Whisky Magazine Issue 44
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How important is regionalism to the character of whisky, and can broad generalisations be made? Ian Wisniewski considers
Choice is a beautiful thing, and we've never had so much. But choice without guidance can also be counterproductive, as knowing where to start when faced with several hundred malts can be a real challenge.
That's where the concept of regional character comes to the rescue, providing sound-bite definitions of what to expect from Highland, Speyside, Lowland, Campbeltown and Islay malts.
However, as these are inevitably generalisations, the real issue is whether there are more exceptions to the regional rules rather than compliance.
Defining the Highland style for example, typically raises a list that includes peaty, fruity, spicy, floral, heather and honeyed notes. So, quite comprehensive, with various characteristics hardly exclusive to the Highlands.
Moreover, what does a standardised list of flavours imply about the range of Highland malts?
“In any group where you have 60-odd distilleries, if they weren't individual then what would be the point?” asks Jens Tholstrup of William Grant.
Dividing such a large area as the Highlands into Speyside, or even progressively smaller areas, doesn't make the regional definition any more definitive. Discussing Speyside also raises the question of where the borders of the Spey valley actually lie, as they can vary depending on who you ask.
Even looking at Dufftown as a microregion with six distilleries reveals plenty of range, and sub-dividing Dufftown to compare three neighbours, The Glenfiddich, The Balvenie and Kininvie, also ...