Seven special Speyside whiskies
Blessed be the bearded men in kilts who magically turned malted barley and water into liquid gold, for theirs is a wondrous alchemy that has enchanted grateful tipplers for time immemorial.
The magic happens all over Scotland, of course, but no region is more widely identified with whisky wizardry than Speyside, home to more than half the country’s distilleries including the Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, the two best-selling single malts in the world.
There are many amazing Speyside whiskies to choose from. The seven highlighted here deserve a prominent place behind the bar of any scotch aficionado.
The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve
The Glenlivet is the best-selling single-malt scotch in America, a testament not only to the marketing prowess of parent company Pernod-Ricard, but also to the whisky’s unfailing drinkability. The Glenlivet has been making scotch, and making it extremely well, for many a long year. This pays homage to the brand’s founder, George Smith, who opened the region’s first licensed distillery back in 1824. Alongside the 12-year-old, this Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve is the most delicate whisky in the portfolio. And while tyro scotch sippers will certainly find it to be quite accommodating, there’s more than enough avoirdupois to satisfy a heavyweight palate. Founder’s Reserve is a florid medley of creamy sweetness, piquant fruit flavour, and wood spice that does its namesake proud.
The Macallan Rare Cask
The Macallan is proud of its wood, and with good reason. The Spanish and American oak used to forge the sherry casks in which its whisky matures imparts flavours that dazzle and delight, from nectarous dried fruit to delectable caramel and cocoa. As folks at the Macallan are wont to point out, the ageing process is the most influential factor in producing the brand’s distinctive flavour profile. When the Rare Cask was released in 2014, it caused quite a stir. Non-age statement expressions are often (and unfairly) viewed as lesser quality than whiskies with numbers on the labels, and connoisseurs wondered if the cost was justified. Ah, but when they tasted this epic convergence of all that is desirable in scotch, order was quickly restored. Though you won’t find one on the label, this is without a doubt a whisky for the ages.
The Glenrothes Peated Cask Reserve
This non-age statement single malt is the latest addition to the Glenrothes’ Reserve Collection, which launched in 2015 and includes whiskies aged in sherry and bourbon casks. The Glenrothes Peated Cask Reserve ($55) is a nod to a 19th century partnership between the Glenrothes and the Islay Distillery Co. Islay, of course, being the epicentre of peat-flavoured scotch. The Glenrothes’ malt master Gordon Motion chose a 1992 vintage whisky and let it rest a wee bit in casks procured from Islay — long enough to impart a hint of smokiness but not so much that you forget you’re drinking a Speyside malt. It’s light in color and body, with soft citrus notes and lick of vanilla. Smells like a pair of fine leather shoes, too.
Aultmore 12 Year
Founded in 1897 when the Victorian age was waning and the whisky biz was booming, Aultmore (Gaelic for “big burn”) became a major supplier to the big blending houses of the day. As a result of being earmarked primarily for blending, Aultmore bottlings over the past century have been in short supply. So be grateful for this Aultmore 12 Year — it’s a rare treat, a light and lively dram brimming with honey, apple, and chocolate cookie flavour. You’re likely to detect some grass and grapefruit pulling up the rear as well.
Spend some time in the pubs in and around Speyside and you’ll find the locals share quite an affinity for Glenfarclas, which has been family owned and operated since 1865. With the Glenfarclas 17, as with most Speyside whiskies, the sherry influence is evident from the first sip — raisins, cinnamon, and nutmeg are front and centre, with subtler citrus and sawdust notes. It is perfectly balanced between the smoothness of younger whiskies and the concentrated flavours of older barrelings.
The Balvenie Doublewood 12-Year-Old
Few, if any, malt masters have garnered more accolades than David Stewart of William Grant & Sons, proprietor of the Balvenie and Glenfiddich. Stewart’s been at it for 54 years, making him the longest-tenured malt master in the industry. For all he’s accomplished, Stewart’s crowning achievement may very well be two-cask ageing, a technique he pioneered in the 1980s. The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 spends 12 years in second-fill American oak soaking up vanilla, walnut, honey, and biscuit notes, before six months of finishing in Olorosa sherry casks that impart depth and rich fruit flavours.
Glenfiddich Unique Solera Reserve 15-Year-Old
Another delightful whisky crafted by legendary malt master David Stewart. This is the first single malt to use the innovative Solera maturation process, in which whiskies of various ages from three different barrel types are married in a giant vat. The resulting spirit, the Glenfiddich Unique Solera Reserve 15, is sublime, with notes of toffee, cloves, and freshly churned butter. As smooth, balanced, and intense a Speyside whisky as you’ll find.