The Classic Six: Getting into Single Malts.

I wrote a couple of weeks back about the education session I attended at Eau de Vie last Wednesday. I thought I’d whip up a quick few words about the different spirits that Barry took us through. They’re all from the fine folk at Diageo, and yes, this is a thinly veiled bit of marketing wank. There’s no malt there from Campbelltown, a recognised region for Scottish whisky that has no Diageo distillery. (Although, Oban is pretty close apparently…) That small hiccup aside, they do make a rather fine set. They cover a range of flavour and character that bookends and bridges much of what you can find on the market. A learner who has decided that Scotch is something they’d enjoy including as a regular fixture for the rest of their lives could do worse than to stock their drinking chest with these and set about getting an education. Even the most passionate and learned afficiando would agree there are far worse places to make a start.

Rather than bore you with my recollections of what these fine spirits tasted of, I thought I’d steal these wordles from Whisky, distilled, The ones they didn’t have I’ve made up. Wordles are a kind of graph where repeated words are larger than others, making a word picture you can quickly take in. I think you’ll get the gist.

You might also notice the amount of information decreases as I get through this post.


Let’s start with the Lowlands. There used to be more distilleries here, producing grain and malt whiskies but over the course of time those numbers have steadily dwindled leaving only three still producing the spirit.

Located in East Lothian, Glenkinchie can be reached by public transport from Scotland’s capital. As such the spirit has been called for some time, Edinburgh’s Malt. Distilled in Lampglass stills (which have a pretty smooth and straight exit) the malt is quite soft and delicate, a good choice for someone claiming to find the scotch too harsh or trying it for the first time. While I found this dram enjoyable, it does lack some of the complexity I have come to associate with malt whisky.

For the purpose of a six malt tasting, it makes a great start, opening up your palate to subtle flavours without burning your mouth out with too much peat smoke and salty lash.

There is a distillers edition of this malt, aged 14 years. It is finished in Amontillado casks, which is a type of Sherry from Spain, bookended by fino and olorosso, for those of you how know or care.

Dalwhinnie On to the highlands then. This is the second most prolific area for the number of distilleries and the largest land area, meaning a lot of choice and a lot of variety for the highland malt aficionado.Dalwhinnie means the meeting place. The site, the highest distillery in the UK, has long been a place where roads convergred, where rail lines passed and where Bonnie Princes marched and hid. This convergence, coupled with proximity to the crisp still waters of Lochan-Doire-Uaine, meant the site was used by illicit still operators to escape the English taxation.

Described by Barry Chalmers of Eau de Vie as a “session scotch” i’m inclined to agree. There’s a lovely tickle of peat, tonnes of honey. You can pretty much feel the highland heather brushing your knees and tickling your gonads as you run, kilted of course, through a Scottish summer day, some 15 years gone by.

It’s my favourite out of the clan of classic malts, and the one I most frequently turn to, should my day need the edge planed off of it upon my return home.

There is a distillers edition, with a black label. Aged 18 years and finished in Olorosso casks, with impart a decent nudge of colour and flavour, well worth seeking out.


North once more to the Speyside. The banks of the River Spey have produced some of the best selling single malts around the world. This little triangle is also known as the garden of Scotland.

Home to both the Glenlivet and Glenfiddich; the malts of this area epitomise not just a style but the category itself.

The distillery was opened in 1869 by a man called John Smith. He chose the sight based on his previous experience as the master distiller of both the Macallan and the Glenlivet. Proximity to the Strathspey Rail linkage; and the river waters, running fast and clear, ensured the make success.

This one too has a Distiller’s Edition, weirdly 17yrs old and finished in Port wood.


On too more serious stuff then, Talisker is a properly peaty Scotch from the shores of the Isle of Skye. Making anything in these inhospitable conditions requires a fair degree of perseverance and more than your normal degree of willingness to face adversity.

Perhaps that’s why the Talisker process remained unchanged for 175 years. That is the probable reason that after a fire (who knew a place so wet could even catch fire) in the 1960’s the wash stills were painstakingly recreated so as not to affect the glorious flavour and smooth finish that made this wee dram famous. No lesser man than Robert Louis Stevenson called Talisker ‘The King of Drinks.’

Whisky that is made and aged by the sea takes on the local characteristic. That is true of all Scotch, but seaside ones are tainted by a lick of salt, the taste of oysters and even iodine. It is a drink that is easily described as serious

The Distillers edition is aged in Sherry casks.


Oban has been described as a place where the land meets the sea. This is reflected in the whisky, where the taste of salt is married with heather. It is almost perfectly halfway between the mainland and the island drams.

One of the oldest distilleries in the country, having been founded in 1794, Oban uses tiny stills to create a tasty malt. Two brothers set the stills up and committed themselves to both excellence in production and hospitality. By all accounts they did quite well with both, as the town of Oban, named after the distillery, grew around them.

It was getting late in the tasting by this time, so my notes are a little fuzzy to say the least. It is a complex scotch, with loads of flavor but not the heft of peat you find in Talisker or Lagavulin.

The Distiller’s edition is finished in Spanish Montilla Fino casks.


If you have ever read a recipe or heard someone say ‘go and get the peatiest, smokiest scotch you can afford’ this is more than likely what they were talking about.

The distillery is on Islay. Almost half of the land there is peat bog, as such, it should come as no surprise they use a fuckton of the stuff in the production of their whisky. The water for the whisky too, runs down the hills, through the bog. It is brown and peaty, by their own admission. Anyone who has visited the South Pacific will be familiar with the term ‘Island Time,’ the same applies here. The whisky is fermented longer than normal, distilled longer than normal, aged longer than normal. They say good things take time, some might say they’re just fucking about. Whatever you say, the finished product is remarkable.

The taste is almost inexplicable. It’s like they burned down the distillery, captured the essence and squeezed it into every bottle.

The Distiller’s Edition is aged for an extended period in PX Sherry casks, so I’m kind of  surprised there hasn’t been a Lagavulin flip on the menu at Hooch in Wellington.


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