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Whisky: A beginners guide

North Yorkshire native Ben Bowers is a whisky vlogger and enthusiast who recently raised several thousand pounds for charity with a year-long whisky sampling challenge. In this issue of Wine & Dine Yorkshire, Ben brings you up to speed on the popular tipple.

People who don’t drink whisky often say ‘it all tastes the same’. As someone who sampled 366 different whiskies in 366 days to raise money for charity, I can say with some confidence that this definitely isn’t the case. But for those who don’t drink whisky, or those who enjoy the occasional dram, the world of whisky and whiskey is a bit of a minefield. So here are a few pointers:

The Magic ‘e’
As a rough rule of thumb, depending on how you spell whisk(e)y depends on where it is made. Scotch originally spelled it without the ‘e’, so Irish and American producers added the ‘e’ as a point of difference. Canadian and Japanese producers wanted to associate themselves with Scotch, so spell it without the ‘e’.

A Single or a Double?
Single Malt whisky is whisky produced using just malted barley from a single distillery. You can make whiskies using rye, corn and other grains but they won’t be ‘Malt’ whisky. If you combine malt whiskies from two or more distilleries, they then become a ‘Blended Malt’ (there’s no such thing as a ‘Double Malt’). If you combine malt whiskies with another type of whisky, it then becomes a ‘Blended Whisky’. The vast majority of blended whiskies you’ll find (Bells, Famous Grouse etc) are a combination of Malt whisky to provide richness and complexity and Grain whisky, which is cheaper and easier to make but has less depth of flavour.

Made in Scotland
There is no such thing as an Irish or American Scotch. Scotch whisky is made in Scotland. Scotch whisky itself is split up into geographical regions which offers a rough guide to different styles of flavour within the country.

Speyside is probably the best known region in the North of Scotland, and has the biggest concentration of distilleries – Glenfiddich and Macallan are here, but look out for Benromach and Glen Moray as great examples that are really good value. Lowland whiskies are from anywhere south of Glasgow to Edinburgh, and tend in the main to be lighter – Auchentoshan is a great example. Highland whiskies cover everywhere else on the mainland – Glenmorangie is arguably the biggest name, but the likes of Old Pulteney and Clynelish are well worth seeking out.

Islay is a small island that is big on character, known for big, powerful whiskies with intense smoky and salty flavours. It’s not to everyone’s taste, especially the peat monsters of Ardbeg and Laphroaig, but those who love it, LOVE it and more subtle releases from Kilchoman and Bunnahabhain are a great starting point. Distilleries on the other Islands tend to be grouped together, such as Talisker on Skye and Highland Park on Orkney, but remember each distillery is different and it’s impossible to generalise.

Despite what anyone might say, there is no such thing as a whisky ‘expert’, as it’s physically impossible to try every release out there. There are only whisky lovers and enthusiasts, and the best ones out there will share their knowledge with you but recognise that all tastes are different and that you can’t tell anyone they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ if they do or don’t like a particular dram. The most important thing to ask yourself is simply ‘Do I like it?’

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