A beginner's guide to single malt whisky

  • Breaking
  • 01/07/2010

By Benjamin Quigan

There is no other spirit I enjoy more than a well-crafted, single malt Scotch whisky.

One of the best things about them is everyone can have a different opinion on what is the best; it all comes down to personal opinion and what characteristics appeal most to you.

Why not sample from different regions, discover your whisky palate and go for a journey around Scotland – without having to leave New Zealand.

Here are a few tips to beginning your own discovery of the many great single malts:

Basics – What is single malt whisky?

What is the difference between a single malt scotch whisky and a scotch?

It’s a simple question but many may not know the answer.

Put simply, single malt is a type of whisky that is distilled in a single distillery in Scotland. The only ingredient is malted barley from a particular region.

A blended whisky will blend grains and malts from several different distilleries to form a drink that applies to the tastes of as many people as possible. 

Scotland geography

With many beverages - wines and spirits included - where it comes from plays a major part in the final product.

This is very much the case with single malt scotch.

Scotland is divided into six whisky producing regions:

  • Speyside
  • Lowlands
  • Highlands
  • Campbeltown
  • Islands
  • Islay

Although each whisky is unique, the malts produced in each region posses common characteristics.

In this article I will focus on just two regions that differ greatly in taste:

Speyside

Speyside is without a doubt Scotland’s center for whisky when it comes to the number of distilleries.

Geographically considered part of the Highlands, Speyside is actually considered a separate region - due to the size and different characteristics to other highland whiskies.

If you are new to the world of single malts Speyside is a good region to begin with. They are generally not too intense but have a rich flavour and a rather mild character.

The more accessible whiskies from this region, particularly if you are just beginning your journey, are:

  • Macallan
  • Glenlivet
  • Glenfiddich – one of the most well-known

From one end of the spectrum to the other, let’s look at the Islay region

Islay

Aa small island on the west of the Scottish mainland, Islay is home to many well-known malt whiskies.

Islay whiskies generally have a smoky character,  derived from peat wood - a central characteristic in Islay malts.

The taste and particularly, the nose is very unique - people either love it or hate it.

Some great whiskies to sample and discover if the distinct taste is for you are:

  • Lagavulin
  • Laphroaig
  • Ardbeg

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