Here in Scotland, the 30th November is a special date celebrating our national day and the day of our patron saint, Saint Andrew. One of the best ways to celebrate is by enjoying a dram of our national drink – Scotch whisky. November’s eight whiskies of the month each has a fascinating Scottish story to tell, relating to parts of our great nation’s history and traditions.
Lowlands – Ailsa Bay
Our journey begins in South Ayrshire near the little, coastal town of Girvan. On the outskirts of the town sits the Girvan distillery, an immense complex known for producing Girvan Single Grain Scotch whisky as well as the Single Malt, Ailsa Bay. This single malt gets its name from the Ailsa Craig, a tiny island located just off the coast in sight of the distillery. The Ailsa Craig is famous for its blue hone granite, a rock which once quarried is then used to make curling stones for ice curling.
Scotland has a reputation for being rather good at ice curling. Back in 2002 Team GB won their first Winter Olympic gold medal in 18 years for ice curling, unsurprisingly the team all hailed from Scotland.
Ailsa Bay has an unusual style for a Lowland Scotch whisky due to being peated. This means that you’re going to find this dram smoky, earthy, and peppery balanced with a lovely sweetness hidden underneath all that. This makes for a great winter warmer.
Highlands – Ben Nevis 10
For our next single malt, we head to the Highlands to focus on one of the nations most iconic images; Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles.
Leafing through a magazine of Scotland you can be sure to come across an image of Ben Nevis reflecting the rugged Highland landscape. A popular walking destination, 100,000 visitors make the ascent to the summit every year.
If you are one of the many who are planning a hike to the pinnacle, you will definitely require a dram to celebrate with at the top and Ben Nevis Single Malt is the perfect whisky for the occasion. The Ben Nevis distillery is nestled at the foot of the mountain and is one of the oldest licensed distilleries in Scotland having started distilling in 1825.
This 10-year-old expression is rich, robust and will impart aromas and flavours of chocolate orange, coffee, and tropical fruits. Perfect after a hearty hike.
Speyside – Glen Grant 12
The Speyside region of Scotland is full of history and intriguing stories. Speyside is the whisky-making capital of Scotland, with roughly half of all Scotch whisky distilleries located here. This doesn’t just happen by chance though, there are a few reasons as to why this fantastic region is popular with whisky distillers.
Firstly, Speyside is known for having rich and fertile soil, perfect for crops of barley to grow, and we all know that without barley there is no Scotch. The River Spey and its tributaries trace their way across the landscape providing an outstanding water source – another essential for producing whisky.
The region was popular as far back as the 1820s due to it being a great place to hide a whisky still in the undulating hills, miles from the large cities. Heavy taxation in the 1700’s encouraged distilleries to risk distilling illicitly, however the 1823 Excise Act reduced the taxes and made it much easier to legitimately produce Scotch whisky; all you had to do was buy a license to distill first. This helped to legitimise and grow the Scotch whisky industry and the Speyside region flourished.
One of the distilleries to benefit from this new law was Glen Grant. The distillery was built in 1840, by two brothers, John and James Grant, who were both former illicit whisky distillers and smugglers. When the new law was put in place, the brothers applied for their license and began creating lawful whisky.
Glen Grant 12 is a classic Speyside Single malt that’s incredibly fresh and fruity. Expect lots of apples, pears, banana, and honey with this dram.
Campbeltown – Glen Scotia 18
Another region famous for making Scotch whisky is Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula. Just like Speyside, Campbeltown has a strong history and tradition when it comes to whisky making. In the region’s heyday there were over 30 distilleries making Single Malt Scotch whisky in this small area. Unfortunately, there are now only three distilleries still producing the national dram.
The decline in Scotch whisky production is this region is due to the Great Depression and Prohibition in the United States. Campbeltown’s main export was to the USA and so when drinking was limited in the country, this had detrimental effects on the Scotch whisky industry.
Our Campbeltown whisky of the month is the Glen Scotia 18, which was notes of toffee, dried fruits, tropical fruits and sea salt, which is typical for the region.
Islay – Bunnahabhain Stiùireadair
For our Islay Single Malt, we’re focusing on the languages of this great nation. There are three languages spoken here in Scotland; English, Scots and Scottish Gaelic. Head to the Highlands of Scotland or to the West Coast, especially the western isles, you will find Scottish Gaelic being spoken regularly.
One distillery that celebrates the Gaelic tongue is Bunnahabhain, which can be found on the beautiful, island of Islay. Most distillery names are based on Gaelic but Bunnahabain goes one step further and names most of their expressions in Scottish Gaelic as well. For example, our Islay whisky of the month is the Bunnahabhain Stiùireadair.
Bunnahabhain (boo-na-hah-ven) in Scots Gaelic means “mouth of the river” and Stiùireadair (stew-rahdur) means “helmsman”. This particular expression pays homage to the Helmsman, displayed on every bottle that comes from the distillery. The single malt represents their origins, a link to their past, and a symbol of their enduring appreciation of the sea.
Unusually for an Islay Single malt this is an unpeated whisky which means you won’t find any smoke from this, however it has notes of vanilla, spice, dried fruits, nuts and a hint of salt.
Blended – Johnnie Walker 18
We are tremendously proud of our national drink Scotch whisky here in Scotland. We’re so proud of it that we love sharing it all over the world, which makes in one of our main exports. According to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), 41 bottles of Scotch whisky are being shipped from Scotland to 175 markets around the world every second.
One of the main export brands is, Johnnie Walker which is famous throughout the world. For November, we are focusing on the 18-year-old which is also made up 18 different Scotch whiskies. This expression is rich and sweet with notes of brown sugar, toffee, caramel, and vanilla.
Liqueur – Atholl Brose
Food is also very important to us here in Scotland, if you visit our beautiful country you will find a range of authentic Scottish cuisine. There’s obviously haggis, neeps, and tatties but you can also find other classics like stovies, cullen skink, clootie dumplings, tipsy lairds, cranachan, and an atholl brose.
Atholl brose is a traditional drink which is made from oats, honey, whisky and sometimes cream. It is a traditional drink at Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve).
If you would also like to try some food from Scotland’s rich larder, why not head to our Amber Restaurant and try some of the fantastic cuisine we have to offer.
Luxury – Tullibardine 25
To complete the whiskies this month we’re going to focus on the Tullibardine distillery. Located in the Highlands, between Perth and Stirling the distillery has been around since 1949. Looking closely at the bottle of Tullibardine you see reference to the year 1488, which to many causes confusion due to the fact the first written reference to Scotch whisky was in 1494: eight years after the year on the bottle!
Confused? Here’s the explanation and a story about King James IV to help us. The tale goes that King James IV visited a brewery that was located where the distillery now stands. King James was travelling to Scone where he was to be coronated and decided to buy a barrel of beer when he came to visit. It was in 1947 that the conversion began to change the original brewery into Tullibardine Distillery. This makes it clear that Scotland has a long tradition for making alcohol and it’s probably safe to say that we’ve gotten quite good at it.
The Tullibardine 25 has been matured ex-sherry hogheads and you will find lots of toffee, orange, banana, and chocolate with this luxurious single malt.
With these eight different expressions, we think you’ll find that Scotland has a lot to celebrate on November 30th and you are more than welcome to join us if you decided to visit us this month. As always, all these whiskies are available in the McIntyre bar at the end of your tour and the Amber bar. Happy St. Andrews Day from all the team. Slàinte Mhath!