SPIRITS OF WORTH: SCOTTISH SINGLE MALT WHISKY
Tomorrow, November 3, is BC Liquor Stores’ annual premium spirit release. This year whiskies are in the spotlight – numerous whiskies from around the world (plus a beauty 21 year old rum from Panama) will be available at the Signature stores. Among this year’s release are classic single malts from across Scotland, innovative whiskies from Japan and France, classic Irish whiskies, and rare bourbons from Kentucky. Especially rare in this collection is the 70 year old Generations Glenlivet from Gordon & MacPhail – only 175 x 200ml bottles were produced for worldwide sale. One can be yours for only $7088.00 (yes – that’s $35 per milliliter).
While I love spirits, I can’t pretend to be up close and personal with most of these super-premium and collectable whiskies. Instead, I’m providing a basic overview on the main points and regions of whisky – specifically Scottish single malt whisky – in case a dram of one of these ends up in your glass.
Firstly – the word itself. Whisky vs Whiskey. Regardless of how you spell it, whiskey and whisky are the same spirit, created from a mash of fermented grains. However, the spelling is more than personal preference, copyeditor favourite or typing mistake. It has to do where the spirit originates. Traditionally, Whisky denotes Scottish heritage, and Whiskey indicates Irish. Obviously many other countries also produce the spirit. Canadian and Japanese producers tend to favour Whisky, and American producers use Whiskey. Not confusing at all (if you drink enough, that is). Here’s an easy way to remember which to use – Countries that have E’s in their names (United States and Ireland) tend to spell it whiskey (plural whiskeys). Countries without E’s in their names (Canada, Scotland, and Japan) spell it whisky (plural whiskies).
Whisky (or whiskey) is an Anglicization of the Goidelic name (Irish: uisce beatha and Scottish Gaelic: uisge beatha) literally meaning “water of life”. Earlier Anglicization’s include usquebaugh (1706) and iskie bae (1583). It meant the same thing as the Latin aqua vītae, which had been applied to distilled drinks since the early 14th century. Though whisky’s exact origins are unknown, its existence was first documented in Ireland in 1405 and the first record of distilled spirit in Scotland is found on an Exchequer Roll of 1494. The first mention of a Scottish distillery is in 1670s – the Ferintosh distillery
Worldwide, whiskies differ in base product (malt, grain, corn, rye or blends thereof). Scottish single malt whisky, the holy grail for most collectors and connoisseurs, is made from malted barley (malt), and at one single distillery. Scottish whisky regulations require anything bearing the legally protected label “Scotch” to be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks. Scotch whiskies are generally distilled twice in a copper pot still. Many, though not all, Scotch whiskies use peat smoke to treat their malt, giving the spirit a distinctive smoky flavour.
Scottish single malt whiskies are divided into five main regions: Highland, Lowland, Islay, Speyside and Campbeltown. The Islands are a subregion of the Highlands and include all of the whisky-producing islands save for Islay, which stands alone.
This broad, diverse region is hard to characterize. The Northern Highlands are often big bodied, sweet and mouth-filling whiskies, while the Southern Highlands produces lighter, fruitier and drier whiskies. The East Highlands generally are full-bodied, dry, well-fruited, and the Western Highlands region is one of full-bodied, powerful single malts, peated and smoky.
Examples: Balblair, Ben Nevis, Dalmore, Dalwhinnie, Glen Garioch, Glenmorangie, Oban.
As mentioned above, The Islands are not a recognized region, but a subregion of the Highlands. Islands include Arran, Jura, Mull, Orkney and Skye.
Examples: Arran, Isle of Jura, Tobermory, Highland Park and Scapa, Talisker.
Once considered part of the Highlands, this popular region has almost half of the total number of distilleries in Scotland. Typically Speyside whiskies are lighter and sweeter than other Scotch single malts. As they grow older, they develop body.
Examples: Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Macallan, Balvenie, Glenfarclas, Aberlour, Balvenie, Cardhu, Glenfarclas.
This small island off the west coast is synonymous with peated single malt whiskies, though there are varying degrees of peat-monsters. Often a distinct seaweed character, from the higher use of bog peat.
Examples: Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin and Laphroaig.
Campbeltown, once home to over 30 distilleries, currently has only three distilleries operating. Whiskies are said to have a pungent, sea-influenced character.
Examples: Glen Scotia, Glengyle, Springbank.
Characterized by more delicate, gentle, floral whiskies.
Examples: Auchentoshan, Bladnoch, and Glenkinchie.
You can view the Premium Spirit Release products on the BC Liquor Store website here. Note that while all Signature Stores will share in the release, by far the best selection will be at the 39th & Cambie location. And don’t forget about some of the private, independent liquor stores in your area. Legacy Liquor (Vancouver), The Strath (Victoria), Beverly Corners (Duncan) are also fantastic sources for specialty and rare whiskies and other spirits.
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