From the humble base of barley, Scotland's master distillers are able to conjure a vast array of spirits - some intense, medicinal and full of smoke; others with almost sprightly light fruitiness. Those whiskies made on the coast have a seaweed salinity which can transport you with a sip to the windswept Scottish shores. And then there's the influence of the barrels - those seemingly inert vessels where the spirits rest for years - sometimes just three, and sometimes decade upon decade. These wooden casks impart flavours of toast, of vanilla, and even a trace of their previous occupant - the nuttiness of an Oloroso Sherry, perhaps, or the coconut sweetness of a Bourbon.
While the subregions of Scotland are associated with differences in flavour - the characteristic smokiness of Islay malts, for example, or the mellow richness of Speyside whisky, it would be wrong to take these traditions as unwavering laws. Scotch distillers are constantly innovating and evolving, and there is such vast diversity of flavour and style available that even the seasoned connoisseur can be surprised again and again.
Anybody who associates scotch with old men, darkened bars, and cold weather would do well to look at Ardbeg's intergalactic whisky project.
Yes, you read it right - intergalactic whisky! In a trailblazing experiment looking at the way physical environment affects the maturation of whisky, the team at Ardbeg launched vials containing molecules of terpenes (compounds crucial to the flavour of whisky) into outer space where they spent three years on the International Space Station. It's hard to imagine two more different locations for maturation - resting quietly in vast oak casks, undisturbed for many years in the darkened cellars of Isla, or on the International Space Station, moving at supersonic speed - 17,227mph to be exact - orbiting the Earth fifteen times a day! Samples from the two were compared in a Houston laboratory, and in September 2015 a White Paper was published which describes the effects of an anti-gravity environment on one of Planet Earth's greatest drams!