Alcohol By Volume (usually abbreviated as ABV) is the standard measurement of how much alcoholic content a beverage contains. For the whole month of December, we’ll be entertaining our readers with stories on beers, spirits as well as the swankiest bars for our ABV series. Bottoms up!
With some of the oldest and most well-regarded whisky distilleries in the world, it is no surprise that Scotland whiskies are considered some of the best whiskies in the world. (Note: The pioneers of Japanese whiskies learnt the finer points of whisky making in Scotland) A whisky is considered scotch according to a stringent set of requirements. A scotch whisky must be made in Scotland with water and malted barley and fermented with yeast. Although other grains can be added to the mash, no other additives are allowed aside from caramel colouring. Lastly, the distillate is required to be matured in casks for at least three years.
Scotch comes from five different regions in Scotland, which are tightly regulated by UK law to ensure the origins of each label. The most famous of these will be familiar to serious whisky drinkers, namely the Highlands, Speyside and Islay. The less well-known regions are the Lowlands and Campbeltown.
The Highlands encompasses the largest whisky producing region in Scotland. With a wide variety of landscapes and practices of the various distilleries, it’s pretty much impossible to define what makes a whisky a typical Highlands-style whisky. Glenmorangie, the best-selling single malt in Scotland, comes from the Highlands. Creamy and fruity, Glenmorangie is an approachable Highlands whisky for novices. In recent years, the distillery has experimented with wine, port and sherry cask finishes for its extra mature editions. Another well-known Highlands whisky with markedly different style is the Oban. The Oban distillery is one of the oldest in Scotland, established in 1794. Avid fans of Oban will attest to its peaty, briny character distinctive of the western Highlands.
Despite its small area, Speyside is the densest whisky producing region in Scotland, home to more than half of the country’s distilleries. Named after the river Spey which cuts across the region, most of the distilleries in Speyside draw from its water which is famed for its purity, low pH and an abundance of calcium. The whiskies produced in the region tend to shy away from peat, favouring rich floral, fruity and nutty flavours. Some of the most famous distilleries in the region such as Macallan and Aberlour are known for their elegant and complex flavours.
Moving on to the Lowlands region located at the southernmost end of Scotland, whisky aficionados will find milder, light-bodied single malts characteristic of the region’s triple-distilled whiskies. The region’s whiskies are known for their approachability for novice Scotch drinkers, such as the light and flowery Glenkinchie and the beautifully smooth and delicate Auchentoshan.
Famed for producing the smokiest whiskies in Scotland, the Islay is a small but important region for its unique whisky style. Of the eight distilleries on Islay, only Bunnahabhain forsakes the use of peat in smoking its barley malt. The result is a delicate, fruity whisky prized for its alluring sweetness. With exception of Bunnahabhain, the whiskies produced in Islay is known for the pungency imparted by the peat (made traditionally from seaweed and moss), with notes salt, oil, peat and iodine producing some of the most complex whiskies in the world.
The last of the whisky growing region is Campbeltown, located on the south-westernmost peninsula of Scotland. Once considered the most active whisky producing region in the world with 30 distilleries, only three active distilleries are left in Campbeltown today. Springbank distillery has one of the most interesting offerings, experimenting with varying levels of peat, stills set up and distillation process to produce three distinctively different whiskies. Glen Scotia, one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland produces the classic Campbeltown Malt style with hints of brine and smokiness. The new Glengyle distillery which restarted its production in 2004 produces the Kilkerran whisky, praised for its fruity palate and velvety finish.