Whisky Magazine Issue 1
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The character of Speyside malts has been forged by geography and geology. Dave Broom looks at how remote glens and freezing water combined to produce consistent quality moonshine.
Speyside is familiar territory. The names of the distilleries trip off the tongue with ease; we think of Dufftown, Rothes and Keith as if they were just up the road. The mind's image is one not just of countryside, but of familiar, cosy countryside, within easy reach. Yet as anyone who has driven north through Glenshee and over Lecht in winter will appreciate, this is an isolated, hard land. It's this remoteness which has been the making of Speyside as a whisky region.
Now, the issue of regionality in malt whisky is a question that is destined to be debated as long and vigorously as that of who made the first whisky. The anti-regionalists argue that whisky is scientific, a man-made creation which doesn't play to the same rules as wine. There's no such thing as terroir at play here. How can there be when issues such as still shapes, the strength and length of the cut, peating levels and wood management play such an important part? Whisky is one step further removed from the earth than wine.
In many ways that's true. With the exception of Macallan and Glengoyne, no distiller believes in the varietal qualities of a specific strain of barley – the bottom line is yield, not nuances of flavour. Whether the barley comes from Moray or Mali doesn't matter either, as long as the yield is good. The only things which could conceivably link a whisky to its place of birth are peat, water and climate.
The fact that Islay's malts use Islay peat and mature by the sea does give them a bro...