Where in the world does Whisky come from? We explore key regions across the globe, from Scotland to Japan, the USA to Australia.
Uisge beatha, aqua vitae, or even simply known as the ‘water of life’, whisky has been warming the palates of spirit lovers for hundreds of years.
Traditionally, Scotland has been widely regarded as the spiritual home of whisky and for decades, lovers of a dram wouldn’t be seen dead drinking whisky that was made from somewhere outside of this far-flung corner of north-west Europe.
These days, Scotland is still home to many of the world’s most famous and revered whiskies, however, more and more whisky lovers are now scouring the globe looking for their next fix of the water of life.
Although the Irish often lay claim to having been the first to distil and age the water of life to produce whisky, it is undoubtedly Scotland that has taken it to the people and helped cement its status as one of the world’s favourite tipples. The harsh, rugged landscape of Scotland seems to go hand in hand with whisky production and even though the country is geographically small, there are distinct regional characteristics that define the whisky landscape.
Produced in the south, lowland whisky tends to be lighter in style than its northern cousins. Glenkinchie is one of the better known lowland distilleries and their 12yo is a lesson in fragrant, fruity whisky production.
Speyside is the region around the famous Spey River in the country’s north-east and is home to some of the most iconic names in whisky such as Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Macallan. The style varies from distillery to distillery and can range from being light and grassy to being more sweetly fruited and fuller-bodied. If you’re to venture away from the more famous distilleries try the sensational Balvenie 17yo for a dram you’ll never forget.
Much like their Speyside neighbours, highland whiskies differ in style from each distillery spread across the vast wilderness of northern Scotland. Glenmorangie is perhaps the best known of the highland distilleries and they continue to release whisky with incredible depth and character. Try their Lasanta Single Malt which is matured in Oloroso casks resulting in a decedent, richer, fuller-bodied nip.
Scotland’s islands are as vast and beautiful as they are rugged and isolated but they are also home to some incredible whisky. The North Sea has a huge impact on these distilleries and there is often a distinct salty tang to the finished spirit. Names such as Highland Park, Talisker and Jura are definitely worth exploring.
And last but not least of the major Scottish whisky regions, and home to some of the most exhilarating (but also polarising) whisky produced anywhere in the word, is Islay. Islay is an island off the west coast and the whisky produced here leans towards the full-bodied with a distinct Smokey, peaty character. Not for the feint-hearted, Lagavulin 16yo is as intense and peaty a drop going around but is the perfect place to start your Islay adventure.
Perhaps one of the most exciting trends in the whisky world has been the rise of Japan as a major force in the rapidly expanding whisky universe. The roots of whisky production in Japan can be traced back over a hundred years to the creation of the Yamazaki distillery outside of Kyoto in the country’s south, where the humid climate is perfectly suited for the maturation of whisky. The other major whisky player Nikka, formed slightly later in the 1930s, is located on the northern island of Hokkaido where the climate and landscape more closely resemble that of Scotland. Stylistically, Japanese whisky has been driven more by distillation and ageing techniques rather than region, however looking at the incredible nature that the industry has rapidly matured over the last 15 years it’s going to be exciting to see how regional styles develop as the thirst for Japanese whisky continues to grow!
The good old US of A is without doubt the major force when it comes to Whiskey (spot the spelling) in the new world. Whiskey production in the US spreads the breadth and length of this vast country with the industry being highly regulated by the US code of federal regulations, who place strict stipulations on the raw materials used. Loosely, they fall under several categories; bourbon, corn, rye, Tennessee, wheat and white dog, but once more, whiskey styles here are as much driven by distillation, maturation and ageing techniques as they are by region.
Last but not least on this whistle stop tour of whisky regions, there’s Australia, which has recently seen a boom in spirit distillation of all sorts. Whisky-making in Australia may only go back 25 years, but we’ve come a long way in a short space of time with locally produced whiskies regularly competing with, and out doing, their more famous Scottish, American and Japanese peers at competitions across the globe. Melbourne-based Starward and the brilliant Tasmanian distillery Hellyers Road are definitely two names to keep your eyes peeled for.
With the advent of so many new, exciting upcoming regions complimenting the traditional homelands of whisky production, the whisky lover has never had it so good. Let’s raise a glass as we say cheers to the water of life, no matter where it comes from!