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.
Some 22 years ago I toured Ireland researching its 30-plus lost distilleries for a book. Among them, I recalled two vividly – Tullamore in Co Offaly and nearby Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath – because they were still standing but utterly abandoned and dilapidated. So it was a joy to revisit them recently and see both back in operation.
I have always felt Aberdeenshire distilleries are among the most underrated in the business. They all produce great single malts but don’t get the coverage and acclaim accorded to Speyside and Islay whiskies.
Several times in Amber Lights I have urged distilleries without visitor centres to establish one, as it would be a good long-term investment. And I still adhere to that.
Of all the cereals needed to make whisky, whether in Scotland or elsewhere, barley tops the list. The reason lies in one word: diastase, an enzyme plentiful in barley which spurs the crucial switch of starch to sugars, not just in barley but in other cereals as well.
After almost two decades of everything flowing Scotch whisky’s way, two big nasty clouds are about to darken the horizon—Brexit and the Trump-imposed 25% tariff on single malt exports to the US.
One element in malt whisky-making we take largely for granted is copper.
Every year, several books or compendia of the best whiskies are published and nominate various whiskies from all over the world as their top 20, or top 10, or top five, whiskies—and newspaper headlines broadcast whatever the top nominee is. And very often the whisky is not Scotch.
Having described the effects of US Prohibition, both on America and the wider world, it is only proper to say the temperance movement a century ago was not solely a US phenomenon. In December 1920 Scotland held local referendums on outlawing alcohol and many places voted “dry” and closed their pubs and off-licences, many for decades.