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Whisky regions: Scotch whisky for beginners

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The five Scottish whisky regions have distinct histories and each region allows for general statements to be made about a whisky produced from that region (although of course there are always exceptions to the rule).

Whisky regions: Scotch whisky for beginners

Lowlands

In general lowland whiskies tend to be light and floral in character and are often described as being smoother than produce from other whisky regions. There are five active distilleries in the lowlands with three more pending their first releases. Some argue that Glengoyne can be classified as both a lowland and a highland whisky as although it is produced just north of the north-south divide in the highlands, it is matured in the lowlands.

Speyside whisky

This region is home to some of the best-selling whiskies in the world including; Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Macallan and it is the region with the most distilleries in Scotland (despite being one of the smallest). There’s not one particular style of whisky that Speyside is famous for but a general rule of thumb is that a Speyside whisky is very unlikely to be peaty.

Highlands & Islands whisky

It’s hard to make general statements about whiskies from the Highlands and Islands as there are more than 30 distilleries over a vast region that make drastically different types of whisky.

Campbeltown

This region used to be home to 28 distilleries but now only has three active distilleries, the most famous of which is Springbank which produces lightly peated whiskies.

Islay

This region is the marmite of whisky regions with Islay being famous for producing strong and heavily peaty whiskies which divides opinion amongst drinkers. There are, however, some distilleries on the island, such as Bunnahabhain, which buck this trend and produce much lighter and less peaty whiskies.

NEVER HAD WHISKY?

If you’ve never had whisky before and it’s something you’d like to start drinking then there’s a few things to bear in mind before jumping right in.

It’s a good idea to start on an unpeated and lighter whisky as diving in at the deep end and trying a very peaty Ardbeg or Laphroiag as a first whisky may put you off. For your first whisky try to stick to something from the lowlands or Speyside such as a Glenkinchie 12 which is very light and smooth.

After having a few whiskies from the Lowlands and Speyside then start trying light peaty whiskies from the Highlands before moving on to the Islay whiskies which generally are very peaty. Whisky is of course subjective and the only way to know what you like is to start trying different whiskies.

Whisky tastings

HOW TO DRINK WHISKY

This is a controversial subject with whisky drinkers but the only right way to have whisky is however you personally enjoy it. It is after all your whisky so drink it how you like.

That being said, the general consensus with most whisky drinkers is that if you’re enjoying a single malt scotch then it’s best to have it on its own. It is also thought by some that adding a couple of drops of water to your whisky will unleash more of the subtle flavours you may miss out on when drinking the whisky neat.

Adding ice to whisky has the opposite effect that adding water has and actually impairs the flavour of the whisky as it rapidly cools it. This effect happens with other alcoholic drinks such as wine which if cooled too much will (be more refreshing but) taste duller and lose some flavour. Also with adding ice it’s extremely hard to control the dilution of the whisky as you can’t control the rate at which the ice melts.

It is also not recommended to add soft drinks to a single malt whisky as they are produced to have unique flavours and character and adding a soft drink will take away from this and mask the flavour of the whisky.

It would be extremely difficult to tell the difference between a quality single malt and a cheap blended whisky if you were to add ice and Coca-Cola so if you would prefer to have a whisky and coke there are specific American bourbons that are actually produced to be consumed this way.

Jeffrey Street is an Edinburgh whisky store, specialising in the finest Scotch whiskies as well as other spirits, craft beers and tobacco & cigars. Find us at 12-14 Jeffrey Street, Edinburgh.

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Scottish whisky for beginners: The ultimate guide by Jeffrey Street