The romantic notion of the Highlander producing whisky on the sly to feed his family became a thing of the past as whisky producing became mainstream, but the region still has a few old distilleries that have kept their secrets. It's remarkable then that Chivas Brothers this year released Secret Speyside, the single malt set for aficionados, from four of Speyside's most elusive and secret distilleries - Glen Keith, Caperdonich, Braes of Glenlivet and Longmorn. Priya Kumari Rana speaks to Alan Winchester, Master Distiller, The Glenlivet, Pernod-Ricard-owned Chivas Brothers, about this special collection
How did the idea of the Secret Speyside collection come about?
We know the global whisky community is constantly seeking rare and exciting expressions to add to its collection. When our experts unearthed 15 single malt whiskies from four of Speyside's revered, yet seldom-seen, distilleries, we knew we could create a truly remarkable collection. We wanted to give whisky connoisseurs a chance to discover these hidden treasures. With Speyside's rich history and heritage in distilling some of the best whiskies in the world, we saw an opportunity to create a collection that would not only taste impeccable but also inspire the drinkers to discover the fascinating stories behind the bottles.
When you picked these 18-30 year old whiskies, what was the criteria for selecting the four distilleries that you picked?
Firstly, the liquids had to be of the highest quality, showcasing the flavours from across the region. The four distilleries boast individual characteristics, meaning that while all are from the Speyside region, each produces different tasting liquids, which gives the collection a great deal of depth - there truly is something for everyone.
Secondly, but of equal importance, was that the distilleries had to encapsulate Speyside's rich heritage and have a story to tell. The four distilleries we chose serve as a testament to the region because they each tell their own unique tale of Speyside's history. Yet, because they remained relatively undiscovered and hidden from the public, they have become revered and their liquids rare.
What is it that unifies these single malts?
The Secret Speyside collection offers whisky connoisseurs the chance to uncover, sample and collect 15 single malts from the heart of the Speyside region that have rarely been made available in the past. While they are unified by their rarity and how each distillery has a unique story to discover, each single malt is distinct and rich in character, offering unplumbed depths of flavour from smooth and fruity to peated and smokey.
What is it about Speyside that makes it the 'heart' of whiskies the world over?
Each whisky region in Scotland has its own character and taste, but Speyside whiskies are renowned for their incredibly high quality, and that is why this region has the largest concentration of distilleries in Scotland, possibly in the world. Speyside sits in a fertile valley of rivers and glens and the sheer purity of these waters is one of the key elements in making Speyside whiskies so great.
And why are these whiskies deemed a 'secret'- is it because they are rarely sold as single malts?
The bottles in this collection have been sourced from four of the region's seldom seen, yet highly sought after, distilleries, making the bottles quite rare. Some are even in finite supply and, once gone, they will be gone forever, so this truly is a remarkable collection.
Have all or some of them being featured in Chivas blends - and if so, which ones?
We don't give away exactly which whiskies we use in all of our blends, but due to the quality of the single malt from these distilleries, we can safely assume that they have appeared in some of the highest quality blends we've created for Chivas.
What's of particular interest is the six-expressions (peated as well as unpeated) from the now-closed distillery Caperdonich. Can you tell us about these six whiskies?
Caperdonich, meaning 'Secret Well' in Gaelic, is an extremely intriguing distillery because it no longer exists. The distillery closed in 2011 and was taken down brick by brick, meaning Caperdonich has earned the nickname of 'The Vanished Distillery'. This collection contains the only available single malts from Caperdonich, giving connoisseurs a rare opportunity to discover these precious liquids, with finite supply. What's more, people have the unique chance to compare the peated and unpeated expressions of the same age - 21- and 25-year-olds. The unpeated spirit is full of ripe orchard fruits that give Caperdonich's sweet single malt a complex body and long smooth finish. When gently peated, a sophisticated smokiness adds an extra element and depth of flavour.
Can you tell us about the Glen Keith distillery - the single malts from there in this collection, and also their age - since it's rare to find such aged single malts from Glen Keith. What is the distillation there that gives these aged single malts their unique taste?
The first Speyside distillery built in the 20th century, Glen Keith, rose from the ruins of an old mill on the banks of the River Isla, besides a deep pool of crystal-clear water, and this collection marks the first official aged release this century from the landmark distillery.
Each of the three whiskies from Glen Keith in this collection - a 21-year-old, a 25-year-old and a 28-year-old are exceptionally smooth as Glen Keith's pot stills are taller than most, giving an extra 'copper kiss' to the single malt. This results in complex, intensely smooth expressions of the classic fruity Speyside style.
Can you tell us about the new expressions from Longmorn distillery - how old they are, how they were aged and their tasting notes?
The three whiskies in this collection are an 18-year-old, a 23-year-old and a cask strength 25-year-old, each bringing a more intense take on the soft, creamy toffee and rich flavour profile that is unique to Longmorn whiskies. Longmorn has long been considered world class by distillers, blenders and connoisseurs alike, often referred to as 'every distillers' favourite apart from their own'.
And the last distillery - Braes of Glenlivet -is very high and has a unique water source. Could you tell us about the distillation and single malts from there that are in the collection - how old they are and their tasting notes?
The three whiskies from Braes of Glenlivet in this collection are a 25-year-old, a 27-year-old and a cask strength that is 30-year-old. Made using the purest water from the Preenie well, two miles deep in the Braes hills, the resulting whisky is smooth, balanced and packed with tropical fruits.
Why are these malts so rare?
These malts are so rare because they have seldom been available prior to this collection but come from some of Speyside's most revered distilleries.
Why are they collectors item?
This collection allows whisky connoisseurs to discover Speyside's hidden treasures and serves as a testament to the region itself. For some of these, the liquid is so rare that it's the only opportunity to taste the incredible whiskies that these distilleries have produced and would make a fine addition to any collection.
(Priya Kumari Rana is a Delhi-based writer)