It is interesting how whisky distilling has changed, from the days of illicit stills in remote caves to the big pot and column stills of today. Yet the central process, separating alcohol from water, remains the same.
This summer has spawned many articles and TV programmes on 1918, being the year women – or at least some of them – got the vote and the First World War ended.
It seems the range of Scotch whiskies—malts, blends, blended malts or single grains—mushrooms by the day. Some single malts now exist in 12 or 15 different variants (or expressions, as the chosen term seems to be), blended whiskies also come in different versions and prices and hardly a week goes by without a new blended malt or range of malts from different areas hitting the shelves.
Aberdeenshire, and the North-East generally, have lost many distilleries over the decades, but those which have survived are currently thriving. These include Fettercairn, Royal Lochnagar, Glengarioch, Macduff/Glen Deveron, Ardmore, Glendronach, Glenglassaugh and the quaintly-named An Cnoc.
Although all whisky fans have their own favourite malt, many agree the best “all-round malt” is Highland Park. It has that combination of nose, mouthfeel and finish that makes it many aficionados’ first or second choice. However, one wonders how a distillery beside Kirkwall in Orkney got called Highland Park, as the nearest Highlands are miles south across the stormy Pentland Firth.
It is impossible to downplay the importance of the United States for the Scotch whisky industry. The Americans have long had a passion for Scotch and they are still our biggest export market by value (they like good malts and the best blends), although France is the biggest by volume.
Although Scotch whisky is doing exceptionally well at the moment, it is always worth looking a year or even several into the future to see where the industry is heading and where it might be a decade or so from now.
We know that alcohol and homo sapiens have been best buddies for thousands of years. However, it is still much debated: Is it the greatest social drug ever discovered? Or the bane of mankind?
As someone who has banged the gong for whisky tourism and urged distilleries to open visitor centres, I’m delighted to see that everyone from the Scotch Whisky Association to VisitScotland is singing from that same hymn sheet.
New whisky distilleries are not just a Scottish phenomenon, they are springing up in England, too, even in London. So far there are six south of the Border, and all are keen to make their mark.