In the past, Single Malt Scotch flavour profiles were typically broken into regions within Scotland. Typically these would be the soft and fruity Speyside, the even softer Lowlands, the deep, fuller bodied Highlands, and the big peaty/smokey Island malts typically from Islay (pronounced ‘eye-la’). Cambeltown might have been thrown in so you could be told about how many distilleries it once held, even if there are only three there currently.
Life was easier back then. If you liked a malt from Speyside you could assume that others from that region would also be to your liking. You could talk about the subtle nuances that a Speyside whisky gave that no other region could top. You could avoid Islay whisky altogether - as well as the philistines that enjoyed that barbaric swill.
Well, maybe not everything has changed.
But a lot of changes have happened. Now you might find a big, smokey/peated malt from your favourite Speyside distillery. You could also get your hands on a softer, unpeated Islay Malt. Next thing you know dogs will be getting along with cats. Sign of the Apocalypse? Who knows. What really matters is: now how do you go about choosing bottle to enjoy? Well, good news! We feel your pain and we have decided to do something about it. Here is a little colour coding system we have developed to help you pick what to pick up next.
MODERATELY TO HEAVILY PEATED
In basic terms: this is the smokey stuff. It smells like your clothes after sitting all night around a campfire, or like bacon wrapped seaweed, or like something else entirely depending on who you talk to. Ultimately how it smells and tastes all depends on the where the bottle came from and your mood - which it will effect for the worse if you don’t like it but for the better if you do. You may get other aromas and flavours from these bottles, but the peat smoke will typically be unabashedly up front and leading the way.
Did you know. . . That smokey and/or peaty smell of the scotch typically comes from peat fires that are used to heat and dry the barley malt. The malt absorbs some of the peat smoke before it continues its way into the fermentation and then distillation processes, on to eventually becoming New Make Spirit and then (after at least three years in an oak barrel) whisky.
Examples: Ardbeg, Port Charlotte Scottish Barley, Bowmore, Octomore, Benriach (Curiositas and Authenicus), Talisker, Kilchoman, Laphroaig, Ledaig, Longrow, Benromach (Peat Smoke), Tomatin (Cu Bocan), Blue Hangar 6th Edition, Compass Box Peat Monster.
BIG SHERRY INFLUENCE
Do you enjoy a Single Malt with notes of sherry (weird, huh?), dried fruits, toffee, and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg? Sometimes even chocolate and earthy hints of coffee, tobacco, and leather on older versions? Check these out for a starting point. These whiskys were made up of mostly or entirely of ex-sherry casks and show that influence in spades.
Did you know. . . These casks could have once held a variety of different Sherrys within them before being used to age Whisky. There are dry and also sweet sherrys and each can add different notes to the whisky. There are also different sizes of casks used for the ageing of the sherry - typically ranging from 250 litres up to 650 litres - and this will effect the maturation of the whisky in different ways as well.
Examples: Aberlour, Arran (Single Sherry Casks 675, 696, 712), Auchentoshan Three Wood, Benromach 10yr, Bowmore (15yr Darkest, 15yr Laimrig), Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich (Malt Masters Edition), Glendronach, Kilchoman (Loch Gorm), Kilkerran WIP 5 Sherry, Macallan (Amber, Sienna, Ruby), Tomatin (12, 18, 1993 Willow Park Cask, 21, 25, 30, 40), Berry Bros. and Rudd Bunnahaban 1979 Willow Park Exclusive, Berrys Own Selection Bowmore 87, Blue Hangar 6th Edition, Kavalan Whisky Solist (Sherry Cask).
BOURBON CASK INFLUENCE
Want a Whisky with a different profile than Sherry casks impart? Malts aged in ex-bourbon casks can show notes of vanilla, coconut, butterscotch and even some toastiness. Honey, fudge and more oak spiciness can come on with age.
Did you know. . . Bourbon casks are usually far less expensive for distilleries to buy than sherry casks are. This is because by American law an oak cask can only be used once to age Bourbon. You would think the Scots had a hand in writing this law, but it was originally put in place to protect and insure the coopers union which was responsible for making the oak casks. Compared to Sherry casks, Bourbon casks tend to be more standard in size, usually holding around 200 litres of spirit.
Examples: Auchentoshan (Valinch), Balblair, BenRiach (12yr & 16yr), Benromach (Cask Strength), Bowmore (10yr Tempest), Small Batch Reserve, Glenlivet (Nadurra 16yr), Glencadam (10yr), Kilkerran WIP 5 Bourban, Lagavulin 12yr, Tomatin (Legacy, 15yr), Tullibardine (Sovereign, 20yr), Signatory 17yr Laphroaig, Kavalan Whisky Solist Ex-Bourbon.
CASK FINISHED / ACE’D
Are you looking for something a little bit different? Want to see what lies off the bourbon or sherry path? Ever wondered what a port or sauturnes cask does to a whisky? Look no further. All of these Malts started in one kind of oak - typically ex-bourbon or ex-sherry - and then were finished for anywhere between a few months and many years in a different oak cask. This will typically impart different nuances of aroma and flavour that you would not necessarily find on other malts.
Did you know. . . ACE’d stands for ‘Additional Cask Enhancement’. It was first used by Bruichladdich distillery.
Examples: Arran (Sauturnes and Port Finish), Auchentoshan (Three Wood), Balvenie (14 year Caribbean Cask, 21 year Portwood, Edradour (Sftc Burgundy Finish, SFTC Chardonnay Finish, Sftc Marsala), Glencadam 14yr, GlenDronach Tawny Port Finish, Glenfiddich 21yr Gran Reserva, Glenmorangie (Lasanta, Quinta Rubin, Nectar D’Or), Longrow (Red, Red Shiraz, Burgundy Wood Expression), Springbank Gaja Barolo Cask, Tullibardine (Sauternes, Sherry, Burgundy).
GOLD WILLOW PARK STICKER: WILLOW PARK WINES & SPIRITS EXCLUSIVE
Want to get something for yourself (or as a gift for someone else) that you cannot get anywhere else? This is what to look for. When you cannot find Scotch Expert David Michiels at Willow Park for a week or two that typically means he has headed off to Scotland to do more “research” and “hard work”. Many times when he comes back to Willow Park he has found one or two more casks for us to showcase. These are them; where Willow Park purchased the barrel or cask and had the contents bottled exclusively for us. You will not find these whiskys at any other store here in Calgary or in any other part of the world. Unless that store is also Willow Park Wines & Spirits.
Examples: Glenfarclas Family Casks 2002 and 1993, Tomatin 1993, Berry Bros. and Rudd Bunnahaban 1979, Gordan and Macphail Imperial