On dark, misty winter nights in Scotland, it’s easy to understand how the reviving properties of whisky have led to it being such a huge part of the culture. Now the spicy scent and warm intensity of Scotch whisky is one of the quickest ways to transport yourself in mind and spirit to the windswept hills and glens of this rugged northern country – a true taste of its romantic heritage.
“Scottish (Scotch) whiskies are produced across the five main whisky regions of Scotland, all of which have their own unique style and flavor profile,” Steve Rush explains. “Lowlands whiskies are light and fresh, Highland whiskies are smooth and floral, whiskies from Speyside are fruity and rich, Campbeltown whiskies are briny and coastal, and Islay whiskies are peaty and medicinal.
“There are five types of Scotch whisky: single malt whisky, single grain whisky, blended malt whisky, blended grain whisky and blended whisky. All of these are usually distilled twice and need to be aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels before they can be legally classed as Scotch whisky.”
Outside of Scotland, Scotch has long been popular with a rarefied few, but over the last couple of decades interest in single malts has skyrocketed, particularly in the USA. When her father Alan Shayne launched The Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America in 1993, Gabrielle Shayne recalls that “America was right on the cusp of the single malt ‘explosion’. It wasn’t as popular as it is today. Not many people knew what single malt Scotch whisky was, but people were starting to gain interest and he knew there was a niche for the product.
“Interest in Scotch whisky has changed enormously [since then], and even more so since I joined the team in 2007. We’ve seen massive growth in the category…and I expect it will continue to grow and act as a catalyst for other types of emerging whiskies.”
Anyone who has visited the Emerald Isle may regale you with stories of ordering pints of Guinness late into the night, but Ireland also has a long tradition of distilling whiskey. “Ireland produces a number of whiskey types,” Rush continues. “Single pot still whiskey (a style of whiskey unique to Ireland), single malt whiskey, single grain whiskey and blended whiskey, all of which have to be aged in oak barrels in the Republic or Northern Ireland for a minimum of three years.
“Irish whiskey was traditionally known to be smooth and fruity in style, but with double distillation now being used by some producers instead of the traditional triple and the increasing use of peat, there are now also a number of smokier and fresher styles being produced, along with an ever-growing increase in different cask finishes, such as rum and wine.”