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Whiskey list

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Over the last decade, single-malt whiskey has grown markedly in popularity and price - an understandable trend, given its richness and complexity. Here is a quick primer on the subject:

First, some terminology:

  • Whiskey (spelled whisky in the UK) is an alcoholic beverage derived from barley.
  • Grain whiskey is made from unmalted barley.
  • Malt whiskey is made from barley that is first malted - that is, sprouted and dried. The extra steps of sprouting and drying are part of what makes malt whiskey more complex and more expensive than grain whiskey.
  • Scotch whiskey is by definition made in Scotland. Malt whiskey produced elsewhere can't be called Scotch (just as a sparkling wine produced outside Champagne, no matter how fine, can't be called Champagne).
  • Single-malt whiskey is malted whiskey distilled at a single distillery (for example, Cragganmore, more on which below).
  • Blended whiskey is a mix of malted and grain whiskeys (for example, Johnnie Walker).
  • A single-barrel single-malt, or single single, is a single malt produced from a single barrel. By contrast, a typical single malt is mixed from multiple barrels at a single distillery to achieve a consistent house style. Single singles are the most sought-after, rare, and expensive of all whiskeys. They are often signified with a vintage, such as the 1949 Macallan.

Second, some points on geography. Scotland is generally divided into four main regions: Highlands, Lowlands, islands (chiefly Islay, pronounced eye-luh), and Campbeltown. Each region is known for a certain style, with the Highlands perhaps the most approachable (and most widely known), and the islands, with their strong notes of smoke and sea, taking a bit more getting used to.

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