Scotch whisky, or just Scotch, has gained a considerable reputation across the globe and of late there has been a surge in interest in the single malts produced by the various distillers located across Scotland.
In theory Scotch should be a simple drink as the production process is largely a simple matter of distilling spirit and pouring it into a barrel where it is kept for some time. The mystery, however, lies in the wide variation of tastes which result from the storage in a second hand barrel which may have previously held sherry or burbon. How Laphroaig manages to mature to such a strange and amazing taste merely as a result of the simple process I have outlined is beyond me to comprehend, and how it manages to be so totally different from, say, Glenfiddich in terms of taste just highlights the mystery that is Scotch whisky.
As an Irishman I feel that I should also mention that us Irish produce great whiskey with Black Bush being a favourite worldwide. I would (of course) argue that no Scotch can match the smooth taste of Black Bush though its production methods differ little from that of Scotch.
When it comes to tasting I am of the view that more expensive is not always better, it just buys you something different and even less common. Of course it is possible, likely even, that some of the more expensive bottlings will taste better than some of the less expensive offerings to any given person but it is also entirely possible that such a person will find their favourite whisky among the less expensive expressions. With this in mind the only solution is to make every effort to sample as wide a range of whisky as possible and as miniatures are now available representing a very many of the whiskys on the market it is possible to taste and experience a very many whiskys without the expense of purchasing a large number of full sized bottles.
Scotch whiskys have been broken down into a number of (sort of) geographical categories with the whisky of Islay having, perhaps, the most distinctive taste.
I have recently been testing a range of whiskies and will append some notes with my initials (PB) so these can be identified as a personal opinion which may bear no relation to your own views. Please feel free to offer an alternative view where your thoughts differ as that allows for a broad range of opinions. I'm not attempting to produce detailed tasting notes but rather just express what I found most enjoyable.
Origin of Name
Uisge Beatha: Scots Gaelic for aqua vitae, 'water of life', from the first part of which the word 'whisky' derives. Uisge Beatha [Gaelic] That's whisk - beeth or as we now call it; whisky. 1618 - Early reference to 'uisge', being drunk at Highland chief's funeral. First reference was 1494, where a graindealers ledger stated the sale of barley towards the production of whisky.
- The History of Scotch Whisky, from The Whisky Trail, by Gordon Brown
Having sampled the three wood version of Auchentoshan both myself and a friend are of the view that we didn't like it. This wasn't just a case that we thought there were better offerings but that we just plain wouldn't elect to drink this given the choice. It is very heavily peated but there is something else going on in there which we found off-putting. We may try other offerings from this Distillery in the future so perhaps all is not yet lost but at the minute this joins Glengoyne among the offerings that I'd rather not drink. [PB]
- I sampled the 16 year old offering from Balblair and found it to be a respectable whisky that is certainly worth a try if it comes to hand. Once more I would say that it is probably not worth seeking out at any great expense of time or money as there are better whiskies available in my opinion but this one is not half bad. [PB]
- The unique selling point of Edradour is that it is the smallest distillery in Scotland however the 10 year old that I sampled was unimpressive and certainly not worthwhile seeking out unless it comes readily to hand and is inexpensive. My girlfriend, who also sampled it and has a good taste for such things, was most unimpressed by this offering so I'm not entirely alone in my opinion. [PB]
- I just can't be having Glengoyne! Of all the whisky I have ever sampled the Glengoyne is about the only one that I would chose not to drink. Now, I can't put my finger on it or come up with an accurate description or tasting notes as to what is wrong with it but for me the 17 year old expression of Glengoyne that I sampled was just plain weird. A friend also confirmed my findings and opinion and he too couldn't exactly explain why it was not for him but it will certainly not be one either of us will be buying again. [PB]
- Another very well known single malt that is available in many areas and I found the Glenmorangie 10 year old to be a solid performer but for me it just didn't distinguish itself in the way that some others did. However, this is one that you can't go far wrong with and is certainly worth a try. [PB]
- Old Pulteney
- This one is not quite so well known perhaps but is certainly worth a try. I believe it is distilled in the little town of Wick which has little enough going for it even on a good day but for all that their whisky is pretty good. I sampled the 12 year old and found it smooth and tasty and well worth seeking out. This is certainly among the best of the standard price single malts that I have tried and it can compete on equal terms with the rather better known offerings from the likes of Glenfiddich which it equals in terms of smoothness. [PB]
- Near Inverness and just off the main A9 trunk road Tomatin is, or at least was, the biggest producer of whisky in Scotland and with this in mind I'd guess that it is finding its way into a very many blends. I think that it may be considered a Speyside but I think it is over the watershed into the Findhorn valley so I'm putting it in highland, no self respecting angler would tell you they were fishing the Spey when they'd been on the Findhorn. I have sampled the 12 year old Tomatin and find it quite a respectable whisky with lots of fruit and grassy stuff going on. Certainly well worth seeking out and a tasty nip for an evening though probably less impressive, in my opinion, that similar offerings from the likes of Macallan and Glenfiddich. [PB]
- Each distillery has their own unique selling point and, more often than not, it is usually something trivial and fairly unimportant but in the case of Balvenie their USP is that almost the whole process takes place at the distillery. Most distilleries buy in their malted grain from large suppliers and this process can be very finely tuned by these suppliers to deliver the precise amound of peat in the grain for example. However, Balvenie do all this themselves and for this alone I really wanted to like their whisky. Unfortunately, however, I was somewhat unimpressed by the final result. There was nothing in particular wrong with this whisky (The 10 year old Founders Reserve was the one I tested) and it would be a reasonable dram with which to sit by the fire on a winter evening but when compared with the other offerings available it was unremarkable. So unfortunately I couldn't really mark the Balvenie down as something worth seeking out when so many other fine offerings are generally more readily available. [PB]
- Glenfiddich is perhaps one of the best known and most widly available single malts and this inclined me to want to like it less than the more obscure or rare whiskies on offer. However I can't hide from the truth and there is no question that Glenfiddich produces some great whisky. The standard offerings are a 12, 15 and 18 year old and each has its own character and none is a bad dram however I personally preferred the 15 year old. There is also now a peated Glenfiddich (called caoran which is Gaelic for the small peats used to get a fire going) which I haven't tried. At the top end of the range there are a number of more obscure and pricy offerings and one, the 21 year old Gran Reserva, is certainly worth a mention. This must rate as one of the smoothest and most tasty whiskies I have had the pleasure to test and I would recommend all lovers of the single malt to give it a try. Here in the UK it costs about twice what you'd pay for a bottle of the 15 year old and I believe that the premium is worth it for the occasional special treat. All told the Glenfiddich offerings are hard to beat no matter how much it pains me to say that. [PB]
- To update the above I've now tried the Caoran peated Glenfiddich and it was fine and I enjoyed it. Hardly science I know but it depends upon your tastes however if you like some peat then it is worth hunting down just don't expect an Islay. [PB]
- The Glenlivet area of Speyside is world famous and not short of distilleries and this was, perhaps, the problem for the Glenlivet 18 year old that I sampled. Myself and a friend agreed that it was a good solid whisky that would be enjoyable but we just didn't think it had enough such that we would seek it out over and above other offerings from the region. Should you come upon a bottle than I believe you will enjoy the Glenlivet but if you are spending your own money and want a good dram for the fireside or a special occasion then I think you can do much better among offerings that may be easier to find and, perhaps, even less expensive. [PB]
- The Macallan was an instant favourite. I sampled both the 10 year old fine oak version and the standard 10 year old and must say that both are excellent. In truth, testing them back to back, the difference in taste was subtle and I don't believe I could chose one from the other in blind tasteing. Those more sensitive than I may well think otherwise but my recommendation would be to pick the one most readily available or least expensive and to enjoy it safe in the knowledge that you are not missing out on much when compared to the other offering. In my view this is probably the ideal dram for a winter night by the fire and for me it represents what Speyside whisky should be like. I am told that Macallan is one distillery where more money buys you better rather than just different but as yet I haven't had the chance to test this and in view of the absolutely crazy priced commanded by some Macallan offerings it seems highly unlikely that it will be something I will be investigating in any great detail. [PB]
- Of late I have had the chance to consume the best part of a bottle of the 18 year old Macallan and while there is no question that it is a wonderful whisky and despite what I said above about more money buying you better I think that the average whisky drinker might be better to buy a bottle of 10 year old Macallan and a bottle of 16 year old Tomintoul. It is almost as if the 18 year old is exactly like the 10 year old but much "bigger" and slightly smoother, my opinion is all positive but the £70ish price tag leaves you too many other options at that sort of money. If money was no object then I'd recommend drinking it all the time but as it is you get something very similar in the 10 year old at a third of the price I think the 10 year old is a good choice for someone looking to discover what Macallan is all about. [PB]
- Tomintoul is famous across the UK in the traffic reports as it usually has the first fall of snow in October and there is often lying snow in the region into May and so the road to Tomintoul is often closed by snow. With this in mind it should come as no surprise to find that it has as it's unique selling point the claim that it is the "highest distillery" in Scotland, I've no idea how that is supposed to infulence someone wanting some whisky but can only assume the marketing people think it important. I have only sampled one offering from Tomintoul, the 27 year old, and must say that it is among my favourites. I have, to hand, examples of all the offerings now and so am going to revisit the 27 year old along with its younger siblings and so further reports may follow. However, in my opinion it is worth hunting down a bottle of this fine whisky and giving it a try. At worst you will not be disappointed and perhaps you might even agree with me that it is one of the best. [PB]
- As a follow up to the above I've now had the chance to sample the 10, 16 and 27 year old Tomintoul and my views are more positive with every taste. The 10 is a good solid Speyside and while I might prefer the Macallan it is still pretty much up there with the famous and well respected that I have tried. The 16 year old is much smoother and, again, is a very nice dram and well worth seeking out and it would probably make an entry on my "fave whisky" list perhaps placing above the 15 year old Glenfiddich. Here in the UK the 16 year old Tomintoul costs about £30 for a bottle and at this price it really is a must buy. The 27 year old feels less smooth than the 16 and is certainly "spikey" in its nature but it also has lots of complex things going on and a long, long aftertaste. Here in the UK it is about £60 for a bottle and it really is worth the money, it is different in character from the 21 year old Glenfiddich, for example, but has sufficient character to put it up there in terms of suitability for a dram by the fireside. I don't know what availability is like outside of the UK but any of the offerings from Tomintoul are worth hunting down, the 10 may not stand out from the crowd if you are comparing it to other good Speysides but both the 16 and 27 are excellent offerings and I find them both very impressive both when considered alone and when compared to other similar whisky.
- Recently a friend who is a big Glenfiddich fan tried the 10 year old Tomintoul and reports that he prefers it to his normal Glenfiddich. This came as a bit of a shock to me as he has tried a lot of whisky and always remained steadfast in his position that there was nothing to touch the Glenfiddich. With this in mind it now seems that I'm not the only person who is impressed by the Tomintoul and I would certainly not hesistate to recommend it.
- I have heard that Ardbeg really does improve with age and, in fact, it is necessary to try one of the older offerings to get an idea of what it can really do. I've only tried the 10 year old but found that I enjoyed it. It is very heavily peated and there is a hint of the taste of medicine cabinet about it, something the Laphroaig does in a bigger and better way perhaps, but the Ardbeg is a nice dram and even the 10 year old is worth sampling in my opinion. In saying this I don't think it is a whisky that you could drink a lot of and it is certainly not one that everyone is going to like but worth a try. [PB]
- The Bruichladdich is perhaps not so typical of Islay as many others and it might easily be a highland malt and the example i tasted was unpeated and cask strength. It is some time since I last tried the Bruichladdich and I would like to revisit it before passing any further comments however I don't think it would be a whisky I would wish to drink on a regular basis or a whisky for passing the evening by the fireside. [PB]
- The Bunnababhain 12 year old that I tried managed to maintain a strong traditional whisky taste while still allowing hints of the "Laphroaig effect" which is so typical of Islay malts to creep in. This whisky might make an ideal introduction to Islay for the timid who don't wish to jump right in with the Laphroaig and it is certainly worthy of a tasting. [PB]
- Caol Ila.
- This is a typical Islay with hints of the iodine thing that the Laphroaig does so well. This could easily pass as "Laphroaig Lite" as it is somewhat less potent than the full on Laphroaig but for me it just didn't stand out from the Islay crowd. [PB]
- Official whisky of the Northeast Conclave
- Tasting notes
- I'm sitting in my easy chair grading midterms this chilly, breezy St. Patrick's day afternoon (2007). Poured a wee dram of Lagavulin 16 for the benefit of the students ;-). It's a wonderfully rich & smoky whiskey. Not for those who want a delicate taste. Distinctive flavor, yet so smooth on the aftertaste. Highly recommended! --Jdunn 14:29, 17 March 2007 (EDT)
- There are probably justifiable claims that Laphroaig should be classified as a species all of its own as it certainly doesn't taste like what you might expect from whisky and, in fact, it smells and tastes more like something that would be at home in a medicine cabinet or a hospital. There are other of the Islay malts that come close to the Laphroaig but none that quite rise to the hights of sweetness and that hint of antiseptic lotion that comes with each mouthful of Laphroaig. It is hard to recommend this whisky as it may come as a shock to someone acquainted with a blend or with some of the more commonly seen Speysiders but on the other hand it is a unique and interesting experience without which the whisky world would be a much poorer place. Laphroaig is excellent at doing what it does and while it will not be to the taste of everyone it is worth a try. Personally I would enjoy it on occasions but it is best savoured in small quantities on an occasional basis. [PB]
- Highland Park
- Highland Park gets rave reviews and many of the experts seem to be of the view that it is among the best whiskies available however I found the 12 and 18 year old offerings rather unremarkable. The 25 year old would seem to have greater smoothness and complexity and is certainly worth seeking out as I believe it does have something unique and interesting to offer and it seems to benefit from the addition of a little water as it is bottled somewhat stronger than many other offerings. I can only assume that I am missing some of the points that the experts in this area appreciate with these whiskies and, clearly, if a lot of people are saying they are great then they are worth seeking out if only to satisify your own curiosity but if you can manage it then go for the 25 year old. [PB]
- I can't remember trying this whisky but am told that I tried both a 12 and a 15 year old version of it and that myself and a friend, who relays this information, found it pretty good and on a par we thought with the 12 year old Glenfiddich. I know this is hardly the sort of report which inspires confidence but on the other hand I've done my best to keep you informed. As it is the chance to try this might come along quite soon again and reports will follow. However, based upon what my friend remembers, and I have absolutely no recollection of at all, the Springbank is probably worth sampling. [PB]
- As a follow up to this I had the opportunity to try Springbank in a 10 and 15 year old, I would guess that it was actually a 10 year old and not a 12 that I tried last time and so the report above is in error. The 10 was, frankly, rough, one dimensional and I would certainly not seek it out in future but the 15 was much more interesting with a lot more interesting things going on and I think it would fall into the category of whisky that is worth trying at least once. All told an entirely different experience from the one I report above. [PB]
The Whisky Trail, This is one of the most complete and interesting tellings of the History of Scotch Whisky and the famous, past and current distilleries of Scotland. A real must read for those with an interest in the water of life.
- An Introduction to Scotch Whisky, from The Whisky Trail, by Gordon Brown
- The History of Scotch Whisky, from The Whisky Trail, by Gordon Brown
- How Whisky Is Made, from The Whisky Trail, by Gordon Brown
- Styles of Whisky, from The Whisky Trail, by Gordon Brown
- Scotland: Whisky and Distilleries - Superb resource on just about anything and everything you want to know about Scotch Whisky.