Thirst Boston, they have conducted some of these comparison tastings in the past as well as in their most recent event.
At the recent Thirst Boston, I attended the seminar and tasting class Single Malts of Scotland and it was described as: "With over a hundred distilleries, Scotland’s eponymous spirit is doubtless its best-known export. There is perhaps no finer expression than a single malt, made according to strict regulations and thus intrinsically emblematic of the place from which it comes. Join Bill Codman, Master of Whiskey, on a tour of Scotland from mountains to sea, from rolling hills of heather to desolate peat bogs, through the distinctive tastes of the single malts produced there." It was an intriguing event, with some amazing Scotch, and was a fun and tasty way to learn about the various regional styles of Scotch.
Diageo, which currently represents about 28 distilleries plus some closed ones. With his #LoveScotch t-shirt, Bill was a fun and informative presenter, obviously passionate about Scotch. If you want to learn more about Scotch, you should check out any of his future seminar or tasting events.
Bill began with providing some basic information about Scotch, noting that is is essentially a distilled grain spirit that is matured and bottled within Scotland. There are three main categories of Scotch: Grain, Single Malt and Blended. Grain Scotch is very rare, and usually a mix of barley and wheat. It tends to be sweet and usually ends up being put into blends. Single Malt Scotch must be made from 100% malted barley and made in a single distillery. Bill thinks that a better name for this would be Single Barley. Only about 8%-9% of Scotch production is Single Malt. Blended Scotch is a combination of grain and single malts and is the largest portion of production.
The flavor of Scotch can be affected by some many different factors, such as the length of fermentation, phenol levels in peat, size of still, type of still, what its aged in and much more. Scotch does not possess terroir but there are some regional differences in it. In general, Scotland is broken down into four regions: Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, & Islands. As such, there are some commonalities shared by the whiskies of each region, though it cannot be taken as an absolute.
Next up was a Scotch from the Lowlands, the Glenkinchie 12 Year Old Single Malt. There are only about 4 distilleries in this region and their Scotch tends to be lighter and more delicate. This was a light bodied Scotch, with some earthiness in the aroma, and a taste with dried grass and a hint of smoke.
We then moved onto a Speyside Scotch, the Cardhu 12 Year Old Single Malt. The Speyside makes about 50% of all the production in Scotland and their Scotch tends to be fruity, especially as they tend to use Red American oak which give more fruity notes than White oak. And this Scotch certainly had a fruity flavor, plums and figs, with an aroma of sweet Sherry. There were some intriguing spice notes as well and a lengthy finish. A very tasty Scotch.
Onto the Islands. The middle of Scotland has long possessed a great amount of forests but the western section and the islands had few trees, and thus couldn't use it as a primary fuel source. However, those areas possessed lots of peat, basically fossilized vegetation, and it could be used for fuel, though it tends to give off a lot of smoke. And that is why distilleries in those areas use peat, making their Scotch smoky.
Talisker Distillery is the only distillery on the Isle of Skye and it is a huge distillery, selling half of their product to Johnny Walker. Talisker is Bill's favorite Scotch and the Talisker 18 Year Old Single Malt was certainly impressive, and my second favorite of the tasting. With a pleasing smoky aroma with a touch of brininess, the palate possessed a moderate peaty aspect, a nuttiness and an excellent blend of sweet and salty flavors. So complex, with a lengthy finish, this is a killer Scotch which will satisfy anyone seeking a fine, peaty whiskey. Bill recommends you pair this Single Malt with chocolate or oysters.
Finally, we enjoyed the Laguvulin 16 Year Old, from an Islay distillery well known for its peaty Scotch. It definitely had more smoke than the Talisker, though it wasn't overpowering. It presented flavors of toasted vanilla, roast meat, and some pleasing earthy notes. It will bring to mind a campfire in the deep forest, which will remain long in your memory.
Which Single Malt should you drink? I say that you should taste all the Scotch you can find and then determine which ones you prefer. Don't limit yourself to one type. Enjoy them all.