When it comes to Scotland’s whisky-producing regions, some have more clearly defined tastes than others. Mention Islay and any whisky lover envisages bold, brooding, peaty drams. Venture to Speyside and, even among the incredible cluster of distilleries, the overarching style falls somewhere between the lighter, honeyed malts typified by The Glenlivet and the brawnier, sherried stylings of The Macallan.
The Highlands, however, evades such pigeonholed profiling. For one, the region encompasses such a vast swath of Scotland that it’s divided into cardinal area classifications (such as The Dalmore in the North Highlands and Oban in the West Highlands). Add to that the sheer range of brands, blends and single malts, age statements and barrel finishes and the choices seem endless.
How to characterize Highland whiskies? In a word, variety. For the whisky fan, that means an array of tantalizing possibilities. From sweet and full-bodied to delicate and dry to fruity and spicy, Highland whiskies — like the geography itself — cover an expansive territory.
Where to start your explorations? An easy, casual option is to host a whisky tasting so you can hone your appreciation and entertain some pointed perspectives. Simply circulate a list of possible labels and let your friends select which one to bring. Limit the range to certain styles, age statements or price points for the sake of comparison.
Keep in mind that whisky tastings are meant to be fun and informative get-togethers, not stuffy affairs. They’re all about eyeing, sniffing, sipping and sharing — literally, getting into the spirit of it. Get the glasses ready, keep some water on hand to cleanse the palate, and jot down notes to compile a running chronicle of personal rankings. Pour modest-sized samples to give equal billing to each release and let the discussions and debates fly.
Blind tastings may be to your liking, too. Designate someone to pour the samples out of sight, revealing the labels only once the favourites are ranked and notes are compared. Either way, a tasting gives you a much better appreciation for your preferred style, which will help wherever the whisky trail leads to next, from Highland to island to Lowland and to the countless whiskies of the world to come.