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Old 10-24-2005, 09:20 PM   #1
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Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: Montreal, Canada
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The Single Malt Scotch Whisky Primer

I know that untold numbers of Cigar Weekly single malt Scotch addicts - myself included - frequent the website, and this forum in particular. As well, I am sure there are many more CW members who are only now beginning to develop an interest in the single malts of Scotland. To one and all, I offer this long overdue primer, which covers the basic characteristics of those single malts I've managed to taste.

These little commentaries are my personal assessments, and they should - especially in the case of the coastal and island whiskies outlined - be taken with a grain of salt.

It would also be wonderful if others would contribute their views to this thread, particularly as regards those whiskies I haven't had the opportunity to sample yet. And I will certainly do my best to enter notations on the 'distillery style' of each new single malt I encounter, too.

OK. Are you ready? Here we go...

Aberfeldy - Highlands
A solid, middle-of-the-road, honeyed Highland malt displaying good balance and texture.

Aberlour – Highlands
Malt sweetness with fruit overtones balanced by spicy oak, often mint-like in nature. The cask-strength a’bunadh is a massive, mouth-filling Sherry-bomb.

Ardbeg – Islay
Countless strands of peat smoke tautly woven into bittersweet malt of many shadings and clean oak. Complex. Unforgettable.

Ardmore – Highlands
Sweet, farmland malt overlying subtle yet persistent smoke. Underpromoted and underappreciated.

Arran - Arran
Notably clean island spirit displaying a lightly syrupy, oily texture that complements the smokeless and faintly salty nature of the sweet malt thrust to perfection. Engaging, and a most welcome addition to Scotland's distillery scene. The high-proof releases can be astounding.

Auchentoshan – Lowlands
Barley malt imbued with sticky citrus. Becomes more sultry with oiled wood tones as it ages through the decades.

Balblair - Highlands
Less well known than its regional neighbours, Dalmore and Glenmorangie, yet certainly worthy of attention. The spirit of Balblair represents a subtle though enchanting melding of sweet malt and coastal characteristics that takes time in the glass to open up.

Balvenie – Highlands
Honeyed malt with faint peat. Complex. Balanced. The oak influence varies with each version. Hard to go wrong with any bottle of Balvenie.

Ben Nevis
A somewhat old-fashioned western Highlander that gives the Sherry wood influence free rein. Look for a sweet, often massive mouth feel.

Benriach – Highlands
Lightly spiced, often simplistic grain cereal malt. A nice canvas for the blenders under the previous Seagram stewardship, but that was about it. Watch out for the newer releases, however - particularly the peated versions such as Curiositas as well as the wood finish editions.

Benrinnes – Highlands
Grass-like malt sweetness with floral, fruit and spice overtones. Should be better known.

Benromach – Highlands
Thickly textured malt drying toward oak and smoke tones. On its way back.

Bladnoch - Lowlands
If you like the idea of herb-infused lemon loaf cake, you'll quickly be seduced by this charming, dessert-like Lowlander.

Bowmore – Islay
Sweet and sour. Fruit set against medium peat intensity and salt. From the mid teens on, an exotic gem.

Bruichladdich – Islay
Brilliant malt sweetness balanced by bracing salt and clean oak. Very subdued peat. Jim McEwan and team have turned this second-string middle-weight into a champion with panache.

Bunnahabhain – Islay
Salt and peat smoke delivered in small, fruit-drop doses. Approachable.

Caol Ila – Islay
Oil, salt, peat and crisp oak crashing into sweet malt. Usually sharply delineated. Loves being matured in ex-Bourbon wood.

Cardhu – Highlands
Smooth, medium-rich malt sweetness. Gentle. The backbone of many a bottle of Johnnie Walker.

Clynelish/Brora – Highlands
Sweet grass and fruit set against spice condiments, light brine and demure smoke. Often creamy and oily. The older examples, especially the Broras, can be astonishing.

An Cnoc (Knockdhu) – Highlands
Sweet, fruit-laden malt counterbalanced by spicy oak. Lovely stuff.

Convalmore - Highlands
Yet another episode of, "Why did they close that distillery?" Vanilla-oak overtones wrapped in intense citrus to berry malt sweetness and garnished with mint.

Cragganmore – Highlands
Complex and challenging. Long, balanced and tending to smoke-tinged stoniness. If it tastes as toffee-like as some recent editions do, then it needs to be dry-cleaned.

Dailuaine – Highlands
Fairly weighty malt with drying oak at the finish. There’s better out there, however.

Dallas Dhu
This Forres enterprise operated as a malt whisky production site for over a century, only to become a museum run by Historic Scotland and dedicated to showcasing the distilling process. The whisky? A true-blue, traditional Highland brew highlighting a solid core of malt richness leading to faint medicinal notes on the finish.

Dalmore – Highlands
Succulent, orange zest-imbued malt with a little seabreeze on the side. Enlivening and warming.

Dalwhinnie – Highlands
Mountain fields and honey-smoked apples and pears. Finely balanced. Made to please both novice and experienced enthusiast.

Dufftown - Highlands
Very malt driven, with fruits and nuts enrobed in a creamy texture. Its approachable nature can lead to an overall lack of excitement, though.

Edradour – Highlands
Sherry-softened, creamy texture. Fruits and nuts as well as very faint peat. Likable, to say the least.

Glenallachie – Highlands
Light, sap-like texture. Fruits and herbs, then drying oak. Respectable enough.

Glendeveron (MacDuff) – Highlands
Decent malt crunch giving way to an assertive and rather dry, if short, hit of spirit at the finish.

Glendronach – Highlands
Rich malt-fruit underpinned by warming spirit and some peat as well. The versions matured exclusively in Sherry cask are almost too comfortable for comfort.

Glen Elgin – Highlands
Delightfully dexterous, complex, honeyed malt sweetness balanced by softly spiced oak. Close on the heels of Balvenie and Linkwood.

Glenfarclas – Highlands
Layered malt complexity, usually with a more than merely discernible Sherry element. Fulsome. Lingering. A deserved classic.

Glenfiddich – Highlands
Arousing when young. More honeyed fruit and creamy smoothness when older. Subtle smoke. Forget your preconceptions of mediocrity and try some again.

Glen Garioch – Highlands
Grain sweetness meets root-like, sooty dryness. Can be lightly or heavily peat-reeked depending on the bottle. Genuinely unique. Autumn whisky.

Glenglassaugh – Highlands
Apples, spice and a dash of salt and spice. A nice, light mix.

Glengoyne – Highlands
Clean malt surrounded by toffee and soft oak. Most attractive.

Glen Grant – Highlands
Biting and crisp when young. Often rich and round with a pronounced Sherry influence when more mature. Nuances of nuts are usually present.

Glen Keith – Highlands
Appetizing, focused malt, if short and a little sharp on the finish. A standup-at-the-bar sort of single malt.

Glenkinchie – Lowlands
Clean, spirited barley grain. A hint of smoke somewhere or other. Sometimes a tad metallic. Not my favourite Lowlander by a long shot.

Glenlivet – Highlands
Lightly smoky, floral and herbal when young. Gains with age and exposure to Sherry wood, acquiring depth and fruit-laden richness. Where I started.

Glenlossie - Highlands
Grassy, floral, and oftentimes displaying a mouth-coating texture that bridges the buttery and the oily, Glenlossie is an 'under-the-radar' malt worthy of greater attention. The distillery is located midway between Elgin and Rothes.

Glen Mhor – Highlands
Malt sweetness leading to drier, subtle smokiness. Worth searching out if you’ve moved beyond the open for business distillery realm.

Glenmorangie – Highlands
Lightly textured yet tremendously complex. Fruit, floral and spice nuances play off vanilla-imbued oak. The Wood Finish series adds distinct colours to this canvas with varying degrees of success.

Glen Moray – Highlands
Straightforward, grain-driven malt sweetness dried by oak.

Glen Ord – Highlands
Buttery malt vies with drier spices and oak. As warming as biting into preserved ginger.

Glen Rothes – Highlands
Fruits and fruitwoods. Subtly conveyed notions of grass and smoke. Smooth and balanced.

Glen Scotia – Campbeltown
Subtle intertwining of malt sweetness and salt with a barely discernible yet lingering peat smoke effect fused into the oak.

Glentauchers – Highlands
Honeyed fruit-like malt drying toward the finish as hints of smoke appear. Unsung.

Glenturret – Highlands
Roasted nuts and lightly toasted oak wrapped in plush malt. Tasty.

Glenugie – Highlands
Smoked fruits and roots set against an intense if fleeting sweetness. Unusual.

Highland Park – Orkneys
Sherry-tinged fruit overlying subtle salt and peat. Lovely heather component. Has it all. So should you.

Imperial - Highlands
Subtle smoke squeezed amidst uplifted vegetal notions, sweet oak and malt. Good back-and-forth interplay between the crisp and the lush, though tending to fade near the close. Cragganmore's meeker sibling?

Jura – Jura
Pronounced still-house malt sprinkled with salt and, on occasion, peat.

Kilchoman - Islay
The most exciting thing to happen on Islay since the renewal of Ardbeg. Watch out for this one! Fruit-laden malt dissolves into massive peat effortlessly.

Knockando – Highlands
Berry fruit. Mints in cream. Sometimes floral. Approachable.

Lagavulin – Islay
Waves of deep, peat-saturated malt. When at its best, monumental.

Laphroaig – Islay
Iodine and peat cradled in sweet malt and vanilla-laced oak. Very marine-like. Wonderful medicine.

Ledaig (Tobermory) – Mull
Warming touches of brine, peat and spicy oak allied to sweeter malt. At its best, a classic island whisky.

Linkwood – Highlands
Very gently smoked fruit, often with a Sherry component accentuating the malt sweetness. Finely delineated. Another oft overlooked masterpiece.

Littlemill – Lowlands
Bakery sweetness. Slippery texture leading to a short finish.

Longmorn – Highlands
Multifaceted and deceptively powerful. Tremendous balance. My kind of whisky.

The smokier side of the Springbank stable of whiskies. Evergreen nuances and coal soot meet sweet malt head-on. Captivating.

Macallan – Highlands
Calvados-like fruit in the Sherry cask versions. Robust, with layers of spicy oak beneath the malt sweetness. Faint peat comes through in the long finish.

Miltonduff - Highlands
Leans to a more traditional and less overtly fruity central Highland style, with a solid malt core encapsulating drying notes of herbs and spices.

Mortlach – Highlands
As piercing and seductive as the sound of a siren calling from afar. Malt sweetness, sometimes appearing broadly Sherry-tinged and at other times more focused and coconut-like, underpinned by warming peat embers. Living in relative obscurity with its sister, Linkwood.

Oban – Highlands
A tangy touch of the sea counterpoints the malt. Faint smoke as well. Only the Sherry touch, sweet as it is, seems a tad out of place.

Old Pulteney – Highlands
Delightful coastal balance and exuberance. Links course whisky.

Pittyvaich - Highlands
A work-horse distillery in the Dufftown area established in 1975, closed during the early 1990s and then demolished a short decade later. It's make, citrus-like and oftentimes quite spirity, was primarily intended for the blending houses. That said, the odd older bottling of Pittyvaich's malt whisky may be of interest to some.

Port Ellen – Islay
Proportioned dollups of peat moss ash, salt, fish oils and sweet, sweet barley malt. Becomes more expensive by the day as stocks dwindle.

Rosebank – Lowlands
Vividly floral, herbal and fruity. A veritable pot-pourri of flavour sensations. I hope the people who felt this distillery wasn’t worth the time and money regret that decision now.

Royal Brackla - Highlands
A lesser known, traditionally styled Highland malt combining fruity richness and zesty spiciness. The distillery is sited a little ways east of Inverness.

Royal Lochnagar - Highlands
Oak and subtle smoke firm up the malt sweetness. Solid whisky in a traditional vein.

Scapa – Orkneys
Gentle melding of oiled fruits, peat and sea-salt. Lovely drink.

Singleton (Auchroisk) – Highlands
Lightly smoked sweet fruits married to the spice cupboard. Can be a little dull, though.

Speyburn – Highlands
Fruits and grains in light cream. Drier at the tail end. Not bad.

Speyside - Highlands
Sweet, smooth, nut-cereal richness, permeated by definite orange-like overtones. One to keep an eye on.

Springbank – Campbeltown
Beguiling cocktail of sweet fruits, grains and brine with warming embers lying beneath. Exceptionally refined and complex. Your cabinet is calling…

Strathisla – Highlands
The heart of Chivas pits fruits and nuts against drying, supple oak and a hint of peat. Very, very good.

Strathmill – Highlands
Crisp malt with field grass and a dash of spicy oak.

Talisker – Skye
Pulsating, fiery onslaught of marine flavours encased within oily-rich malt sweetness. Wow!

Tobermory - Mull
Essentially a lighter-style Ledaig (which is produced at the same distillery) minus any substantial peat influence. The 10-year old brings bread and butter pickles to mind, while the 15-year old Limited Edition, finished in Oloroso casks, adds a sumptuous overlay of sultana richness to the mix.

Tormore – Highlands
Some creamy malt tones touched with subtle oak and smoke. Often exhibits metallic off-flavours.


My whisky adventure began at the age of nine.
Good things DO take time!

Last edited by jazznut; 11-16-2014 at 09:59 AM.
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