The Esssence of Speyside

Our man looks to East Speyside for inspiration
By Ryan Chetiyawardana
The notion of terroir is an interesting one in whisky. Many try to group the whiskies by region stating similarities in terms of style and flavour. This continues with many bar menus, shops and retailers selling by region. Islays are presumed to be big, elemental and smoky, Campbeltown being licked by sea air, Lowlands to be grassy, light and floral and Speyside bringing orchard fruits and nutty richness.

As with every rule, there is always an exception though. In fact, in terms of Whisky, it becomes very hard to join simply due to location. Notably, there is the toffee-led lightness of Bunnahabhain on Islay, the cleaner, fruit porridge of Glen Scotia in Campbeltown and the peaty (but different to Islay peat) fruit tang of Ardmore in Speyside.

As always, I like to bolster a particular note, or showcase a hidden depth in a cocktail. For me it is the peat and fruitiness of Ardmore, the herbal notes of Fettercairn and the combination of all of these in Glen Garioch.

As with many whiskies, the styles of these whiskies have changed over the years. This is often due to influences from market demands in the case of single malts, and the blenders' desires and requirements. The most obvious of these is Glen Garioch. From the truly mind blowing fruit and peat editions from the early 70s through a more herbal stage and into the modern guise which not only has a wonderful distillate, but a great focus on good oak. The Founder's Reserve is an easy introduction, and with the extra strength and lack of chill-filtration it's great to mix with. The sweet fruits that dominate the nose begin to show a nice level of spice once mixed out.

Fettercairn, also a blend contributor, or one sold to own labels for the majority of its life, is seeing more attention as a single malt. With more care and attention being spent on the distillate as well as the blends and wood policy, hopefully we'll see more of this. Here, I've looked to open up the herbal notes I find quite unique to this malt, but you could quite easily bring out an chocolate orange character.

The smoke that's apparent in the Ardmore is very different to the Islay malts, and is coupled with a basket of fruit and spice that is very different so I've coupled this sweet smokiness with a fruitiness that balances it.

As with all these malts, the core character changes through different expressions, but the essence at the heart of the distillate still shines through, so these recipes should work with others in the range, but will require tweaks to ensure the best parts carry through.

The cocktails

C'Ardmore Sour


  • 50ml Ardmore Traditional

  • 20ml peach purée

  • 20ml lemon juice

  • 2 dashes orange bitters

  • 15ml cardamom syrup

Shake hard, double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Founder's Fling


  • 60ml Glen Garioch Founder's Reserve 15ml honey water

  • 15ml grapefruit juice

  • 15ml cherry brandy

  • 15ml lemon juice

  • 2 dashes angostura bitters

Shake all and strain over ice in a sling glass and add a dash of ginger ale.

A mint sprig.

Fire with Fior


  • 45ml Fettercairn Fior

  • 15ml Benedictine

  • 3 dashes orange bitters

  • 1 sprig of thyme

  • 1 sprig of mint

Add all to a mixing glass filled with ice. Flame 3 orange zests and 3 lemons zest over the drink, stir, then strain into a cocktail glass.

Garnish with a cherry.