not necessarily worse than malt. Instead, it brings different qualities to the blend than malts do, which can help bring boisterous malts together.
As a result, we get an approachable whisky that suits a broad range of palates and is more economical than Scotch Single Malts.
Lately, more and more impressive grain whiskies have been released, with most of them flaunting the fact that grain whiskies can be a delight on their own. Some Single and Blended Grain Scotch Whiskies are worth every second of your time!
Scotch Whisky Regions
Now, let’s look at the major regions of Scotch Malt Whisky - there is a lot to be said about the spirit depending on where it’s made.
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Speyside region has the highest concentration of malt whisky producers and is a host to more than half of all Scottish distilleries. Because of this, you’ll notice a huge variety of excellent whiskies distilled in the region.
Despite a broad range of whiskies distilled, Speyside Single Malt Scotch is usually recognized for its two primary styles. The first one is the light and sweet single malts like Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, which are actually the best-selling single malt whiskies across the globe. The second style is the more recent tradition of producing the big-bodied, sherried drams like Glenfarclas and Macallan.
With so much Scotch made in the region, it’s close to impossible to sample all the delights offered, but it’s better to start late than never.
Highland Single Malt Whisky
Similar to Speyside, Single Malts from the HIghlands come in many shapes. It’s the biggest region of Scotland, so it’s not always easy to make sweeping statements. Likely the most popular Highland single malt is Glenmorangie.
Due to the size of the region, it’s often divided into four subregions, names after the cardinal compass points. North is known for its sweet and rich big-bodied single malts, like Dalmore. The South is famous for lighter, fruitier Scotch with a notable dryness, like Aberfeldy. The East offers dry whiskies with a punch of fruit and pungency, like Glen Garioch. The West is usually associated with peaty, smoky overtones with maritime flavors like Clynelish and Pulteney.
Islay Single Malt Whisky
Islay is often associated with peaty and smoky flavors that distinguish their single malt whiskies from the crowd. Some of the world-famous distilleries from the region are Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig. If you aren’t into peaty drams, there are other distilleries that produce fruitier single malts, like Bunnahabhain. Alternatively, Caol Ila and Kilchoman single malts that are peated, but not at the same level as Ardbeg or Laphroaig.
Similar to other regions, single malt whisky from Islay has to be produced at a single distillery from malt barley, yeast, and water and then distilled in pot stills and matured for at least three years in oak casks.
Lowland Single Malt Whisky The Lowlands is usually the home of floral and more gentle whiskies. In fact, their distilleries are sometimes called “The Lowland Ladies.” The regional producers prefer triple distillation which turns the Lowland Single Malt Scotch more delicate. The most famous Lowland distilleries are Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie, and Bladnoch.
Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky
The most prolific regions in Scotland before US Prohibition, there were only two distilleries producing Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky until recently. The whiskies from the region carry a slight coastal character. What made them famous are their dryness and pungency. The most notable distilleries of the region are Springbank, Glen Scotia, and Glengyle.
Island Single Malt Whisky
The Islands is quite a diverse region that’s not exactly recognized as a region by the Whisky Association of Scotland because, technically, they are a part of Highlands. It’s likely that the small group of islands is lumped together simply for geographic ease. While the common quality that can be found almost universally across the single malts of the region is subtle salinity, there are many more different characters to each Island Single Malt Whisky.
In the North, there is Orkney, whose malts are generally coastal and full, sometimes with an abundance of honey, malt, smoky malt, and heather like Highland Park. Scapa, that’s also located in the region, features incredible citrus and herbal qualities. The Isle of Skye only has one distillery located on it - the world-famous Talisker, whose single malts are usually described as “volcanic” in character with plenty of body. The Isle of Arran is famous for its malty, rich Scotch Single Malts that are produced by Arran distillery (opened only recently, in 1995). Lastly, we got Mull and Jura islands, both with a single distillery a piece. The Tobermory distillery of the Mull island makes a sweet and slightly herbal Scotch whisky and a heavily peated version called Ledaig. The Isle of Jura’s distillery, Jura, produces slightly oily, maritime drums with notes of nutty cereal.
Other Scotch Whisky
Not all Scotch Whisky can be assigned to a single region. For instance, it can be a blended whisky from distilleries located in different regions. Another popular trend among producers is keeping the region and distillery a secret.
Whether you are a Scotch Connoisseur or would like to try something new for once, buy single malt, blended, and blended malt whiskies in our store in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, or online!