When in Scotland, whether you live there or travel there on holiday, you have the distinct and memorable opportunity to tour one or more whisky (spelled without an ‘e’ in Scottish English) distilleries. Distilling whisky is something the Scots take great pride in and once you visit, you’ll understand why.
There are about 125 whisky distilleries (some active and some retired) throughout the different regions of the country, each with its own unique characteristics and beautiful landscape. Each whisky is different, too. Whisky from each region differs in aroma, color, and taste. There are four traditional Scotch whisky regions; the Highlands, the Lowlands, Islay, and Speyside.
Highland whiskies cover a broad spectrum of styles. They are generally aromatic, smooth and medium bodied, with palates that range from lush complexity to floral delicacy. The sub regions of the Highlands include Speyside; the North, East and West Highlands; the Orkney Isles; and the Western Islands (Arran, Jura, Mull, and Skye).
Talisker malts are peated which means the damp malt is dried over a peat heated fire and the smoke gets into the barley. The difference in the smokiness of the whisky depends on the time the barley is exposed to the peat smoke. If you pour a few drops of the whisky on the palm of your hand and then rub your hands together you can actually smell the peat smoke! Talisker malts are some of the smokiest outwith Islay... the smokey whisky region.
Making whisky begins with barley which is made wet and left to germinate, spread across a malting floor. The trick to malting is stopping the germination before it gets too far along but letting is germinate long enough to convert the starch in the barley to sugar. This step takes a lot of attention as the barley must be turned over regularly and constant moisture and temperature must be maintained. The end of the germination period is marked by the drying of the barley over a fire, often heated by peat.
When the malt is dry it is ground into coarse flour called grist. The grist is added to hot water in a giant vat called a mash tun. The grist and the hot water produce a sugary liquid called wort which is then put in a wood or stainless steel vat called a wash back. Yeast is added in order to start the fermentation process. The yeast and sugar produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. At this stage the wort becomes a strong, flat beer.
|Wash Backs at Glenkinchie|
|Stills at Glenkinchie|
|The Spirit Still at Glenkinchie|
After at least three years in a wooden cask the spirit is bottled. Generally the longer the whisky sits in the cask the more flavor and characteristics it possesses. Unlike wine, whisky doesn’t mature in the bottle so a twelve year whisky stays a twelve year whisky.
Scotland makes me excited and whisky, a big part of Scotland, also makes me excited. Whisky is the subject of song and poem, the heartbeat of many Scottish traditions, the muse to many and the catalyst to friendly gatherings. It warms people during the cold, dark winter nights and refreshes into the late, bright summer evenings.
Whether you enjoy whisky with a drop of water to release the natural oils, with a cube of ice to chill it, or if you even like it at all; distillation is a time-honored and culturally rich tradition in Scotland. A distillery tour is a must-do attraction when visiting the homeland. Sláinte Mhath! (pronounced 'slanzh-va', which means 'good health' or 'cheers’ in Gaelic)