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‘O thou, my Muse! guid auld Scotch drink!’

Burns Night is approaching on the 25th January so here is a little whisky guide to help you find the right dram to raise in memory of the great poet.

According to the Scotch Whisky Association the term 'whisky' comes from the Gaelic 'uisge beatha' or 'usquebaugh', meaning water of life. In Scotland it is spelt without the ‘e’ that the Irish and Americans use to refer to their malt liquor Whiskeys. Its distinctive flavours come from a wide range of influences, including the local whisky culture, the water source, the malt it uses, the type of distillation still and the barrel aging process.

In order to be called a malt liquor whisky, it needs to be aged for at least 3 years in oak casks. The choice of barrel and how long the whisky is matured for will have a big influence on the end result. There are different types of oak used to make the barrels, for example American Oak will often impart notes of vanilla, fresh fruit, honey and coconut. European Oak in contrast will give more notes of dried fruits, cinnamon, nutmeg, caramel, orange, chocolate and Christmas cake.

Another important factor in choosing the right barrel matured whisky is what it was used for prior to being used to age whisky inside of it. Here is a list of common sources for whisky casks and the typical flavours they impart:

Oloroso or Amontillado Sherry – nuttiness, dried fruit, and spice notes.

Madeira – fruity flavours with hints of almonds, marzipan and nutmeg.

Port – plum, bramble, blackberries, strawberry jam, cherry and sultana.

Wine – depends on the wine used, e.g. Rioja will give lots of colour and spice whilst Burgundy will have a more subtle impact.

The distilleries will often select locally sourced water and malt, ensuring that each distillery has its own terroir, in a similar way that wine has a sense of place thanks to the local environment. There are 5 Scottish Whisky producing regions, Speyside, Lowland, Highland, Campbeltown and Islay, each with their own distinct style. Below is a quick guide to the various regional styles:

Taken from


Found on the northern coast of Scotland and centred on the River Spey, Speyside is the most densely populated Whisky region in the world. The whiskies made here are known for being light with the peat and full of fruit flavours. Apple, pear, honey, vanilla and spice are common tasting notes from this region, as is the use of Sherry casks in the maturation process.


The Lowlands region can be found in the south of the country. Soft and smooth malts are the calling card of this region, delivering a gentle, elegant flavours reminiscent of grass, honeysuckle, cream, toffee, toast and spices such as ginger and cinnamon. These whiskies are often lighter in character when compared to other regions.


The Highlands, which also takes in the islands (excluding Islay), has a huge range of flavours and characteristics, which reflects the wide diversity of terroir found across the largest of Scotland’s Whisky regions. Often the region produces well rounded spirits but there are also lighter more delicate whiskies, salty coastal malts from the islands, and everything in-between.


Campbeltown is situated on the Kintyre peninsula on Scotland’s west coast and produces whiskies that are full of intense flavours. Here you will find hints of salt, smoke, dried fruit, vanilla and toffee mingling in whiskies that are made in a robust and rich manner. Once a major whisky producing region with around 30 distilleries, today there are about a tenth of that number.


Islay (pronounced ‘eye-luh’) is a beautiful island where most of the population are involved in making whisky in some form or another. It is located just off the west coast of Scotland and is famous for medicinal, heavily peated whiskies. These gargantuan spirits are smoky, intense and bold, not one for the faint hearted and seen by many as an acquired taste.

Our full selection of whiskies can be found here. If you want to learn more why not come to our Scottish Whisky Tasting with Speyside Distillery on Thursday 1st February at 7.30pm in our Hurstpierpoint Store. Tickets can be bought online here or in in store. Until then "Slàinte Mhath" (Good Health) to all you whisky fans.


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