Scotch Whisky: A Brief Understanding (Part 1)
By The Whisky Librarian
To the younger generation, whisky can be an old person’s drink. To the old person, whisky was better ‘back in their day’. To the serious whisky enthusiast, many distilleries have ‘sold out’ to mass marketing, adding caramel colouring and chill-filtering to what would otherwise be good scotch. To those who enjoy a dram of Glenfiddich or a supermarket blend, the dizzying array of single malts, cask finishes and other offerings today can be incomprehensible to those without serious and detailed insight.
Yet the whisky market today attempts to cater for everyone, from easy-sipping drams and whiskies blended for use in cocktails to ancient cask-strength Bowmore that tastes like Imperial Leather soap mixed with cardboard and old fudge found in a rusty tin at the very back of the larder. Many people rigorously stick by their favourite tipple, whereas others delight in the multitude of malts, peat levels, cask types and various ages available.
These articles do not intend to provide the reader with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the Scotch whisky distilleries operating or closed, nor does it aim to pass any judgement on the wealth of bottles available in shops, drams behind bars or collections patiently passing the decades sat in dusty cellars, their corks slowly disintegrating. There is simply too much written by greater authorities who give better and perhaps fairer judgements than I ever could. Whisky is an incredibly personal drink and there are a greater variety of styles and flavours available today than ever before. I merely intend to give the reader a greater insight into the world of whisky, whetting their curiosity and enabling them to make more informed decisions based on their own preferences.
I came to enjoy whisky over several years, albeit from a rather young age. By eighteen years old, I had my first job working at a whisky shop – Milroy’s of Soho - where I was even allowed to run regular tastings. I had enjoyed a good dram for a few years already; my grandmother owned a small cottage in the Scottish Highlands roughly 15 miles west of Inverness. Views to the west displayed the majesty of the north-west highland mountains, and to the south and east rolling moors and green fields. To the north was a heathery hill, and if you climbed the shepherd’s track you eventually came to Loch nam Bonach, one of the two water sources for Glen Ord Distillery. As a 12-year-old boy, the distillery on the other side was a great mystery, especially since production affected the water levels and correspondingly how far out into the loch I could hop on a series of stepping stones. When the water was especially low, the tail of a 1950’s RAF jet bomber could be seen, which had crashed into its boggy shallows after the pilot ejected safely. Local legend has it that the RAF sent professional salvage divers to help recover the aircraft, but due to the almost opaque peaty water and a 6-foot-long pike promptly gave up, remarking ‘you didn’t tell us their were f***ing sharks in there!’.