By Martin Isark
With good reason, most Scottish distilleries lie in the Speyside area or in the surrounding Highlands. The cleanly flowing rivers, peat and easy access to high-quality barley mean that the distilleries there always have an economical edge over those on the islands, where higher production and transport costs have led to the closure of so many of the distilleries.
In addition to these advantages, the region’s sweeter and softer taste profile appeals to a wider drinking public, and its whisky is easier to sell on to the world markets. Not that this style is monotonous. There is still significant variation between the individual distilleries, achieved by unique production methods and maturation processes.
The main factors that influence flavours in the distillates are water, yeast, barley, the shape and size of the still, and the amount of distillate taken off. When you taste new distillates from several distilleries side by side, differences are very noticeable. Interestingly, there are even subtle differences between those produced within an individual distillery, though these are secondary to the flavour imparted from barrel maturation. These variations and the resultant tastes are a major problem for the master distiller, who is required to produce a consistent spirit.
To help reduce this variation in maturation, the Macallan distillery has a barrel-owning programme, its control going as far back as the species of oak tree. The barrels are made to Macallan’s specification, and the distillery then pays one of the bodegas of Jerez to fill them with sherry. This is better than buying barrels with doubtful provenance on the open market, but even with such TLC, two barrels sitting next to one another can still taste very different. It’s the magic of whisky.
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Macallan 25 Year old Speyside Malt Whisky
From sip to swallow satisfaction this is the best value Macallan. The 10-year-old, by comparison, still has immature, spirity notes on the nose and palate. The 18-year-old, although concentrated, has too many oak notes. The 25-year-old, though, combines complex aromatic aromas with a multi-layered mouthful, backed by seamless, sweet-sherried oak. Perfection. Reviewed by Martin Isark
Strathisla 12 Year Old Single Speyside Malt Whisky
Strathisla is an easy-drinking smooth Speyside malt that typically delivers fruity, cereal, vanilla and oaky maturation notes. The older the malt the more melded the notes are on the nose, palate and the finish.
Glenfiddich Single Malt Speyside 15 Year Old Reserve Whisky
Glenfiddich is the one of benchmark malt whisky brands on the shelves. This 15 year old reserve delivers a harmonious mix of a rich fruit cake notes. Worth a special search if you enjoy the sweeter style of malts. Reviewed by Martin Isark
Aberlour 10 Year Old Malt Whisky Speyside Scotland
Aberlour is an easy-drinking silky-smooth amber Speyside malt whisky with a sweet lick on the finish. If the style and price fits – put a bottle in the trolley. Tasted by Martin Isark
Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old Highland Malt Whisky
Dalwhinnie is a lighter coloured Speyside malt that presents notes of honey, heather and spice with just a hint of peat. Works well before and after dinner. Tasted by Martin Isark
Ardmore Cask Strength Highland Malt Whisky
This high octane Ardmore malt delivers a silky smooth sip, a creamy palate and a sweet barley lick on the swallow. If the style and price fits – put a bottle in the trolley. Tasted by Martin Isark
Dalmore 12 Year Old Single Highland Malt WhiskyThe Dalmore is a Highland malt that typically delivers peels fruits, barley, spice and sweet oaky maturation notes. The older the malt the more concentrated the flavours are on the palate and the finish. Tasted by Martin Isark