Otter Lodge Blog: Breakfast Whisky?
As we are a Scottish B&B I thought it only right that that we have a blog about whisky. As you can imagine this is not a subject to be rushed into; it has taken years of research. I am very grateful for all the help given to me by my dear partner Vanessa; this is partly about her journey in visiting, literally and spiritually, the different whiskey making areas of Scotland and sampling their products.
I was brought up in Aberfeldy, a small Perthshire town, and like many others in the Highlands it has a large distillery in it. This is not the most romantic of all the distilleries and most of its product ends up in Dewar’s blended whisky. But it is important to Aberfeldy as, indeed, every other distillery is important to the village it is sited in, especially when you get to some of the more remote islands. If the distillery is going well and at full production the village will be alive, with a strong core of whisky jobs. In the mid-nineties I lived in Bowmore, on the island of Islay; a time when there was not much demand for the distinctive style of whisky produced there. All of the islands eight distilleries were on short time, some only running two days a week. Some had closed altogether. The local economy was in the doldrums: work was short and money, tight. Contrast that with today: whisky production is on twenty-four hours a day and demand outreaches supply for that distinctive Islay taste. But the really ironic thing is that all that whisky that wasn’t made in the nineties could have been sold many times over as, by now, it would be fifteen to twenty year old – about a perfect age for peaty Islay malts. If they only knew.
Geography and whisky are very closely related here in Scotland. Styles of whisky are often referred to by the region of production and generally this is a good guide to the likely character. This is not always the case, but it is most the time and a good starting point for a trip around whisky, if you’re ever introducing anyone to the world of malt. I think Speyside is the only place to begin for here lies the home of many of the most gentle and smooth of all malts. They are mostly made with spring water that comes from the granite of the Cairngorms and very lightly peated. When you add many years in a sherry barrel you end up with a dram a bit like the landscape it came from: rolling, with no jagged peaks or stormy waves.
Lovely as Speyside is, you might eventually decide that it is time for a bit more adventure and visit another area and on my map. It’s time for a visit to the Highlands. This region is much more spread about and will take a bit more traveling to get to know, but will be equally rewarding. The geography of this area is much more varied and, correspondingly, so is the whisky. Sometimes you can be mistaken into thinking that you have wandered back to the Spey; other times that you have met a more aggressive character altogether; almost threatening in it intensity but after a bit of time together a friendship might develop that is hard to leave behind.
Orkney is a place not be missed during your time in the Highlands. It is the home of some of the most convivial of all whiskys, including a personal favorite, and always nice to revisit after a bit of time away. But for a good bit of my life I have lived on one or another of the islands of the west coast and in many ways they all feel like my home. I love the craggy mountains and wild stormy seas and it’s impossible to have a tour of malt whisky without a visit. May I suggest that if you brave those stormy seas you take a guide with you; for here lies the home of some of the real hoodlums of the whisky world and it’s not a place to stagger about without a helping hand. Many people visit the islands once and are frightened off by the big peaty louts that they encounter there, so it is a good idea to tread cautiously and save the heavyweights until your are sure.
If you know much about whisky you will have noticed by now that I have missed out one region in Scotland that has a fair number of distilleries and a regional style: The Lowlands. Well to tell the truth I am not the biggest lover of Lowland whisky. Maybe I am too much of a romantic but give me a Highland glen over a lowland industrial estate any day.
Today I live on the Isle of Skye; the home to a very fine distillery a popular visit for those touring the island. Talisker is a classic example of a malt that reflects the landscape it came from, wild and craggie with a bit of romance thrown in. The exciting news for the whisky lover on Skye is that we are getting a new distillery built from a old farm steading in the south of the island. It will be a long wait to see what kind of whisky they produce. Friendly or aggressive? A whisky of the high mountains, or of the glens?