Beyond the soaring stone walls of the historic Edinburgh Castle and the Scottish hunger for haggis, never more evident than during Burns Night celebrations, there is something else which forms a large part of Scotland’s cultural identity: Scotch whisky.
The first records of whisky distillation in Scotland date back to 1494 and it was originally used as a method of ensuring that rain-soaked barley did not go to waste. The Scots Gaelic phrase uisge beatha, meaning “water of life”, is the origin of the word whisky and to be a true Scotch whisky, it must be matured in Scotland for at least three years.
Malt whisky – made from malted barley, yeast and water. Single malt indicates it was made in one distillery and not blended with whisky from another location.
Grain whisky – made from grains other than barley (maize, wheat, or rye).
Blended whisky – a blend of single malt and grain whiskies, drawing out the best qualities of all parts.
Scotland has five prominent whisky-producing regions and no less than 100 distilleries, some of which offer tours and tastings. The picturesque region of Speyside, home to the Malt Whisky Trail, is a great place to visit for those whose love of whisky is rivalled only by their love of fresh air and nature. The River Spey, originating from Loch Spey in the Scottish Highlands, cuts through Speyside and is where you can try your hand at salmon and trout fishing, not to mention visit some distilleries on its banks.
The Speyside Way walk is a challenging one for outdoor enthusiasts but it can be broken into sections, such as the 19.5 kilometre route from Craigellachie to Ballindalloch. It is easy walking and at times follows an old railway line, passing fishermen in the River Spey, the derelict Imperial Distillery, and historical railway stations.
After working up a thirst, sit back, pick up a glass, and learn how you can enjoy whisky with sophistication and style, and without ending up flat on the floor.
- Your glass is an important choice. The classic tumbler-styles work best for cocktails and whisky on the rocks, while tulip-shaped glasses allow you to nose the whisky, roll it around, and sip it straight.
- Whisky’s true flavour comes to light when it is served without being chilled, and without ice or any other mixer (served neat). On the rocks closes the taste and as the ice melts, the flavour changes.
- While traditional man talk says to drink whisky straight up, it is a strong spirit (between 40% and 65% alc.) and that high alcohol content can have a numbing effect on your taste buds. Adding a small bit of water will definitely alter the taste but at the end of the day, it’s about what flavour you like best.
- Cocktails like the Whisky Sour, a delicate balance of whisky, fresh lemon juice, and simple syrup, and the Old Fashioned, made by muddling brown sugar with a few dashes of bitters, adding a generous measure of whisky, and garnishing with a citrus peel, play off whisky’s complex flavours and are a merry accompaniment to a night out with friends.
- Whisky pairs exceptionally well with some cheeses and luckily, Scotland also produces great local cheese! Strong blue cheeses are best balanced with a light and elegant single malt Scotch while rich, peaty, and smoky single malts like those from the Islay Island Laphroaig distillery pair well with Scottish smoked cheeses.
For novices, the choice of whisky styles and flavours can be overwhelming. The bold might start with the powerful tastes of the Islay Island distilleries, while others with blends and gentle malts from Speyside. If all else fails, find a great bartender to set you off down the right whisky road.