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Pure Malt Scotch - The Best Discovered!
Food article / commentary

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane

Whisky is very simple to make. However it is very difficult to make great whisky. Essentially, whisky is just distilled beer. That's all there is to it. Malt some grain and let it ferment and then distil it! That's all you have to do.
The difference between indifferent whisky and great whisky lies in the quality of the ingredients and the way they are treated at every stage in the process. Unlike wine, there is not very much difference between the price of the very ordinary and the price of the very extraordinary (probably only a factor of two or three). Therefore it is worth seeking out the best and paying that bit extra.
The word - ‘whisky' - derives from uisge, which is an abbreviation of uisge beatha, meaning ‘water of life'. And the water is one of the important ingredients in whisky, just as it is in beer. But the grain is also important (Golden Promise barley is often used in premium whisky), as is the peat that is used to malt the grain, the strains of yeast that are used to create the alcohol and the shape and style of pot-still used to distil the alcohol. They all play their part in the final product.
The techniques for making whisky probably came to Scotland from Ireland, but you would cause a fight in a Scottish bar if you suggested that.
In this article, rather than a lengthy explanation of how whisky is created, we want to tell you about a few special ones to seek out and enjoy.
The Scottish regions produce distinctly different styles. The main regions are the Highlands (centered on the Spey River), the Lowlands (roughly from Edinburgh to Glasgow), the Campbelltown area on the Mull of Kintyre, the Orkney Islands in the far north and the western islands of Skye and Islay.
Each of these regions produces distinctive styles of whisky. But let's start with the very best - the one that tantalises our taste buds the most.
It is Lagavulin 16 year old - the smooth, refined, peaty, smoky, iodine-flavoured pure malt Scotch whisky from the southern coast of the island of Islay off the west coast of Scotland.
This is almost the perfect whisky. It is treated with restraint by the makers and there is a lovely balance between the alcohol content and the other flavours which are not dominated by raw alcohol as with some other examples from the west coast.
Drink this fine scotch after dinner or at any time of day as an aperitif. Resist the urge to pour it over ice as it will ‘dumb down' the incredibly complex mix of tastes that form the integrated whole.
In fact, Islay is such a fine producer of whisky that two of our other favourites are made here. The gigantic and iodine-dominated Laphroaig is an acquired taste, but once you have got over that first iodine shock you realise what an appealing drink it is. Lying somewhere between Laphroaig and Lagavulin on the taste scale is Ardbeg 17 year old, another stunning drink.
North of Islay is the romantic, rough and remote island of Skye with its haunting crags and cliffs. It is worth the drive to the other side of the island to visit the simple Talisker distillery, as this is another that must be on your list.
Up in the highlands there are two among the dozens of first class malts that you must try. The Macallan 25 year old is a stunner. Much more refined that its western cousins, it lingers on the palate for a long time with its attractive smoky undertones. The Glenfarclas of the same age is also an incredible drink.
We can't finish this survey without mentioning two others that are well-worth seeking out from opposite ends of Scotland. From the remote Orkney Islands, the Highland Park 12 year old pure malt reeks of heather and honey and sherry. It is one of the smoothest of all the top brands.
At the other end of Scotland in the Campbelltown district, the Springbank distillery produces whisky with a subtle hand. Try the 12 or 21 year old.
The brands we have reviewed here are all single malts. No blending is carried out. This is not to say that there are not good blended examples - there certainly are.
So go out and find one of the bottles mentioned here, sit down, pour a large splash into a brandy glass or a large wine glass (or one of the special Riedel whisky glasses linked below), swirl it around, savour the aromas then sip lightly and pick up the peat and the salt and the sherry and the smoke and then let it slip slowly down the back of your palate. The longer it lingers the better you will like it. Don't bother with ice - it will kill it. Some aficionados prefer a drop of water, but we figure that the whisky maker has already added the amount of water they think is best anyway.
There is a lifetime of exploration to do here - which is a pity because we have also written an article for this site on American whiskey, which can also constitute a lifetime of exploration. So little time, so much to try!
You can support by clicking on one of the links below to purchase a book, order a magazine subscription or order a set of the special Riedel whisky glasses from Amazon.
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