Situated at the northeastern corner of Scotland, Speyside stretches from Inverness in the west to River Deveron in the east. It is named after River Spey, by some accounts the fastest-flowing river in Great Britain, which runs through its centre. River Spey’s water has long been renowned for being pure and soft, which is excellent news to any distillery.
Its rapid current was also an effective natural obstacle that hindered the invading army of HM’s invading army of taxmen. Back in the Blackadder-ish 17th and 18th centuries, the perennially cash-strapped monarchs and parliaments came up with a litany of imaginative yet fantastically bad laws, e.g. brick tax, glass tax, wallpaper tax and window tax etc.
No more than 160km from east to west and 80km from north to south, Speyside is indubitably the epicentre of single malt scotch. Such a small area boasts nearly half a century of single malt distilleries, indeed half of Scotland’s total. It has by far the highest concentration of quality distilleries not just in Scotland, but the world over. Household names such as – and definitely not limited to – Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Macallan are the biggest-selling single malts, the only ones that rival blended scotch in terms of visibility and market share. One could that, but for its heavyweight status, Speyside would have remained a sub-region of Highland, as in the case of Island in the previous article.
Speyside is, if you like, the Bordeaux of scotch. Attractive, polished and with little if at all any peat influence, Speysiders are easily appreciated by connoisseurs and newcomers alike, and there are quality options across all price levels. What truly makes Speyside stand out, however, is its kaleidoscopic diversity, so much so that it is extremely difficult to nail down the defining characteristics of Speysiders.
In a broad stroke, Speysiders can be classified into two categories: i) the fresh and fragrant, lighter-bodied and lighter-coloured lunchtime whiskies matured mainly in ex-Bourbon casks; and ii) the aromatic and rich, full-bodied and dark-coloured dinner whiskies matured predominantly in ex-sherry casks. Below is a trio of fine examples of the lunchtime category.
Limpid amber with golden-jonquil reflex, the articulate nose presents dried fig, cardamom, macadamia, toffee and bonfire smoke. With a polished mouthfeel, the structured palate furnishes sultana, caraway, oat biscuit, fleur de sel and white smoke. Medium-bodied at 40%, the poised entry continues through a saline mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish. A showcase for Macallan’s complexity and solidity.
Luminous golden with copper-sunglow reflex, the floral nose offers tangerine peel, dried peach, rolled oats and thistle. With a lively mouthfeel, the dainty palate delivers hami melon, dried apricot, buttered toast and chamomile. Medium-bodied at 43%, the attractive entry persists through a sprightly mid-palate, leading to a clean finish. A rare find, as much of the distillery’s produce is gobbled up by blenders.
Luminous citrine with bright golden reflex, the ethereally scented nose effuses white peach, lemon curd, oat biscuit, hay bale and jasmine. With a dynamic mouthfeel, the pristine yet robust palate emanates Anjou pear, bitter almond, rock salt, bonfire smoke and paperwhite. Medium-full bodied at 43%, the delightful entry sublimates into a spellbinding mid-palate, leading to a haunting finish. A world-class nectar in every single way.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages