Scotland’s scotch regionality
It’s not news that Scotland has many different scotch regions, and it’s not news to say that those regions each have their own unique flavor signature. What is interesting is when the scotch is blended to represent and highlight the best of what each region has to offer, and we get to taste all those regions in one lineup. That’s what I got to experience last week at a tasting event from the North Shore Whisky Club when Joe Swanson presented the Remarkable Regional Malts collection from Douglas Laing & Co. It was a celebration of the map of Scotland, and a good time was had by all.
Douglas Liang & Co gives a nice definition as to what they’re trying to accomplish:
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky: Previously known in the industry as “Vatted” Malt … “Blended Malt” differs from simply “Blended” Whisky in that it contains no Grain Whisky, and is therefore widely considered a superior category. Our Remarkable Regional Malts … are Blended Malt Scotch Whiskies, combining the spirit from some of the regions’ finest Distilleries to produce the ultimate territorial tastes of Scotland. If a Single Malt is a violin, you might consider a Blended Malt an entire orchestra.
Mission accomplished, I would say. Rather than my usual tasting notes list, let’s look at the individual scotch regions as represented by each expression. Each description (in italics) is from Douglas Liang’s website, but the tasting notes are mine.
Note: As an added bonus, Joe brought us an offering from Gordon & Macphail, and it was a real treat…a cask strength Craigellachie 19yo. Yum!
Buckle up…here goes…
Douglas Liang & Co and Gordon & Macphail Scotch Whisky Tasting
Hosted by Joe Swanson and presented by the North Shore Whisky Club, March 9, 2018
The Lowland region, encompassing the great cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and the historic Kingdom of Fife, boasts a mild climate of miles of rolling flat farmland and neat woodlands, making The Lowlands an ideal region for growing barley, and, consequently, for producing Whisky. The Lowlands are famous for producing light, traditionally unpeated Whiskies that are renowned for their sweet, grassy notes and gentle style.
- Nose: cotton candy, grassy, peaches, malt grain
- Taste: grass, cardamom, pepper hits, green apple, light body
- Finish: spice fades to herbal, mossy
- Comments: light, bright, spring in a glass, very good
The Highland region is geographically the largest of Scotland’s Whisky regions, stretching from just north of Glasgow up to Scotland’s northern-most distillery in Orkney. Unsurprisingly, the vast area produces a diverse portfolio of malt whiskies, but the typically “Highland” whisky profile is lightly floral, and sweetly honeyed, with distinct notes of heather from the Highland landscape.
- Nose: cooked fruit, raisins, toffee brittle, malted grains, lightly grassy
- Taste: malted grain, oak, white pepper rises, coriander, oatmeal, medium body, slightly chewy, walnuts
- Finish: the lemon-influence fades to oatmeal
- Comments: the sweetness is balanced by oatmeal
The Speyside region is home to over half of Scotland’s Malt Whisky distilleries, more than Islay, the Highlands, the Lowlands and Campbeltown combined. Its rich, wet landscape creates a ripe environment for distilling and maturing Whisky, and Malt Whiskies produced in the Speyside region are typically sweet, sherried and elegant in character.
- Nose: raisins, prunes, clover honey, vanilla, lightly cereal
- Taste: malted grain, soft entry, buttery, mentholated, thick, pepper goes up the sinuses
- Finish: menthol left after everything fades, a hint of sherry notes
- Comments: misleading…starts cereal ends minty, the sherry is subtle
- Nose: vanilla fudge, slight raisin, oaky, pine
- Taste: soft and silky, pine, light butterscotch, the nose stays clear
- Finish: butter, cream, ends on herbs & flowers
- Comments: this one is wonderful, so different than the one before
The pedants among you might be aware that “The Islands” is not officially considered one of the Scotch Whisky Regions, as categorised by the Scotch Whisky Association. Whilst we won’t dispute that, we do believe that Whisky from the Islands is unique, and so Rock Oyster was created in homage of the sea and its wonderful little pockets of Whisky-producing land. We believe Rock Oyster captures the spirit of Island Whisky in all its salty, citrus, sweet peat and peppery glory.
- Nose: briny, little bit smoky, vanilla, beachy
- Taste: spicy, seaweed, medium body, bonfire smoke in the distance, lemon
- Finish: lemon and bone marrow gelatin quality
- Comments: peat element, a savory gelatin with brine
Rock Oyster 18yo
- Nose: stronger brine & smoke, white grape, white chocolate
- Taste: striking match, mint, sharp, chewy
- Finish: long finish to brine and mint
- Comments: the nose belies the taste, calls to attention
Islay is home to 8 functioning distilleries, and affectionately known as Scotland’s Whisky Island, it’s been producing whisky for over 200 years. The flavour profile of Islay Whisky is known for its peaty smokiness, with some distilleries offering lightly peated malt and others a far more challenging, medicinal spirit.
- Nose: all briny smoke, beach campfire,
- Taste: strongly ash, eucalyptus, sooty, lime, medium body, oily, coats the mouth
- Finish: ash lasts & lasts
- Comments: all peat, all the time…tastes so good!
And the bonus…
Gordon & Macphail Craigellachie 19yo Cask Strength
US exclusive, 56.6% ABV
- Nose: raisins, heather, grass, barley
- Taste: hits hard, clover honey, cut grass, oily, chocolate
- Finish: fades to grass, lingers long and green
- Comments: water mellows the hit & lets the greenness come forward, softly chocolate
Another added bonus: I provided dessert for the group…Chocolate Cake Balls! (remember those from Pop to it?) They paired deliciously with that Craigellachie…the dark chocolate enhanced the yummy chocolate notes of the dram. I’ve written previously about my pairing adventures, and I featured the topic in Springbank with Snacks. Check it out!
I really enjoyed exploring Scotland through its scotch regions in one sitting. Kudos to Douglas Laing & Co. for their Remarkable Regional Malts collection, and many thanks to North Shore Whisky Club for presenting this lineup to us. Tasting around Scotland…what a great way to travel!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!