Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Calling a Spey a Spey


Set along the Spey River in the Scottish Highlands, the Speyside district is the center of whiskey production in Scotland. It includes one of the greatest concentrations of distilleries in the world. Many of the biggest names in Scotch are made there, including Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Macallan and Balvenie. For people who have only tried one or two single malts, most of them have tried a Speysider.

My problem is that I've never really been a fan of Speyside whiskies. I like the intense smoke of Islay or the rugged wood and malt of the northern Highlands. Speyside is known for its smoothness, not something I find all that interesting.

Of course, the regions of Scotland (Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Islands) are merely geographic designations and don't really tell us anything about style. While there are popularly accepted regional styles, there are exceptions to all of them.

Given the importance of Speyside whiskies and the lackluster attention I've paid to the region, I decided it was high time to dip my toes in the River Spey and do some tasting. So, over the next month, I will review a series of Speysiders, and what better place to start than one of the world's most respected whiskies: The Macallan.

Macallan, owned by the Edrington Group, is known for its deeply sherried taste, which comes from aging in old sherry casks. I should admit up front that I am not, generally, a fan of sherried Scotches, so you need to take that into account. Rather than go for the regular line, which I'm familiar with, I decided to dive into a cask strength Macallan.

Tasting

The Macallan Cask Strength, no age statement, no color added, non-chill filtered, 58.6% abv, aged in sherry oak casks from Jerez, Spain. (Owned by Edrington Group)

From the minute you move your nose over this Scotch you get bowled over with that traditional Macallan sherry. I identify sherry flavor in Scotch with tastes like prune, raisin and other sweet, dried fruits. The taste of this Scotch is strong on the sherry but not as much as I expected given the smell. A few drops of water really balances out the sherry, bringing in some malt flavors and making it quite pleasant.

The fact that this Macallan doesn't carry an age statement means that there is very likely some young whiskey in it. Despite that, it has a beautifully developed reddish-amber color which denotes that enough of it has been in wood long enough to soak up some of that sherry wine red.

Despite my predilection against sherry, with water, I have grown quite fond of this Scotch, and it's one to which I will certainly return. I actually like it more than some of the traditional Macallans with age statements.

Next Wednesday: Linkwood

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