Representing approximately half of Scotland’s formidable century of single malt distilleries, Speyside has been the heart of scotch since the 20th century. Meanwhile, possessing around 30 single malt distilleries, Highland remains the soul of scotch. The largest scotch-producing region in terms of both geographical area and production, Highland is also the most diverse stylistically.
Demarcated not by the Benedictines or Cistercians but by the Scotch Whisky Association, Highland comprises all the land north of conceptual line between the estuaries of Clyde and Tay. Highland is the only region that either borders or is very close to the other regions, namely – clockwise – Island, Speyside, Lowland, Campbeltown and Islay.
As a rule of thumb, albeit with many exceptions, single malts from northern Highland tend to be rich and vigorous, e.g. Clynelish; those from western Highland are predictably maritime-influenced and peated, e.g. Oban; whereas those eastern and southern Highland can be as delicate as Loch Lomond and Royal Lochnagar, or as substantial as Glengoyne and Glen Garioch. In a nutshell, Highland can be described as whatever remains on the mainland (i.e. excluding Island and Islay) that has not (yet) been grouped under the banners of Speyside, Lowland and Campbeltown.
It would appear as if Highland was created out of bureaucratic expediency, when in fact it was the result of both history and geography. As excise taxes were introduced in the 17th century for whisky distillation, many producers relocated from Lowland – this is the main reason why there are so few single malt distilleries in this region – to the north. Highland’s remote and rugged landscape not only looks pretty on postcards and chocolate boxes today, but it also helped deter taxmen back then. Its pure source of soft water is ideal for whisky production, whereas the cool and damp climate allows slow maturation.
Situated in Brechin, some 35km northeast of Scotland’s fourth largest city – Dundee – as the crows fly, Glencadam was founded in 1825 and changed hands multiple times. In 2003, it was purchased by Angus Dundee, which also owns Tomintoul and a range of blended scotches. Its source of water comes from the nearby Loch Lee, known for its pure and soft qualities. Glencadam belongs to the minority of distilleries whose whiskies are bottled unchilfiltered and without added colouring, indeed the equivalent of organic wine.
Pastel citrine with light sunshine reflex, the floral nose reveals Japanese pear green almond, oat biscuit and grassland. With a fresh mouthfeel, the delicate palate unveils black pepper, rock salt, hay bale and white smoke. Medium-bodied at 46%, the gentle entry carries onto a focused mid-palate, leading to a clean finish.
Bright citrine with shimmering sunglow reflex, the hedonistic nose offers golden delicious, rosemary, brioche and butterscotch. With a smooth mouthfeel, the pillowy palate delivers sweet ginger, thyme, granary toast and fudge. Medium-full bodied at 46%, the fleshy entry continues through a balanced mid-palate, leading to a persistent finish.
Rich citrine with bright golden reflex, the scented nose furnishes apricot, bouquet garni, crème Chantilly and musk. With a supple mouthfeel, the variegated palate supplies grapefruit, crème brûlée, salted chocolate and chanterelle. Full-bodied at 46%, the fruity entry evolves into a smoky mid-palate, leading to a memorable finish.
Tasting samples supplied by Adega Royale (www.adegaroyale.com). Macao – E:
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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