It’s Festival Time 2024

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It’s Festival Time 2024

June Outturn 2024 Ambassador’s Address

 

The whisky festivals around Scotland are back and booming. A celebration of the regions, the people, the distilleries, the music, and the amazing amber liquid that pours forth.

When talking about regionality in Scotch whisky, it can sometimes seem a bit redundant. In fact, each passing year the regions become less and less relevant to the wider discussion of whisky.

To really examine this, one should ask what the role of the Scotch whisky regions are to the consumers of great Scotch whisky. First up, it’s worth acknowledging that ‘regionality’ in Scotch whisky is fairly unique to whisky. No one really talks about Irish whiskey in regions, and you don’t ever hear of people preferencing Northern Irish over Cork or Southern spirit. That would be odd. Same with American whisk(e)y: yes, you occasionally hear people say they “prefer Tennessee over Kentucky” or vice versa, but rarely do you hear about actual regionality in America when it comes to spirit. Australia is currently giving it a red hot go with a differentiation between Tasmanian whisky and Australian whisky (don’t call Tassie whisky Australian!) But in reality, it’s not really differentiated enough, nor distinctive enough to really draw that line just yet.

 

But in Scotch whisky, we’ve had a long attachment to Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown, and Islay. And no, “Islands” is not a formal region, even if some like to pretend. But…we’ve attached these regions originally to differentiate the stylistic differences in spirit character coming out of them. Much like wine, Cognac, Armagnac, and other brandies use regularly, regions are hooks for us to initially understand style and flavour. Just like how if you’re a wine drinker you’ll enjoy and understand the differences between say a pinot from Mornington vs a Syrah from Napa Valley. So, this either assigns a level of agricultural complexity to create this, or we purely still use it out of habit?

A study about colour bias in wine sticks out to me in particular: In 2001, researchers from the University of Bordeaux asked 54 undergraduate oenology students to test two glasses of wine: one red, one white.

The participants described the red as “jammy” and commented on its crushed red fruit. The participants failed to recognise that both wines were from the same bottle. How useful is regionality here, let alone red or white wine differentiation? There’s also an assumption that whisky is somewhat less earth-borne than wine, which I would argue against, but it certainly does go through a bit more production usually. Even countries barely get a mention when talking about other spirits, let alone regions. Beyond picking a Russian, French or Australian vodka, we certainly don’t ever say “Well, I prefer South Australian quadruple-distilled vodka personally”. Why not? It’s (almost always) grain, it’s come from a farm, it’s been distilled…

SMWS at Islay House for Feis Isle 2019

 

Where I think this all lands on the scales is somewhere between “regions might need some examining” or “in the end, who cares?”. What I think the discussion around regionality in spirits mostly misses, is the other tangents that make the product, like the casks, people, grain access and quality, and intended style. You can’t legally make Scotch whisky in Scotland that goes out of its way to not taste anything like Scotch whisky, but you can make heavily peated whisky in the lowlands and no one will get upset anymore. Perhaps the broader discussion around regionality should be about intention and stylistic benchmarks. Maybe more about barley strains and yeast selections. More about wood choices and geographical imprints…

Take a deep dive into this month’s Outturn for the regions of Scotch whisky that we have on offer for our massive festival issue as we head into the colder months of dramming. Each week we’ll release more festival spirit, from our Rare Releases of each region — stocks are strictly limited.

We also have a double virtual locked in: a 5x dram set with 30mls of each region represented, PLUS the mega 12x sample box with EVERY festival release included. Both are in quite short supply so don’t snooze on these.

We’re super pumped to bring the full festival spirit to Australia almost at the same time that the UK are celebrating these Fèis Ìle releases + more, so we hope to see you at one of our events around the country this month, and/or in our virtual events!

 

This article is featured in June 2024 Outturn — bottles will be available to purchase on Friday the 7th of June at midday AEST exclusively to members of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Not a member? Click here to learn more about the world’s most colourful whisky club.

2024-05-29T10:29:57+10:00

About the Author:

Matt Bailey is the Branch Director for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Australia. He's tirelessly trying to meet every member and share a dram with you all.

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