When people think of fine whisky, their minds typically turn to Scotland. This wild at windy country, battered by the north sea and dotted with mountains, lochs and moors, has been the home of high-quality whisky for over six hundred years. During this time, it has forged a reputation over these centuries which has proven difficult to beat, and which has influenced the rest of the world, from America to Japan and beyond.
The term Scotch refers to either malt or grain whisky, which must be made in one of Scotland’s specified whisky regions, with practices and techniques strictly controlled by a series of stringent regulations. One such regulation is that Scotch must be aged for a minimum of three years, and that the age of the whisky must be clearly printed on the bottle. The quality and style of whisky varies quite significantly from place to place, with certain regions producing light and grassy whisky styles, and others using time-honored practices such as burning peat (a type of moorland soil) during the fermentation to imbue a smoky, earthy character.
There are five categories of Scotch, and each has its own set of distinctive characteristics and typical flavors and aromas. These are single malt Scotch (often referred to as the connoisseur's choice), blended malt Scotch, single grain Scotch, blended grain Scotch and blended Scotch whisky.
When you think of Scotch whisky, you are probably thinking of the whiskies of Speyside. This fascinating and unique corner of the country is tucked into the north-east coast of Scotland, where the north sea batters the cliffs and cold, arctic winds make life hard for the families who have worked there for generations. Speyside is the most industrious and productive whisky region in Scotland, and this small area on the river Spey between Moray and Badenoch produces more whisky than any other part of Scotland, due to the enormous number of famed distilleries which can be found there. No less than sixty percent of all Scotland’s whiskies come out of Speyside, and certain distilleries produce vast quantities of the spirit, with one distillery churning out 12.5 million litres of whisky per year for a global audience.
In Speyside, we can find the big-hitters of the scotch whisky world. Indeed, the two best selling single malt whiskies on earth are produced here - Glenlivet and Glenfiddich - still made using traditional techniques and fiercely guarded secret methods which have been passed down through the ages.
Speyside single malt whiskies fall comfortably into two quite distinctive camps. Whiskies like Glenlivet, for example, typify the light and smooth end of the spectrum - comforting, delicious and full of fresh, grassy flavors. On the other side, we have the heavier, richer and sweeter whiskies which age in sherry barrels and take on a caramel complexity which has its own dedicated fanbase.