Kavalan: The Rise of Asian Whisky

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Many of you might know the finesse and quality of Japanese whisky but few people might have heard of Taiwanese whisky before. It seems that as more and more Asians are getting accustomed to whisky apart from the usual blends like Chivas and Johnnie Walker, Asian producers too have jumped on the bandwagon to meet the growing demand from this group of discerning palates.

The story of Kavalan is simple. The dream of one man to produce a whisky the Taiwanese can call their own. The Kavalan distillery is the brainchild of Mr Tsien-Tsai Lee, founder of the King Car Group which hahas over 30 years of experience in the Food and Beverage industry.

Kavalan is named after the indigenous aborigines people of Taiwan that used to occupy the fertile Kabalan Plains of Yilan County which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The distillery itself is relatively new, born only in 2002 and releasing its first whisky in 2006.

If you have been to Taiwan during the summer months, you will know that the weather can get really hot and humid which speeds up the process of maturation. This explains why their whisky only needed to spend 4 years in the cask compared to the 10 or 12 years commonly seen in scotch whisky. Accompanying the hot ambient temperature is also a larger angel’s share, or the percentage of whisky loss to evaporation every year. So if you think about it, maturing for longer periods would not be economically feasible for the distillery.

I always believe that whisky will take on a certain characteristic of the area in which it was produced. I had the opportunity to try 3 different samplings of Kavalan  and I must say that it is surprisingly good for such a new distillery. There is definitely a more tropical fruitish note to their whiskies which makes it really unique. One taste that continually pops up is mangoes.

Taiwan is home to another whisky producer, Nantou distillery located at the mountainous central highlands region of Taiwan. Taiwan is famous for its 高山茶 (literally translated as high-mountain tea) and Nantou sits squarely at the congregations of these mountains making it renowned for its tea as well.

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Funny thing is, you can see the TTL logo on the packaging and bottle. TTL is the Taiwan Tobacco & Liquor Corporation, a giant state-owned behemoth. Surprisingly though, they are quite experimental in their whisky making. As I was walking to the bar one day, I met this Taiwanese stranger who offered me a dram of this OMAR Lychee Cask-Strength Whisky. Lychee, if you haven’t already known, is a very fruit native to Asia with an extremely floral aroma. Likewise, for the Japanese Hibiki which is aged in umeshu or plum liqueur barrels, OMAR was aged in lychee liqueur barrels. Taste-wise, upfront sweetness, nice floral undertones and that unmistakable lychee flavour.

Recently, Amrut has released another Asian-inspired whisky. The Amrut Naraangi was aged in barrels that previously held orange peel liqueur. Hope to see more Asian-Cask aging or finishes in the future. Considering the long tradition of distillation and drinking in Asia, I say that we have barely scratched the surface as to the cask aging and techniques that can be transferred to good ol’ scotch. As the globalization of whisky spreads, blending the East and West together, it is indeed an exciting new era for whisky.

Probably the only Organic Craft Beer Brewery in Japan.

The Zakkokku brewery in Ogawamachi, Saitama. (小川町) Just an hour ride by train from Ikebukkuro, this is possibly the most natural tasting beer you can get in Kanto.

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I had to use Google Maps because in my excitement to get a drink was too much! As shown, it has a simple front and is just a 5 min walk from the station.

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The place is run by a young couple who manages the store and brew in-house, and also by another man, the original founder whom he is the in-law.

The founder’s name is Baba-san. He has been making beer since the late 90s when he left his university professorship and never looked back. By using the fields he own in Ogawamachi, Baba-san grows his own wheat (komugi/小麦) barley (omugi/お麦) and millet .

With it, he makes 7 varietals but if i am not mistaken, only 3 are available all year-round. The 3 are the Hefeweizen, Pale Ale and Porter.

All of his crops are grown organically which brings about the most natural of flavours. The full-bodied maltiness cannot be described. It should be tasted. He brings in Germanic hops for the Hefe, uses Cascades for the Pale Ale, and i just can’t get an answer for the outstanding porter.

In case you want to give them a call or have a clear directional map, here is a picture of their business card.

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Yes, it is abit far and expensive by train. But at ¥400 for an all-organic locally crafted beer? It is worth the journey. Especially when you have a famous tofu store that sells delicious tofu donuts just opposite the station. Eat the tofu fresh in the store with just shoyu (soya sauce) and green onions is just the most subliminal experience, especially with the tofu cheesecake after. The front of the shop is shown below.

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And, if you have read till this part, there is the most amazing restaurant 20 mins away. It is secluded but it is so famous that sometimes, even NHK has their staff meeting and meals there because of the food! The restaurant used to operate at the NHK headquarters in Tokyo. But due to the age of the owners, they moved to Ogawamachi.

Who wouldn’t pay a visit if by paying just ¥1000, you get simmered sea bream straight from Tsukiji, and the best tamago ever. I kid you not.

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Trust me. This is really worth the long walk. Below is the front of the shop.

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Other than that, do drop by Ogawamachi. For the delicious organic beer, and fantastic food! Cheers!

Japanese Beer, and the rise of Happõshu.

I am sure many of you have been to Japan and enjoyed the difference of Japanese beer especially with the signature ‘karakuchi’ (dry) compared to the rest of the world. But, have you heard of Happõshu?

This, is the rise of a drink that might turn you away from Japanese beer, or have you spend less and enjoy the alcoholic high of these new beverages.

The market is now dominated by 4 larger beverage companies. Below shows the companies involved, with Asahi taking the lion’s share of the picture, as with the market.

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So what is with this sudden explosion of Happõshu got to do with lovely, simple beer? Well. It all boils down to legislation. Japanese taxes go higher the higher the malt content is in the beer. Malt, being the processed form of barley is essential for beer. But the high taxation of 67% content and above is prohibitive to sales. Thus, began the age of Happõshu. Keep in mind that liquor like Barcadi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice is also considered happõshu.

First, they started with low-malt content beer. By replacing the malt with rice and wheat. But then they realised they can sell beer even cheaper to appeal more, because of the ever depressing Japanese economy. Thus they went creative, and almost nuts. They experimented with soybean protein and pea protein to yield 0-malt beer.Tasted good even though it sounds scary. Just wait till you read what they did next.

They proceeded to make beer-flavoured beverages. Laced with spirits from barley and wheat. Most of it tastes legit and good, but the smell does not lie about its origin. You can even pick one up for ¥98! God knows what did they use to achieve such a product.

Now, don’t panic. We all love beer and alcohol. It should be treated equally and appreciated separately. But for the discerning palate and health conscious bunch out there, below is a guide to avoid buying, and drinking happõshu.

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As you can see here, the one above is happõshu. It is indicated in the bracket as 登泡酒。 Beer that uses 67% malt and more is shown in the pic below. Indicated by 非熟処理。 Or just read the all-malt label in english and 生 word. If all else fails, just buy Yebisu!

There are news circulating that the big 4 will soon shift production focus to happõshu only. But don’t fret. They won’t or else the new dawn of microbreweries would engulf Japan, and bring a new age of beer with it. Kampai!

Trip to Yoichi: Birthplace of Nikka Whisky

Masataka Taketsuru. Does that name ring a bell? Maybe you might have heard of Taketsuru before, that famous line of whisky from Nikka. Japanese whisky is currently dominated by two giants, Nikka and Suntory. How then does Masataka Taketsuru fit into this picture? He was the pioneer and the father of Japanese whisky. And did I mentioned, in his quest for the perfect scotch, he left for Scotland as a young man, working in many distilleries to gain the experience needed to start his own distillery in Japan.

Yoichi, nestled in the easterly region of Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest and most northern of the four main island. Its climate was what Masataka Taketsuru felt most comparable to Scotland. My trip to Yoichi Distillery started off in Sapporo, getting to Yoichi was a scenic 30 minutes ride on JR to Otaru, a seaside Japanese town famed for many sushi restaurants. At Otaru, I took a smaller transfer train to Yoichi which was just a 15 minutes ride through mountains and thick forest.

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You know when a town is crazy about whisky when they start selling these

Upon arrival, you immediately know that Yoichi is only dedicated to one thing, and one thing only. Whisky. I remembered that I went on a Wednesday and was surprised by the number of people who visited the distillery. At the main entrance, a kind staff told me that the tour would be self-guided and she handed me a map in English which listed the various places of interest. I was kind of disappointed because I expected the distillery tour to be one that you can actually the entire process of making whisky and the distillery workers in action. Seems like the whole setup is a bit too commercialized and they were just trying to pack as many visitors as possible.

Giant stills which are heated by direct coal fire

Giant stills which are heated by direct coal fire

The distillery tour only allowed us to see the whisky making process behind glass panels and barricades. In my personal opinion, the most interest portion of the tour are the giant copper stills that are heated by direct coal fire where the distillery workers must shovel coal into the furnace every now and then.

Yoichi's ageing warehouses

Yoichi’s ageing warehouses

You are also allowed to visit the aging warehouse, Mashing room, Tun house, blending room and Masataka’s former house. After which you are directed to a museum dedicated to the life of Masataka Taketsuru.

Born to a third-generation Sake brewing family, Masataka was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, he grew fond of the scottish tipple. Before starting Yoichi distillery, he worked for Kotobukiya, the predecessor of Suntory. The President of Kotobukiya at that time sent Masataka packing to Scotland to learn the fine art of scotch-making. During that time, most of the scotch drunk in Japan were poor quality imitations coloured to look like the real thing. The year was 1918, Masataka enrolled in the University of Glasgow and took up lodgings with a local Scottish family. Legend goes that at a Christmas party, Masataka pulled a sixpence from the christmas pudding, foretelling a bright future. His future wife, Rita Cowan pulled a ring which hinted at a future they would have together.

At the Yoichi museum, every corner will be peppered with little stories about the life of Masataka and Rita. You can imagine the parental and cultural objections they faced as a couple back then. Even so, when Masataka returned to Japan, Rita followed and supported her husband wholeheartedly. The testament to how much Rita played a part in helping Masataka and Nikka could be seen in the many buildings honorably named after her in Yoichi.

Yoichi Decade Malts

Yoichi Decade Malts

The Museum also has a paid tasting bar which offers more exotic whiskies compared to the free sampling bar down the road. Of the samples(all 15 ml) I tried, I had the Nikka 1980s(1500 yen), 1990s(700 yen) and 2000s(300 yen) which comprised of malts from that decade and all bottled in 2015. (e.g. the 1980s would contain malts from 1980-1989 meaning the malts are from 35-26 years old). The 1980s and 2000s are my definite pick, the 1990s was a bit of a letdown as they overdid the sherry on that one. I also wanted to try the Taketsuru 25 and the Yoichi Single Cask but the kind bartender told me that Yoichi is currently facing a shortage of stock. It seems that the whole of Japan is caught up in Massan(how Masataka is affectionately called) fever after NHK aired a drama about Masataka and Rita’s life. From August, Yochi will stop selling age-statement Yoichi and Miyagikyo whiskies to allow stocks to replenish.

Opposite the museum is the Single Cask Shop which used to sell Yoichi whisky straight from the cask. However, the shortage of stock means that this shop will be indefinitely closed till further notice. Shame.

Yoichi's free sampling area

Yoichi’s free sampling area

On to the free sampling area, a massive two storey hall with a heck load of tour buses packed outside. Here, you can try the Yochi 10 years old, Nikka apple brandy and Nikka blended whisky all for free. They also offer free Oolong tea and apple juice for the teetotalers out there. Skip right to the Yochi 10, thats the one you’ll want.

At the distillery store, the human traffic there is just madness. Long snaking lines with every one from young guys to old grandmas snapping up every whisky they can find on the shelves. They are all out of Yoichi 10 years to 20 years and Taketsuru 17 and 21. The only distillery edition bottles your left with are the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s and Yoichi 12 Peaty/Salty and Sherry/Sweet. Even for the bottles still on the shelves, not all are available in the larger sizes of 500ml, the 1990s is and Peaty/Salty are only available as 180ml bottles. The distillery store also sells some Yoichi souvenirs like coasters and whisky-infused confectionery and pastries. But I say to hell with that, I WANT my whiskies!

I left the store with six heavy bottles and a lighter wallet. Had a fantastic lunch at the seafood market near the train station. Now if there’s something else you gotta try in Yoich besides whisky, ask for the Yoichi-caught Uni rice bowl at the fish market. I guess it wasn’t such a wasted trip after all

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On a side note, I applaud Nikka for being forthcoming in the discontinuation of the age-statement Single Malts. I guess there really care about preserving the quality of their product that they chose to forgo selling extra stock right in the middle of a whisky fever. Keep up the good work, hopefully we’ll get to taste more of that lovely dram in the future.

Please read this Nonjatta article for the exact bottlings which are going to be discontinued here.

Whisky 101: Cask Ageing

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Basically, wooden barrels.

Casks. What are casks? Traditionally, casks (barrels) are made of wood and are used to store and transport liquids from Medieval Times to the end of the Age of Sail. People definitely used casks to store water and/or wine in their homes for use and slowly, they realised that the casks impart a certain flavour to whatever is stored in them. In the case of wine/ales/beers, it amplified the flavour resulting in a better drink. Slowly, casking and cask ageing became a thing.

So, what is all this big fuss about cask ageing and the wood associated with it? To put simply, whisky in its purest form is just a white distillate derived from malted barley. This white spirit has some flavour but lacks a lot more ‘punch’ and maturity to become a fully aged whisky. For it to fully become whisky, it has to be stored in casks and aged, allowing it to fully developed and mature in the casks and thus become whisky. In the eyes of the law, Scottish whisky has to be aged a minimum of three years and not in casks exceeding 700L in volume. You can read more here about whisky regulations. (Soon! I promise!)

Now, if you think it is a good idea to start making cask and store your own white spirit to mature, I suggest you sit down and read more lest you desire wood sap for a drink.

This beast is where all them flavours come from.

Alright. Did I get your utmost attention? Great! As this post will be a very, very long one. Casks do not just come from any wood for cask ageing. Most, if not all come from the White Oak tree. See genus Quercus. Why? Because oak has consistently proven itself to impart its flavour to whatever is casked, and also history where wine is the staple and oak is one of the, if not the wood to use over centuries of human experimentation. The wood is porous enough to allow whatever is stored inside to seep into the grain, and allows some oxidation and evaporation to occur not to the extent of spoiling the stored liquid. The chemicals in the wood, such as the phenols and tannins impart their flavours into the liquids. Examples of these are the vanilla-y flavours and the silky (siap) mouth-feel.

Us humans have become incredibly creative in our search for better flavours. We also toast the oak casks to bring out certain flavours. From fresh oak to toasted and lastly, charred. If that is not enough, we also reuse barrels that have been filled with other liquids to get those flavours for whatever we want to age. Common examples would be Port, Sherry, Bourbon and Cognac. It is uncommon but you can even see Chardonnay casks and Calvados casks being used. It all depends on the flavours that one is interested in achieving. Below is the very rough breakdown of what you can expect for the different casks used to age your preferred choice of drink. I can only provide what is common as whisky casked in Calvados and Chardonnay barrels does not come easily anywhere.

Types of Casks

Sherry – Red fruits. e.g. Cranberries and Cherries and raisins.

Port – Dark fruits. e.g. Plums and Blackberries.

Cognac/Brandy – Grraaappppeeeeesssss. Simple sugars, fruits and flowers.

Bourbon – Vanilla, oak and wild flower honey.

French Oak – Oaky and Tannic. Silky mouthfeel with a bit of a bite. Think young red and white wine.

American Oak – Vanilla and alot less Tannic. Has a floral character.

Charred Sugar Maple – Jack Daniel’s. Maple syrup. Very sweet.

*Psst. I’ve included Wikipedia links for you book worms out there.

As mentioned, these are the common types of casks used to age your favourite distillate. I hope I am able to try the Mizunara aged ones because only Japan has it. Mizunara, is Japanese Oak which is used to age Umeshu (Japanese Plum Liquor). Fuji Gotemba, Mars Distillery and even Chivas seem to have Mizunara casked whisky for purchase, but only in Japan. Now, lets move on to the next part of the casks used to age whisky. This factors ranges from the time taken, humidity, temperature and even the location where the cask is placed in the warehouse. Some whiskies also undergo another period of cask ageing or ‘finishing’ to impart more flavours, or to ‘marry’ a whisky to smooth out and harmonize the blend, instead of just being blended and then bottled.

Surprise! Here comes India!

Humidity and Temperature

Ever heard of Amrut? It is an India-based distiller who makes single malts in hot, tropical and humid Bangalore. Average humidity is 65.2% and the temperature is 29.4 to 19.0 degree Celsius. Way more than the cold, balmy and dry Scottish lands. So what does this do the whisky? The high humidity lessens the amount of Angel’s share in the barrel and thus less whisky is lost every year. However, the temperature probably overcompensates for the humidity and 10% of the whisky in the barrel can be lost annually due to evaporation. Don’t get too ahead though as the higher temperatures allow the whisky to age a lot faster than the ones in Scotland. The temperature allows the casks’ pores to open up and gives more energy to the whisky to interact with the barrel and itself. So, an 3 to 5-year-old equivalent of an Amrut might feel as old as a 12-year-old from Scotland. Heck, I might even be wrong as I’ve yet to have the opportunity to try an Amrut, and the Amrut 8 years is a Limited Edition. Most of their range comprises of NAS which we covered here, and have been loved well and wide internationally.

The Kavalan Distillery Warehouse

Location

A warehouse is a building with many shelves and racks. A barrel can be placed in the darkest, most isolated corner of the warehouse to the top shelf near the roof. What exactly does this do to the whisky? The higher you place the whisky, the higher the average temperature it is at that particular height. This increases the Angel’s Share but allows the whisky to mature faster as it concentrates the distillate. Put it in a dark corner of the warehouse? You have a whisky that is taking its time to age, mature and develop. You won’t really get to taste the effects of this as all whiskies are blended, unless it is a Single Barrel.

Be afraid. Very afraid.

Size

Now you may be wondering. All whiskies come from a cask, but not all casks are made the same. Most use the de facto size of 200L as the U.S. law states that is the required size for bourbon to be aged in. But, as you can see above many sizes of barrels exists as the rest of the world carries on without such funny regulations. The Butt, Hogshead, Barrique and Quarter Cask are common. The Tun is something you probably hear from Game of Thrones or maybe even Monty Python. Basically it all boils down to this. The bigger the barrel, the longer it takes to impart its flavours. Vice versa for the smaller barrels. The smaller, the faster it takes. This is all related to the surface area in which the whisky is exposed to. So maybe sometimes you see a Laphroaig Quarter Cask lying around, don’t go “meh, what marketing gimmick is this?  I’ll get the 10 instead.” Wrong! Try the Quarter Casks! But hey, both are amazing stuff for my peat head of a friend Jo, just not for me.

Multiple Casks Ageing

Now, this is where it gets interesting. Some whiskies only use a Sherry casks for their whiskies. However, many have opted to use multiple types of casks to age their whisky. By altering how long the whisky spends in certain casks, type and size, one can alter the flavour profile he or she wishes to achieve. An example would be a Glenlivet Master’s Distiller’s Reserve. This bad boy is aged in Ex Sherry, American Oak and lastly, plain Oak casks which they mentioned traditional. Maybe Glenlivet’s own? This is a prime example of ‘marrying’ a whisky or ageing the blended whisky.

The Solera System. Easier to understand than me writing it.

Technique

The last factor is quite limited. You have either the Master Blender or Blender to decide which whisky is blended and married together, or depend solely on a system. This system is called the Solera system originating from Spain. This system is used on Sherry, Port and Rum where the liquor is constantly mixed and blended with younger ones until you achieve one big consistent product that might even contain whisky from 50 years ago! Basically, the casks above which are younger are continuously taken to blend with an existing cask below. The lower you go, the older the product that is introduced to the blend, ending up with a Solera-based drink.

To sum it up, whisky ageing requires wooden casks, time and a few other factors as stated. Alot of work goes into one whisky and we shouldn’t just base one whisky off the age just because it’s too young. Be aware, and you can end up making decisions based on knowledge of cask ageing to get the flavour profiles that  you want!

Alright! I should be about done! Took awhile and I hope I have briefly summed up about whisky and ageing it. I will continue to update this post as to my knowledge and I hope you’ve learned as much as I do!

Glenlivet Nadurra 16 Cask Strength

Sweet! individually hand-wrapped

Sweet! individually hand-wrapped

My first cask-strength whisky that I bought and I drank. Cask-strength whiskies are a different monster altogether. Most cask-strength whiskies are bottled over 50% abv and the Glenlivet Nadurra 16 is no exception.

I remembered asking my friend to help me get it at Changi DFS on his way back from a trip a year ago. It was quite value for money(around $70+ at that time) and I was looking for a higher abv whisky because I was curious to whether it would just kill my taste buds or might it actually taste good.

I revisited this whisky today after a few months break and I’m glad to say that it still packed a punch similar to when I had my very first sip.

Aged 16 years in first-fill ex-bourbon cask and bottled at natural cask strength, meaning no water was added to the whisky to dilute it, the Nadurra (natural in Gaelic) is truly a taste to behold. My bottle was also peppered with little snippets of information such as Batch No. 0712U, bottled at 55.5% abv on 07/12. Apart from the decent packaging, the whisky bottle itself came hand-wrapped in a nice waxed-paper with the George & J.G.Smith Logo.

It is also non-chill filtered, allowing the whisky to retain a fuller body and richer texture by retaining more natural oils from the casks. Normally, whiskies are chill-filtered to prevent them from turning cloudy under low temperatures or when ice is added. Should you want to experiment, place a small glass of Nadurra in the fridge and you will see what I mean.

Now for the tasting.

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Colour: Rich golden honey

Nose: The first whiff brings a distinctive note of oak and vanilla that is reminiscence of bourbon. Really sweet and strong alcohol. Follows with a floral and nutty aroma with a slight hint of apples.

Palate: Upfront vanilla and butterscotch, really chewy and luscious if that can be a word to describe whisky. Moves on to a malty-cereal backbone and finally a burst of tangy green fruits. Pears and green apples.

Finish: Long long finish, at first bitter almond, oak and strong hazelnut. After 3 minutes, the bitterness dissipated and eased onto macadamia, especially when I moved my tongue around my mouth (not kidding here). At the 5 minute mark, something odd. I started tasting raisins.

A truly exceptional dram, unforgettable. If this has to be your first cask-strength whisky, I’d say go for it, all out. The Nadurra is also bottled at a lower 48% abv and sold at Changi DFS for those who prefer something lighter. But why bother when the real deal is right here.

Cheers!

Whisky 101:Great Whisky Regions of Scotland

Terroir.

 A set of special characteristics which whisky, wine or perhaps any agricultural product has that is affected by the climate, geography and geology of the land. I want to share with you the amazing terroir of Scotland and the variety of whisky that comes from this little part of the world. But first, a little back story…..

When I first started my whisky journey, my goal was to wean myself away from the relatively more expensive craft beer drinking sessions that my friends and I had weekly. As I trawled online for a place to purchase a decently priced single-malt whisky, I stumbled on Drinksfellas and I remembered that they had a monthly promotion for the Tullibardine Single Highland Malt 1993 Sherry finish which I purchased for a sick price of 54 bucks (sorry guys, last I checked it was $115). It was a different experience altogether, when compared with the usual Chivas that I normally drank. But one thing that struck me was the label on the bottle ‘Single Highland Malt’. What does that mean?

Tullibardine 1993 Single highland malt sherry wood

   In case you were wondering how it looked

As I went online to further my research, I discovered that whisky too has its own terroir and that the Highlands was one of the main regions in which scotch whisky is categorised under. The Highlands run through the entire central and northerly area of Scotland and comprises of many distilleries scattered throughout. One of the most ubiquitous single malts that you can find stocked in almost all bar shelves is the Glenmorangie which also comes from the Highlands.

Whisky Regions

  The six regions of Scotland, arbitrary of course

Like the Dalwhinnie 15 which is a Diageo classic Highland malt that my Kaki, Chris has written about here. The Scottish Highlands is such a diverse and large region that it is difficult to pin-point an exact characteristic that could be applied to all the distilleries in this region.

For example, Royal Lochnagar, a fruity and floral whisky similar to a Lowland malt, but when compared to a Dalmore, it is a different beast altogether. The Dalmore has a thicker and more full-bodied taste, combined with dark fruits and sherry notes.

A very vague and general rule of thumb is that one can a expect a much fuller body to their whisky when compared with the other regions.

Now before I continue with the other regions in Scotland, I would first like to put up a disclaimer. The separation Scotland into six different whisky regions that I chose is purely arbitrary. Other whisky organisations such as the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) only list five regions and others might include only four regions.

I chose this six regions as there are more things to share about how the difference in climate and geology has on the whisky. As far as I’m concerned, its like drawing borders on a map. In reality, the regions in Scotland are neither separated by man-made fences or walls.

The five regions of Scotland, according to the SWA

     The five regions of Scotland, according to the SWA

On to the next region, Speyside.

The Speyside region is actually part of the Highlands as you can see from the map above. However, there is a reason why Speyside is deserving of a region on its own.

Distilleries congregate along the banks of the River Spey

Distilleries congregate along the banks of the River Spey

As you can see, Speyside really has A LOT of distilleries and. And most of them are built around the ‘sides’ of the River Spey which might be how Speyside got its name. In fact, of the hundred or so distilleries still operating in Scotland, about half of them can be located in Speyside.

The distilleries around the River Spey are famous for producing excellent whiskies. Whisky powerhouses such as Macallan and Glenfarclas are built nearby to harness the excellent waters the river provides.

The Speyside region encompasses so many differing styles and distilleries that once again, geographical distinction is not as important as the distillery itself .

Generally, the whisky produced in the area tend to be of a sweeter dram, lacking in or totally devoid of peat and smoky flavours.

One of my favourite value-for-money drams is the Glenfarclas 105 cask-stength whisky bottled at 60% abv and can be bought at Changi Dfs.  My Kaki Chris abhors it though because he thinks cask strength sherry monster is too strong.

Lowlands single-malt distilleries in green

 Lowlands single-malt distilleries in green

The next up is the Lowlands.

The Lowlands is the region of Scotland closest to England. Currently, the Lowlands only has six operating distilleries in this whole massive region with Bladnoch, Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie leading the pack. (The other three distilleries opened only after the 2000s).

Traditionally, Lowland whiskies are usually distilled thrice(similar to Irish whiskies) compared to double distillation which most other whiskies undergo.

This means that much more trace impurities are removed from the final white spirit leaving a purer distillate that takes on a heavier character from the casks that it was matured in.

Islay, totally surrounded by the Scottish waters

Islay, totally surrounded by the Scottish waters

I’m going to introduce you the region has to be my favourite of the lot. Islay. Pronounced as eye-luh.

Personally, I’m a person who like big, bold and brash flavours. I love my Laksa, I love my stouts and I sure love my chilis. For me, Islay whiskies is a representation of all that, powerful peat, very bold and brash.

If you haven’t known what peat was, peat is the decayed plant and animal matter found in swamps and bogs that have been compressed over thousands of years.

Peat was traditionally used for fuel in Scotland and if you were wondering, much of our haze that Singapore receives are a result of peat fires in Indonesia that could burn on almost indefinitely.

Men hard at work cutting peat

Men hard at work cutting peat bricks

However, when peat is added to the fire when drying the germinated barley or malt, it imparts a smoky aroma that is often a love it or hate it feeling.

I have friends who told me that Islay’s peaty whiskies remind them of the traditional black Chinese medicine drink (not Luo Han Guo but the really bitter stuff), and I also have friends who tell me that it reminds them of eating Lay’s BBQ. I’m guessing that its hard to really explain what the taste is.

If you’re really hardcore and like the fresh hazy air every September when half of Indonesia catches fire, go for the Ardbeg 10($80.70) at Changi DFS which is one of my daily drams.

If you prefer something more balanced with hints of acidity and sweetness, something that could perhaps pass off as liquid Lay’s BBQ, I’d say go for the Lagavulin 16($74++) at Changi DFS which is also one of Diageo’s Classic Malts.

island distillery

  From the north to the south, the island distilleries are scattered throughout

The Island whiskies.

Located off the western coastline of Scotland, this regions is often subsumed under the Highlands. But for the sake of diversity, I shall go into a brief introduction of this region.

There are six main islands in this region of which seven distilleries are located. Of the big names you should know, it might come as a surprise that the Highland Park you often see at DFS is located on the Isle of Orkney and not actually in the Highland mainland itself.

The other big names are Talisker, located on the Isle of Skye which produces a salty, smokier dram. As the Islands are scattered as it is diverse, characteristics also run the gamut from the heathery-sweetness of Highland Park, fruity-citrusy drams of Tobermory to the pepper-peat of Talisker whiskies.

All that said, whiskies from this region do exhibit a slight maritime influence, being especially close to the sea. On a side note, Chris started his journey with a Highland Park 12 (2001) from Changi DFS which I find to be a wonderful whisky for starters. We would love to do a review for it but Chris’s current bottling has gone stale and is sadly, relegated to cocktail duties.

campbeltown

 Once there was thirty, now there are three

Lastly, Campbeltown.

Formerly known as the whisky capital world, there were about 30 distilleries operating during the boom years of the whisky industry back in the 19th century. Sadly, it’s a shadow of its former self with only three operating distilleries, namely Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle.

It just goes to show how fads come and go, even if its 200 years ago. The famous Springbank distillery is also one of the few distiller that produces three brands of whisky with its own character – The triple distilled Hazelburn, peaty Longrow and the namesake Springbank.

In conclusion, it can be said terroir is important in determining what profiles will be imparted to the whisky due to the soil, sea, peat and air which surrounds the various distilleries. However, terroir is not an is all end all, it is just one of the various factors which come into play.

More importantly, many of this distilleries are owned by large drinks conglomerate who want to show diversity in their portfolio regardless of regions. One should not be surprised to see slighty peaty drams coming from Speyside or perhaps a non-peated version of Islay whisky.

Across the globe, the whisky trend is reaching new heights and we can see whisky distilleries from Tasmania to Japan and India all producing a style of whisky so unique to the culture of the people, so adapted to the climate and so different from the scotch that we drink. It challenges us to define what truly is whisky and whether any good can come from this whiskies outside Scotland.

Dive in with an open mind, the rewards are greater than you think.

Cheer!