SCOTCH WHISKY - TRULY A SPIRIT OF PLACE
Scotch whisky. It may not be quite as old as the hills that hid the early producers, the highlanders, from the soldiers and the excisemen, but this most aromatic and complex of spirits has a very long, romantic, and sometimes stormy history. While the grain may have changed over the centuries, and the manufacturing process grown more sophisticated, at heart whisky remains the product of natural, local ingredients which undergo an almost magical alchemy in a long-necked copper still. And the exciseman in Whitehall still levies his punishing taxes!
The uninitiated, driving through Scotland on holiday, might be forgiven for thinking they had strayed into an Eastern film set, such is the impact of one’s first sight of the ‘pagoda’, the pyramidal tower that is the top of the kiln. In the lowlands, the highlands and islands, and especially in Speyside, these tell-tale landmarks tell the visitor they have arrived at a distillery, a manufacturing plant like no other.
Just as there is no such thing as a bad malt whisky, so each distillery has something unique to offer; landscape, a story, a water source, a take on hospitality. Glenmorangie used to claim that an accidental dent in one of its stills gave rise to the flavour! What follows then is a brief guide to just some of Scotland’s distilleries, where the welcome is as warm as a dram by the fire on a mid-winter’s night.
Written by our Whisky enthusiast Gordon Coxhill – Vintage Acquisitions
- The Highlands
For many years aficionados of Caol Ila must have thought they were members of a secret society. The whisky was seldom seen in public and with as much as 95% of production ‘disappearing’ into blends such as Johnny Walker Black Label, it had little opportunity to build a fan-base.
Sir Patrick Manson GCMG FRS, said to be the father of tropical medicine and whose work in the field earned him the soubriquet Mosquito Manson, may be the most illustrious son of Oldmeldrum near Aberdeen, but for lovers of malt whisky, it is his grandfather and great-uncle whom we have to thank.
Local Vicar Makes Fund-Raising Appeal’. Nothing surprising about that, you may think. Until you know that in 1878 the Reverend William Sharp, who warned of the dangers of temptation every Sunday morning, was appealing to the burghers of the small Speyside town of Rothes for money to build a new distillery!
It was the rich farmland of Kintyre that produced abundant local barley, it was the ancient peat bogs and the proximity to Atlantic weather fronts that provided pure, soft water, that gave rise to the phenomenon that was Campbeltown malt whisky in the early years of the 19th century.