First, be glad that it rains so much in Scotland. Without the rain the rivers here wouldn’t run – the Livet, the Fiddich, the Spey. Without the rain the glens wouldn’t be green and the barley wouldn’t grow tall and plump.
Be glad it’s damp here in Scotland. Peat needs a few centuries sitting in a bog to come out right. Then a breeze, and a wee bit of sun, to dry it. You burn it, with that delicious reek – the aroma – to dry the malted barley. Earth, wind and fire.
And be glad it’s cold here too. Whisky was being made in these hills for centuries before refrigeration. Cool water to condense the spirit. After all, if you’re going to leave liquid sitting around in wooden barrels for ten or more years, you don’t want it too warm. The evaporation – “the angels’ share” – is bad enough. Still, it makes the idea of “taking the air” in Speyside rather more appealing.
And if it weren’t cold and wet and damp, you wouldn’t appreciate being beside that roaring fire and feeling the taste for something to warm the cockles. Here’s a heavy glass for that dram, that measure. How much? More than a splash, not quite a full pour. Look at the colour of it: old gold. Taste it with your nose first; a whisky expert is called a “noser” rather than a “taster”. Single malts have all sorts of smells and subtleties and flavours: grass, biscuits, vanilla, some sweet dried fruit, a bit of peat smoke. Drinking it is just the final act.
Aye, with a wee splash of water. The spirit overpowers your tastebuds otherwise. A drop, to soften it, unlock the flavours. Not sacrilege – the secret. Water. Is it still raining? Let me pour you another.
Speyside’s Malt Whisky Trail (www.maltwhiskytrail.com) points you in the direction of seven working distilleries offering guided tours.
Top image © Joe Dunckley/Shutterstock