Each of the five geographic regions has its own distinct characteristics that can be used as a rule of thumb when considering which malt to buy. Highland comes from the hilly northern parts of the country. It tends to be full-bodied and peaty. Speyside comes from a particular section of the highlands surrounding the Spey River on the northeast coast. These whiskies are generally sweeter, with hints of honey and wildflowers and just a touch of peat (most of my favorite whiskies are Speysides). Lowland whiskies are often triple distilled, similar to Irish whiskies, resulting in a lighter body. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Islay whiskies (from the island of Islay off the southwest coast) tend to be heavy, and are not for the faint of heart. Picture a bearded, burly and weathered old sailor who spent a lifetime fighting the salty North Atlantic, sitting next to a crackling, damp campfire of dried peat moss, and that's the Islay scotch. I have yet to sample a Campbeltown whisky, though from what I understand, they tend to be something of a mix between Islay and Highland.
Today I have a new bottle of Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt Scotch Whisky. It’s not clear how old this whisky is, but it’s less than 12 years. How do I know? Any whisky aged that long is sure to be marked, as 12 years has become something of a standard minimum for a good malt. Then there’s the fact that Bowmore also offers a 12 year old single malt.
Bowmore was established in 1779, and is currently owned by the Japanese beverage company Suntory. If you’re ever in the area, tasting tours are only 7€.
Some of the Islay Scotch Whiskies will literally knock your socks off, and I’m not manly enough to drink them with a cigar (I think I would die). But if you're interested in getting to know the Islay's, Bowmore Single Malt Small Batch is a great place to start. It has all of the characteristics of a heavier Islay malt, without being overbearing.
Nose: vanilla, toasted marshmallow, peat, peat, lemon zest, ocean.
Taste: Peat, vanilla, citrus, smoke.
Bottles of Bowmore seem to run in the $40 range, but I picked this one up at Costco on sale for around $25.
Image from maltmileage.com