Defining a whisky profile according to the region of production is becoming more and more problematic as distilleries now create different styles through maturation experiments, using peat when they only produced unpeated malts, trying specific varieties of barley or producing organic batches. The comforting classification of single malts according to regions is now somewhat blurred by all that. However, it makes sense to pick out certain common character traits in 'Speysiders.' If I was asked to sum up Speyside malts' aromatic profile in just one word - it is attempting the impossible! - I would say fruit, as most single malts have an estery character which the maturation can enhance or tone down. That fruity distinctive feature is often paired with a honeyed note. We tend to differentiate between 'light' and 'heavy' styles.
A light style would describe an estery malt, predominantly matured in ex-Bourbon casks, like Glenfiddich or The Glenlivet. A heavy style would describe single malts with an oily and meaty character like Mortlach. These malts are often matured in sherry casks.
This is an important point to consider when it comes to food and whisky matching as the whisky always guides the choice of dishes.
Fish and shellfish will match with the light Speysiders. Ex-Bourbon casks imparts fresh minty or aniseed aromas wrapped in vanilla sweetness. Smoked salmon finds a good match with the sweet malty core of these whiskies (provided the single malt is not peated).
A perfect combination will be achieved with The Glenlivet Founder's Reserve, Glenrothes Alba Reserve, BenRiach heart of Speyside or Glenfiddich 12 Years Old for instance. They will also find a good balance with fish cooked in a buttery or creamy sauce and enhanced by lemon and ginger. When it comes to desserts, any fruity sweet - orchard fruit or red fruit - will match as well as creamy ones (crème brûlée, vanilla icecream, cranachan).
Now considering the 'heavy style', we have to look at meat: duck breast (with an orangy sauce), beef, venison with sherried malts like Aberlour a'bunadh (the quintessence of rich character), The Macallan Sienna, Glenfarclas 15 Years Old or Glendronach Revival 15 Years Old. Rich and velvety sauces with a spicy touch and the use of dried fruit including nuts (especially walnuts) maintain the balance and avoid the whisky overwhelming the food. These malts will also combine well with chocolate desserts and the many matured cheeses that are available.
Aromatic duos also reflect a seasonal theme. Light style single malts illustrate more spring or summer whereas autumn and winter are best embodied by heavy style Speysiders.
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