The Five Types of Scotch Whiskies and Why I Hate Them All
Originally published Sep 23, 2017 at Rakbo.com
I recently came back from a trip to Edinburgh. While the trip included stunning mountain views, shopping for my family’s tartan fabric and walking along the winding stone lanes between hilly shop corners, one thing to know about Scotland is that the Scots love to drink. Just as central to Scottish identity as wearing a kilt and playing the bagpipes, is enjoying the many scotch whiskies that have made the region so famous. I have Scottish blood running in my veins, and I have fallen in love with the many hills, lochs, haggises and plaid of my motherland, but I must confess: I hate scotch.
Let me explain: I also hate most alcohol and I can basically only tolerate champagne or vodka, as when I drink them, they are always mixed with copious amounts of juice or soda. My fiancé, however, is a whisky connoisseur. He thinks that the amber-colored liquid of my ancestors is the sweet nectar of life. So, because we brought some bottles home with us, and I have nothing better to do on a Wednesday evening recovering from jet lag and wanderlust, let’s take some sips and learn something new!
THE FIVE TYPES OF SCOTCH WHISKIES
There are five types of scotch whisky and they are made in five different regions of Scotland. They all have differing tastes – or so I am told – based on many different factors. I won’t delve too much into the whisky making process but at the end of the line, the whisky, made from different fermented grains, is stored and aged in wooden barrels. The gist of it is that different types of wood and different lengths of time give different flavors to the brew, which are all unique to the region where it was made. Join me in my descent to buzzed blogging and grimaces as I explain each type!
The lowlands cover the bottom half of Scotland and are typically characterized by warm floral notes of grass, honeysuckle, and cinnamon. The whiskies are generally light and gentle, without the fiery “peat” flavor. For this taste test, I sipped the single malt whiskey, Auchentoshan. While I still gagged and winced at the flavor, I guess I could describe it as “warm” and that it would have had a better flavor if mixed with a bottle of Coke.
The highlands are Scotland’s largest whisky producing region, and encompasses the upper half of Scotland. This region is known for mountainous terrain, and the whisky notes usually have hints of heather, oak, and pears. For this taste test, I used Glenmorangie. As I choked down my millimeter of liquid, I wondered why I decided to do this to myself. I could not parse the hidden notes of flowers or fruit, but let’s assume they are truly there.
Speyside is a region in the north-east of Scotland along the edge of the North Sea. The flavors of the region are generally warm, almost autumn-like scents, with apple, nutmeg and vanilla being predominant tones. As regret welled in my eyes, I somehow swallowed a teardrop of Glenfiddich. It was as terrible as I expected, and I longed for a carton of lemon juice and sugar to make a makeshift whisky sour.
The Campbeltown region of Scotland is located in the south-west in a peninsula that juts out to the Atlantic. The flavors of Campbeltown are generally dryer, with notes of brine, toffee, and peat. With shaking hands and a developing headache, a single drop of Springbank dripped to my tongue from the bottle. I faced my fears and tasted my tears as a drought burned my insides. This is a dry whisky, and also a whisky I would very much never like to taste again.
Islay is produced on one of the surrounding islands of Scotland and is the smallest whisky region. The flavors commonly associated with Islay scotch are smoke, capers, and seaweed. It is described as salty and smokey, like something fit for the Greyjoys in Game of Thrones, who worship the Drowned God. Interestingly, the only flavor I could decipher from my minuscule amount of Ardbeg was fire. It burned me the entire way down my throat, and I vowed to myself as I sat on the floor of my apartment surrounded by decanted whisky bottles, that I will never do this again.
Although I will never do this experiment again, I encourage you to try if you are of legal age and curious! Let me know if you agree with my tastes, or if you think scotch is liquid ambrosia in the comments below! Also, if you’d like to snoop on my travel photos from Edinburgh, check out my Instagram @emalicethomas.