Here we have McClelland’s Speyside, brother from another region to their Islay bottling. McClelland’s range is pretty reasonably priced, so it’s not too much of a hardship to give it a go. It’s not amazing spirits, but they tend to be decent examples of the region they’re taken from, this one obviously meant to showcase what Speyside whiskies taste like. Arguably, if you had $150 to spare, you could pick up a McLelland’s example of each of the four regions and be able to make a general determination on which regions appealed to you more. (You could also try this Master of Malt Regions of Scotland sampler if you live where they let you order this sort of thing.)
This might be a good time to dig out some notes on regional commonalities. I think I’ve written before about the concept of terroir, very important in wine, the idea that the lands the ingredients are grown in are represented directly in the flavour of the product. Duh, right? But while terroir includes the micro-level idea that you could taste a difference in soil quality between barley fields or vinyards, it scales up to include local climate and all the way up to regionality and nationality. Scottish whisky tastes fundamentally different (except all the parts that taste the same) from a Japanese or Swedish or Canadian whisky because, beyond (but including) the obvious differences in methods, grains, technologies, etc, they come from different lands & different legacies. It’s the concept of “sense of place”. See also: human geography, urban planning.
This ends up getting used in tourism marketing. There’s a sense that visiting the place where your favourite kind of booze is made will inform your appreciation of it afterwards. I don’t know if that’s actually true, or if you’re just associating a lot of fun and happy memories with the taste. Maybe that’s the same thing.
My own notes on regional taste differences are limited. I love the smokey, briney-ness that is typical in Island scotches, with Islay a close second for the same reasons. I haven’t been paying attention to mainland scotch differences, which is something I’ll be doing moving forward, although I know I prefer Highland to Speyside, and have had next to no examples from the Lowlands. Here’s a regional taste map from Whisky-Pages. Singlemalt.com.au breaks the Highland region down into three subregions as well. And this Simply Scotches article gives a good general overview of the differences, although I disagree with the author with regards to the Islay/Islands comparison.
Which is kind of the other thing with having firewater as a hobby. When it comes to reading tasting notes from anywhere, take them with a veritably insouciant grain of hand picked Dead Sea sea salt, because a lot of the time they are goddamned useless. When we do a review, I present the results simply as a list of tastes that we actually perceive and whether we’d buy it again. That’s as close to data as you’re going to get on tasting. I can’t tell you what it will taste like for you, I can only tell you what we tasted. I’m not even going to tell you that we’re consistent – we may taste different things on different days, that’s kind of how the senses work and why they’re considered unreliable. It’s also why I limit how many reviews I do by myself (aside from the general taboo about drinking alone… in your underpants… in the dark, under a blanket, gently rocking back and forth) – the chances of you tasting the same way as me is about 1 in x. The chances of you tasting the same way as me, Dan, Goran, Ryan, Steph, Brenna, Devin, Jono, Vanni, Alex (and more!) is at least 10 in x. With more tasters giving more notes, there’s a better chance you’ll find someone with whom you agree often enough to rely on their recommendations. Yay comparative methodology for totally subjective and non-quantifiable experiences!
Here are our inconsistent and totally non-replicable thoughts on the bottle I may have mentioned way up there at the start of the article:
Simon – wormwood, oak, brine, not much smoke
Steph – gasoline, maple, caramel, desserty, some nut
Simon – creamy, oak, burn, perfume
Steph – not much taste, floral, perfume
Simon – much nicer, fruity, sweet, less burn
Steph – butterscotch, easier to drink, woods/forest
Try it? Meh. Buy it? Nah.