Nearly all of the taste of whisky comes from its contact with oak casks. Though every whisky has its peak maturation point, the general rule is: younger whisky has more distillery character, older whisky more cask influence. There is, however, much more to it than that.
Caught between the wide Atlantic ocean and Scotland’s rugged coast, the Inner Hebridean islands are famed for soaring, unforgiving peaks and lush, verdant valleys.
We have just three Island distilleries, braving the elements to produce their fine Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
Salty, peated smoke is the signature flavour note, ranging from the subtle Lapsang Souchong to the smokefest of a beach bonfire
Over half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries are found in the lush, rain-washed valley of the river Spey.
We have 16 Speyside distilleries in total, and they share the region with a number of independents.
Known for their fruity, nutty, even spicy character, Speysides offer a wide spectrum of flavour – with something for every palate.
This region covers the widest expanse of land, and so it’s only natural it offers the widest variation in flavour.
The abundance of pure mountain water sustains seven of our distilleries.
Highland malts are subtle and floral with heather-honeyed tones, although there’s a touch of the peat smoke in coastal malts such as Oban.
This region’s plains and gentle hills provide fertile ground for barley farmers, and access to pure water running from the mountains.
Glenkinchie is our only Lowland distillery.
The last surviving lowland distilleries maintain the tradition of light, estery, grassy flavour notes.
These are whiskies usually without a whiff of smoke about them, offering instead notes of grassy, green organics. They may be light on the palate but they can still pack plenty of power on the finish.
The fruitiness of these whiskies can be both sharp and mellow, like lemon peel or autumn berries. Similarly, the spice can be like pepper in the throat, or soft like a fruitcake – full of cinnamon and mace.
These qualities are usually imparted at the maturation or finishing stage, where the oak of the cask works with the liquid to create subtle changes in flavour.
There’s something medicinal about the full, rich, oily whiskies. It’s a quality of the peat smoke, and it joins tar, drift wood and salt spray on the list of unexpectedly delicious qualities to be found in these expressions.
The Single Malt Whisky Flavour Map has been prepared and endorsed by the independent whisky expert Dave Broom, together with our Master Blenders, as an aid to navigating the many spirits Scotland has to offer. Compare at a glance the smoky and the rich, the light and the delicate, see where to begin and where to go next on your journey.
The stills, the location, the craft and skill of the people who work in the distillery, and – in the past – even the shape of the rooms: all of these contribute to a distillery’s character and whisky’s flavour.
Whether the distillery burns peat to dry its barley will have one of the most dramatic influences on the final flavour.
The length of time the liquid is fermented before affects the final flavour. For example, a fermentation lasting under two days creates a very nutty, spicy character once the liquid is distilled.
Small stills mean more contact with the copper, creating a lighter, fruity note. Larger stills mean a heavier, meaty flavour. The number of times a liquid is distilled also plays its part.
Whether it’s a European or American oak cask, held another liquid, and was toasted for reuse all play their part. As for time – each whisky has its peak point, and older isn’t always better.
The skills of blenders and distillers allow brands to hold true to traditional flavours, and offer new, exciting expressions.