Can you tell your Ardbeg from your Edradour? Specialist Charles Foley offers a tasting tour ranging from the deep, dark complexity of the Highlands to the floral notes of Islay
A highland cow in the Trossachs, with the Arrochar mountains in the distance © Targn Pleiades / Shutterstock
Power and poise typify drams from highland distilleries, strewn across a landscape of towering snowcapped mountains and cliffs above wild foamy seas. Peat plays a large part in the flavour profile: the ancient decomposed sods of earth are burnt under the malted barley to infuse the resulting liquid with full-bodied, smoky notes. Glenmorangie offers up elegance while Dalmore is a distillery presenting deep, dark and complex whiskies. Oban, with heavy coastal influence, has a bracing salty tang and Dalwhinnie, buried deep in the mountains, is an indulgent drop.
Light, aperitif-style whiskies dominate in the rolling hills and border country of the Lowlands. Referred to as the ‘Lowland Ladies’ because of the light, floral notes of their whiskies, distilleries in this region are now few and far between. Many are now ‘ghost distilleries’ (closed distilleries) such as Rosebank and Linlithgow, the whiskies of which are extremely collectable, if old single malts can be unearthed. Glenkinchie is a renowned distillery currently producing grassy, honeysuckle-flavoured drams, while Auchentoshan triple-distills its whisky to give a stimulating citrus edge.
Port Ellen distillery © Jaime Pharr / Shutterstock
Islay enjoys a windswept, rugged coastline enclosing impenetrable moorland. Pungent, smoky whiskies with a salty edge are produced by noted distilleries including Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich and Bowmore. Nips from this region are perfect for fans of heavy, briny malts with peppery, floral, mossy and linseed notes. Port Ellen is a famed ghost distillery whose still is now silent, and whose rare old single malts are hard to find.
Tobermory, Isle of Mull © trotalo / Shutterstock
While not recognised as a separate region by the Scotch Whisky Association — they are grouped with the Highlands — the volcanic Islands of Arran, Mull, Jura, Skye and Orkney offer up distinctively challenging, full-throated whiskies packed full of smoky, peaty flavours and an earthy, heather and honey complexity. Talisker, Tobermory, Arran and Jura are potent brews with oily textures and nutty, peppery palates.
Located on an isolated peninsula 140 miles from Glasgow — at times inaccessible in winter due to the single access road — Campbeltown’s whiskies have a unique character, influenced by an inimitable location. Springbank has a massive following among collectors, with its sweet, floral notes, while Hazelburn and Longrow offer wet wool, toffee and vanilla notes. The town is also home to Cadenhead’s, a famed and very old independent bottler. Known to buy barrels from ghost distilleries such as Banff, Cadenhead also bottles its own malt.
Craigellachie and Dewars Distillery © JasperImage / Shutterstock
Among the watery glens and rocky crags of Speyside are perched numerous distilleries crafting nutty, fruity whiskies — marrying citrus fruit, apples and pears with complex honey and vanilla notes. Sherry and Sauternes casks are commonly used for maturation, adding extra complexity and a silky mouth-feel. Split into eight towns, including Strathisla, Lossie, Dufftown and Findhorn, the area plays host to some of Scotland’s most famous makers: Balvenie, Glen Moray and Glenfiddich make their home here, alongside the famous Macallan.