The image of Scotland has no doubt played a huge part in selling the wonderful spirit that flows from the stills located there. You just need to see the imagery used on bottles and adverts, let alone the bagpipes and tartan used on imitation 'whiskies' to see this.
Much is focused on the rugged image of the Highlands and Islands though; shrouded in folklore and mystery, and stories of illicit distilling and hiding from excisemen. Of course, this is an honest account of the tales of whisky's history in Scotland, and the accounts from workers at the distilleries paints the much more colourful background of the spirit. Recently, talking with Dave Broom and Stephen Marshall at 'Tales of the Cocktail on Scotch', and it was apparent that these stories are what makes the category so interesting, and ultimately what we buy into as consumers, suppliers and creators.
However, this is half of the story. In the same way that Scotch runs the flavour gauntlet from bold, brash and powerful, to light, delicate and floral, as does the Scottish countryside, and with it, the settings, people and tales that shape the local drams. This to me is the real motivation around terroir in Scotch. I've always argued that you can make any style of spirit in any region (note smoky Ardmore in Speyside, and lightly buttery Bunnahabhain on Islay), and it is more determined by a desire to create a certain spirit than it is the location. This is no detraction from the different regions, and as above, plays into the true heart of what makes Scotch so special.
With this in mind, I've always loved the accessibility and contrast of the Lowlands. Historically a very unique style permeated the region with a few employing triple distillation (although it wasn't as ubiquitous as often suggested). Often it's upheld that a few notables exemplified the style of the region; Auchentoshan (still triple distilled), Glenkinchie, Rosebank (RIP, triple distilled) and St. Magdalene (RIP). Although many were grassy and light, they also often had a delicate fruitiness that was reflective of the gentler surrounds. This can be found being rejuvenated in the still unreleased, amazing whiskies being produced at Daftmill, but also being alluded to with the triple-distilled Hazelburn at Springbank.
In my mind, these whiskies reflected the delicacy of the region; think gentle rolling hills, gorse and heather. The whiskies reflect the feeling of the region, and there's nothing better than a dram of one of these whiskies after a long walk. The beauty of each region is also that they're proud of their local spirit and you'll find it championed in local pubs and restaurants. However, it's getting harder to find some of these offerings further afield. Diageo do well to promote Glenkinchie through the Classic Malts series, and Auchentoshan has had a big push in recent times, but aside from the fact there's not too many of the lowland distilleries still around, many seem fixated on bigger bolder flavours - big peat and heavy sherry dominate the awards, still - and seem to neglect the delicate flavours of the lowlands.
This is also the case within many bars. Scotch seems to be employed either as a generic whisky base (where blends dominate), or as a smoky accent with little dashes of an Islay or the like. Whilst I appreciated both of these, I think they use the base spirit too generically and miss the nuances that can be explored by intelligently using a Scotch in a cocktail. It is also why I advocate the use of single malts, single casks and even fine and rare whiskies in cocktails - as long as they are used sensitively. Lowland and delicate whiskies are another component of this issue.
Give these a go, they're well suited to the character of the malts, and show that delicate doesn't mean bad, and certainly doesn't mean they can't be enjoyed in a cocktail.
- 60ml Auchentoshan
- 15ml St Germain
- 12 mint leaves
- 10ml sugar syrup
Build over crushed ice, churn, top with more ice.GARNISH
A sprig of mint and a grapefruit twist.
- 40ml Glenkinchie 12
- 10ml Bonded Applejack 20ml lemon juice
- 20ml pressed apple
- 50ml light IPA
- 15ml honey water
Shake all, strain over fresh ice.GARNISH
A sprig of lavender.
St Magdalene Old Fashioned
- 60ml St Magdalene 1982 (Douglas Laing)
- 5ml Chartreuse Yellow VEP
- 1 mint leaf
- 1 dash aged balsamic vinegar
Stir all over ice, strain into a rocks glass, filled with fresh ice.GARNISH