IF SOMEONE asked you where the home of whisky is, which areas would spring to mind?
Speyside with its plethora of distilleries? Or maybe Islay with its peat monsters? How about Perthshire? The idea isn’t as strange as it may seem at first; once Perthshire boasted as many distilleries as Speyside has now, and even today it hosts Scotland’s oldest distillery – at Glenturret – and its smallest – at Edradour.
It was also in the Fair City itself that Matthew Gloag first established himself in the early 1800s. His descendants later created the Famous Grouse, the UK’s best-selling blended Scotch. It is rich heritages like these that will be toasted at the Salutation Hotel on Saturday when drinks merchant Exel Wines hosts the Home of Whisky Festival at the start of Whisky Month – an important component of VisitScotland’s second Year of Homecoming. Here are a few of the exhibitors, with some of their well-known whiskies; all the prices quoted apply to Exel shops or online service.
How better then to celebrate Perth’s first whisky festival than with a dram from somewhere local? Blair Athol distillery in Pitlochry opened in 1798 and in 1933 was bought by Arthur Bell & Sons, now part of Diageo, Scotland’s largest distiller. The whisky is still a key ingredient of the Bell’s blend and Blair Athol 12 Year Old Single Malt (£52.99) is a particular treat on its own, with touches of toffee in amongst the sherry on the nose. On the palate, there are suggestions of chocolate mixed with rich orange flavours, which gently descend into a background of golden syrup, with a dry finish and good length.
The festival goes well beyond Perthshire, with tipples, for example, from the team at Bruichladdich on Islay – recently drawn into the giant Rémy Martin group – who have won many plaudits for using only Scottish barley. Going further though, the team have produced a number of whiskies using barley grown by individual farms on Islay. The Bruichladdich Islay Barley Rockside Farm 2007 (£45) is a fine example, with a delicate peaty nose and a powerful palate that starts with those familiar, slightly medicinal flavours of Islay, but they slowly work through into quite a soft gingeriness, although the peat does return to add skilful balance to the finish.
Two whiskies from master blender Billy Walker also caught my eye. His company bought BenRiach distillery in 2004, adding GlenDronach near Huntly in 2008 and Glenglassaugh near Portsoy last year.
Walker’s BenRiach 16 Year Old Single Malt (£46) has influences of clover on the nose and then a smooth taste of vanilla and other spices, along with slightly floral touches and a long, dried-fruit finish. His GlenDronach 18 Year Old Allardice (£64.99), which was matured in Oloroso sherry casks, shows a consequent deep colour and a vague sweetness on the nose. The palate is fully-flavoured yet silky, with a hint of banana early on giving way to creamy orange and heather sweetness.
The festival’s treats do not end there since you may also be able to sample the smooth, rich, barley sugar components of Isle of Jura 16 Year Old or, switching spirits, the equally smooth but savoury, mint and herbal influences of the excellent Botanist Gin from the guys at Bruichladdich. More reasons, if any were needed, to make sure you are part of the audience in Perth on Saturday.