The Classic Malts of Scotland are a small group of distillers who banded together in 1988 to jointly market their single malt whiskies. The six distilleries included in the collection represent a range of styles, each coming from a unique Scotch-producing region, though the creation of a distinction between Dalwhinnie (Highland) and Oban (West Highland) may seem dubious to Scotch purists.
The raison d’être for the Classic Malts of Scotland collection is to offer consumers a selection of whiskies that represent the range of typicity they can expect from Scotland; an easy-to-understand primer of Scotch whisky. While regional styles do play a role in the style of whisky each distiller produces, there is much more than terroir to every dram. In fact, each distiller has a legacy to protect and a direction they want to take their brands in. The distillers' collection, released each year, is designed to highlight those efforts and represents the height of each distiller’s art.
The distillers' editions
With the distillers' editions, each of the six distilleries that make up the Classic Malts of Scotland has chosen a parcel of several barrels to be double-aged. After maturing in oak cask for years, each master distiller selects several barrels that have special or unique traits and then transfers the whiskies to casks that have previously held fine sherries and port.
This added ageing imparts added complexity to each whisky, while allowing them to continue to mellow and round out in barrel. These are all excellent whiskies that join together each house’s classic style and the art of the master distiller to create a whisky that is both representative of the respective houses as well as of the high art of the master distiller. These are vintage dated whiskies, a bit of a rarity among single malts, but this just adds to the unique character of each bottling. And, of course, they make great gift. I am particularly partial to the Talisker!
Gelnkinchie is typically a light and very elegant whisky full of floral and sweet citrus fruit notes. The use of barrels previously used to age the assertive Amontillado-style sherry adds a rich grapiness to the Glenkinchie and helps to bring out the darker malty tones that can be quite subtle in Glenkinchie’s regular bottlings. This distiller’s edition shows the most marked effects of the double maturation, which is not surprising when one considers the whisky, elegant to start, and the wood, quite assertive.
The Dalwhinnie distiller’s edition spends its second sojourn in casks that have previously been used to age Oloroso sherry. Dalwhinnie tends to be a light, delicate Scotch, with aromas and flavors that are said to recall heather and honey. The Oloroso casks ageing adds a light sweetness to the Scotch with bold spice notes and an overlay of vanilla.
Oban, West Highland
Oban has always been one of the most approachable single malts, with a fruity, easy character accented by judicious malt and peat overtones. The distiller’s edition sees time in barrels that had previously been used to age Montilla fino (Montilla is a region in Spain producing sherry-style wines). Fino sherry is delicate yet complex, and the fino barrels used to age this Oban seem to have added the very subtle fruit and nut notes found in the finest finos!
Cragganmore is renowned for producing intensely aromatic whiskies that are both complex and very approachable due to their innate sweetness that marries well with the light-bodied yet richly flavored whisky. The sweet, malty flavors of caramel and toffee that are Cragganmore’s signature gain an added bump of fruitiness for the ageing in port wine barrels, highlighting the rich sweetness of Cragganmore.
Talisker, Isle of Skye
Talisker is the only distillery on the Isle of Skye and always has had a rather different aromatic profile: full of seaweed and iodine with strong malty and smoke overtones. For the distiller’s edition, Talisker is aged for a second term in Amarosa (sweetened Oloroso) sherry casks. This particularly flavorful type of sherry leaves its mark on the Talisker, adding a haunting sweetness to both the nose and the palate as well as a low, lingering fruitiness that makes this rich and wonderfully easy to drink.
Lagavulin generally is a love it or hate it whisky. It is amongst the peatiest whiskies, rich with smoky, darkly earthy peat notes that are matched by an assertive peppery character. After time in barrels that previously held Pedro Ximenez sherry, which is sweet, the distiller’s edition gains a richer mouthfeel with big fruity overtones that range from raisiny fruitiness to dense, almost oily fruitcake notes.