Whisky is for a considerable part an expression of terroir. The smell and flavours of the whisky often reflect the soil the barley has grown and the peat (if any) is used. We believe most distilleries try to capture that in every step they take. From the barley used to the time of fermentation and ultimately the shape and size of the stills. Everything has to be just right.
To give a short excerpt in how these things collaborate: the longer the fermentation, the fruitier and tropical the taste becomes. The more contact with the copper of the stills, the smoother, less peaty and sweeter. When there’s peat involved, you can taste a huge difference between coastal peat (more medicinal and salty) and highlands peat (more heather, flowers and earth). These apparently subtle differences play a huge role in the end product. Even between the releases from one distillery.
Conform these facts, there are five main whisky regions which have their distinct flavour profiles. Of course, there are lots of distilleries who define themselves as non-conformist and do something completely different, but when you are new to the whisky game, you can take these as a rule of thumb:
Perfect to start your journey with. Speyside malts define themselves by being frugal with peat and being full of fruit. Partly because they often use sherry casks, which enhance the fruitiness.
Cherry and apple juice, fine malt, pineapple pear and a watery spiciness.
It offers a nice mouthfeel, it’s smooth and creamy, has some spiced apples, cherries and fine oak. A good amount of malty notes with a hint of cinnamon.
Sweet fruits, lots of cinnamon and apples and cherries, some basic vanilla and malty notes to balance it a bit. There’s spice, there’s apricots and there’s a surprising hint of popcorn.
Not many Lowland distilleries are left since the past couple of decades, but luckily they’re on the rise again with a couple of new ones. Lowland whiskies tend to be soft, smooth and light in character, a bit grassier too. You’ll have to look harder for the different flavours to shine through, but they’re definitely no less complex than others.
Warming and sweet. Honey, floral and lots of nuts: mainly macadamia. Wood, moss, minerals, a subtle savoury note
Soft, smooth, buttery and freshly mowed grass. Salted nuts, vanilla, oak, banana and a whiff of petroleum jelly (Vaseline)
Not long, but just enough. Nutty, sweet and juicy, yellow prunes, grapes and vanilla ice.
The largest regions of them all and the one with the most diversity. Partly because the Islands like Arran fall into this category. It’s hard to find one that doesn’t suit your profile. It ranges from (lightly) peated and earthy whiskies, to softer and lighter ones. It’s hard to give only one example, but we thing the following one captures the overall style perfectly.
Glen Garioch Founders Reserve
Earth, rose petals, lavender, and old closet, mothballs, cardboard, cherries, vanilla, cake and perfume. Grandmother, is that you?
Wood, baking spices, cherry, sultanas, burlap, earth and vanilla.
A spicy finish with warm cherries, spiced oak, dry flowers, an old book, cake, earthy, Belgian pralines and lavender.
Islay might be one of the most popular regions when it comes to whisky. If you’re into peated whiskies, this is where you’ll end up sooner or later. They are still building new distilleries next to the world famous distilleries already located on the island and each and every distillery has their own specific character. Peat is setting the course in general, however some distilleries release unpeated expressions which are definitely worth trying as well!
Caol Ila 12yo
Smoky, toffee, light fruits, floral notes and charred meat.
Ashes, campfire, salty bacon, definitely a light and fresh whisky with hints of vanilla and pear. Some tar and light peat give this whisky a great balance.
Tropical sweetness fading into the more ‘islay-like’ dark and smoky flavours. But is stays on the lighter side.
Once called the whisky capital of the world, and currently on its way to reclaim their throne with several new distilleries. Due to the interesting location, globally in between Islay and Arran, you’ll get those incredible and very recognizable scents and flavours. Opening up a Campbeltown whisky surely will remind you of a day at the beach, a fresh sea breeze will strike you along with fruity aromas.
Glen Scotia 15yo
Minerals, extinguished campfire, barley, warm fruits, tropical and spicy
Subtle matches, fire stones, driftwood, tropical fruits and peaches
Full and warming, smoky barley, grilled pineapple, spicy wood, red fruits, nuts, a burnt shed in the woods
As you can see, even in a single country like Scotland, the character of whisky can vary from very light and fruity, to dark and smoky and everything in between. Of course, as stated before, distilleries can do something completely different than what is considered ‘regional policy’ but in general, most distilleries don’t forget where they came from.
It’s amazing to see what a particular region can do with whisky and what kind of influence the location of the distillery and/or the warehouse has on the character of the whisky. The spring where the distillery gets its water from, the earth beneath, the air blowing through the warehouses but most of all: The love, the fine and traditional craftsmanship, the effort people put in, day by day and the passion everyone shares so deeply. That’s what it’s all about!