Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: The malt matters in Speyside scotches

June 05. 2018 10:53PM

The Glenrothes age their Speyside single-malt scotches in sherry casks and bourbon casks for two distinct flavors. 

I know that some of you are scotch aficionados, and so today I wanted to say a little bit about a different kind of scotch. We have taken a look at an Islay scotch a couple of months back, when I first set of writing about spirits, but today I want to look at the Speyside region of Scotland.

There are several distinct regions for scotch in Scotland — the Highlands, Speyside, the Orkney Islands, and Islay. There are a limited number of distilleries in the Lowlands. One of the highest concentrations of malt distilleries is in the Speyside region, directly east of Inverness, and northwest of Aberdeen.

To say malt distilleries, well, something needs to be said about the process of malting.

While there are wide range of flavors in scotch, they are all made from the same basic set of ingredients: barley, yeast and water. Malting is a process by which the barley component of scotch is immersed in water several times over a period of two days. This is done to trick the barley into thinking that it’s time to germinate, and which ultimately means the complex sugars in the barley are broken down and become available as simple sugars and as is the case with all fermented beverages, sugar means food for yeast, which means fermentation.

So, the barley is tricked into germinating, placed in large drums for about five days, after which it is called the green malt. It is then dried in a kiln. Flavors can be imparted to what will become the final beverage at this point, not so much from the malt itself, but by what is used to heat it. One of the classic examples of this is in Islay, where there is little natural cleaning for fires — they burn peat instead, and this gives Islay scotch its distinctive peaty flavors. (The bottom of the kiln is perforated, so the smoke goes up into the malt).

As I mentioned, Speyside has the largest number of malt distilleries in Scotland, which is important because not all malting is done at individual distilleries. Many distilleries buy malt that is made according to their wishes at other places, then shipped to the distillery in question for fermentation.

OK, back to Speyside. They do the malting themselves. And Speyside scotch tends to be produced in one of two styles. The first is light and tends to be quite fragrant with floral aromas, sometimes with significant malt flavors. Glenfiddich and Glenlivet fall into this category. The second type is richer in fruit and includes labels such as Cragganmore, Balvenie and Macallan. Best of all, whichever style you happen to prefer, these are all available at the New Hampshire State Liquor Stores.

Let’s look at two today:

The Glenrothes Sherry Cask Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume), $36.99, New Hampshire State Liquor Store: Medium intensity, it has a clean nose of medium intensity, and it’s dry, with warming alcohol, medium body, smooth texture and medium flavor intensity that includes flavors of sherry, reflecting the cask in which it was matured, some lime and other citrus hints, and a long finish.

The Glenrothes Bourbon Cask Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume), $36.99, New Hampshire State Liquor Store: Bourbon casking this time, also 80 proof, golden in color, also dry, with pronounced flavor intensity and a medium finish. The flavors include orange, hints of cedar and vanilla as well as a slight smokiness.

Next week, we’ll have a little more Speyside.

Contact wine and beer writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com.


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