Scotland so dominates the whiskey world that it has even given its name to the style – Scotch. Scotch signifies a style of whiskey but also acts as a signifier for a country. A country full of flavor and a landscape full diversity; a rambling landscape full of discursive whiskies.
The whiskies of Scotland distill the aromas of the land on which they are created – from the coconut of hot gorse to the delicacy of wild cherries. Even the peat has a myriad of flavor profiles, from the smokehouses and bonfires on the beach to oyster shells and brine.
This is an amazing feat given that every malt-whiskey distillery does the same thing – they malt, grind, mash, ferment, and distill (2-3 times), and age their liquor in oak casks. Yet the process produces over 100 different results. Today we will look at the first of the 6 regions, Speyside.
Speyside is a legally delimited region that just tells you where Speyside exists or doesn’t exist. It is, however, considered the heartland of malt-whiskey production. It’s easy to assume that as the heartland there is a single sort of overall profile of whiskey created here but that is the opposite of the truth. There flavors here are as varied as the landscape within Speyside itself. In fact, there are regions within Speyside for how distilleries are grouped!
Once the haunt of moonshiners and smugglers this is where the modern Scotch whiskey industry was born. Speyside presents a cross-section of single-malt Scotch, representing every point on the flavor map. Scotches from this region include Speyside and the Glenlivet.
The Ben Rinnes Cluster
This is the mountain region of Speyside and it’s here that both the traditional and the modern exist side by side. Distilleries here can make heavy, meaty styles and sit right next door to distilleries that specialize in the more flowery styles. Scotches from this region include Cragganmore, Glenfarclas, and the Macallan.
The Dufftown Cluster
This is the self-proclaimed whiskey capital of Speyside and is a little older than its first distillery, which was constructed in 1817. It’s home to the world’s biggest-selling single malt brand – Glenfiddich. Other Scotches from the region include the Balvenie and the Glendullan.
Keith to the Eastern Boundary
Blenders play a particularly important part in the distilleries of the region, where entire lifetimes have been spent in service to the distillery. Scotches from this region include the Speyburn and Glenrothes.
Elgin to the Western Edge
The cult distilleries seem to congregate here, where they are revered by blenders and aficionados. However, they seem to have dropped from the consciousness of the regular consumer, sort of like a Bermuda Triangle of distilleries. Scotches from this region include the Glen Elgin, Glen Moray, and Miltonduff.