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Issue 5 - Sugar and spice and all things nice

Whisky Magazine Issue 5
August 1999


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Sugar and spice and all things nice

In the final part of his nosing course, Charles Maclean suggests that classifying malts by region has little meaning classification by flavour is more useful: but how on earth do you do it?

Traditionally, malt whiskies have been classified by region: first Highland/Lowland, then Highland/Lowland/Islay/Campbeltown/Speyside, then a proliferation of sub-divisions of Highland and Speyside. The original division – and to an extent the later sub-divisions – discerned differences in the flavour, style and character to be found in the various regions. Such a break-down was seized upon by writers in the 1980s, when malt whisky began to be more widely appreciated, since it was a convenient way of communicating the virtues of single malt, distinguishing it from blended whisky and begging comparison (for the consumer) with fine wine.

With greater understanding of the influence of production and maturation upon flavour – to some extent inspired by the demand for single malts – it has become possible to produce malts with similar characteristics almost anywhere in Scotland.

But not quite anywhere. The essential distillery character is unchangeable. But you can easily alter the degree of peating of the malt. You can extend your fermentation times; alter your distilling programme. Vary the wood in which you mature your whisky: has it not been said that this can contribute up to 80per cent of the mature product?

So where are your regional differences now, when Islay-style whiskies can –theoretically, at least – be produced on Speyside? And with the increasing interest in individual cask bottlings (which emphasise the difference between one cask and the next), the...

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