The Water of Life

The Water of Life

Specialist, Tony Salani takes us on a whirlwind tour of Scotland's whisky-producing regions, unveiling the geographical influences and renowned distilleries that shape each unique sip in preparation for our 21-30 July Fine Wine & Spirits Sale. 

2 June 2023

Although the exact origins of alcohol distillation are not definitively known, it is thought to have been developed by the Indus Civilisation, in what is now North-Western India and Eastern Pakistan, around 4,500 years ago, but evidence exists in many other parts of the ancient world too. Moving forward around 3,500 years, something akin to whisky was brought to Scotland by missionaries, and it was treated as a medicinal product for many years. The dissolution of the monasteries and general dissemination of the techniques of distillation allowed for ‘whisky’ to make its way into the public domain and over the years turned it into Scotland’s national drink.

From the medicine of missionaries to a national drink, the world in which this beverage now lives is very different. The seemingly unstoppable increase in prices, combined with Capital Gains Tax exemption, has made whisky a viable, if a little niche, addition to an investment portfolio. A bottle of the Macallan ‘Private Eye’ could have been yours for £300, fifteen years ago, but today that same bottle will cost closer to £4,000.


The Macallan - 1963 (£1,947)

The Macallan - 1963 (£1,947)


If you are, heaven forbid, interested in buying whisky to drink, these increased prices can make the decision process a little trickier and making the wrong choice could prove to be an expensive mistake. Let’s take a brief look at the five whisky-producing regions, and what one can expect in terms of geographical influence and the makers, and provide a benchmark for the ‘recreational’ whisky drinker.

The Highland region covers a massive area, from Orkney all the way down to the Isle of Arran. The geographical range leads to an understandable diversity in what gets produced, and subdividing the region further will help us understand what we can expect. Northern Highland whiskies are robust and spicy with heather in abundance, while whiskies from the south are far lighter with fruit at the forefront; eastern whiskies are close cousins of those from the south, but with a bit more punch. The western whiskies are heavily influenced by the sea and are full bodied and peaty with salinity and heather notes. Names to look out for include Glenmorangie, Highland Park, Glenturret and Arran.


The Macallan - 20 years old - 1973 (£1,038.40)

The Macallan - 20 years old - 1973 (£1,038.40)


Speyside is a relatively small region with no shortage of distilleries taking advantage of the fast flowing River Spey. These whiskies show little, if any, signs of peat and are filled with ripe fruits, vanilla and spice, with a lot of these flavours coming from the sherry casks in which the spirits are matured. The Macallan, Glenfarclas, Tamdhu, Glenfiddich and Cardhu are but a few of the distilleries.

Moving south, we have the Lowlands, and these whiskies provide a far gentler experience with very grassy and floral notes combined with lightly toasted spice. The distilleries of Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie, Bladnoch and Annandale are well worth investigating.


The Macallan spiral label miniature malt Scotch Whisky, 40% (1) and another miniature (£2,183)

The Macallan spiral label miniature malt Scotch Whisky, 40% (1) and another miniature (£2,183)


Now to the Mull of Kintyre, with the mist rolling in from the sea, to the distilleries of Campbeltown. The saltiness and smokiness of peat play their parts but so, too, do fruits, spice and sweetness, in these intense whiskies. Glen Gyle, Glen Scotia and Springbank are the only active distilleries (at present).

The final region is just across the water from Campbeltown and this is the isle of Islay. Renowned for rich, powerful whiskies that are full of peat, and not for the faint-hearted! Ardbeg, Port Ellen, Lagavulin and Laphroaig can show the variations that are possible, even within dark and smoky whiskies.


Port Ellen, 1979 first release, aged 22 years, single malt Scotch Whisky, bottled 2001 (1 boxed) (£2,537)

Port Ellen, 1979 first release, aged 22 years, single malt Scotch Whisky, bottled 2001 (1 boxed) (£2,537)


I hope that this whistlestop tour of Scotland has provided some insight into the variations that exist within the world of whisky and that it may even lead to trying something new. As Raymond Chandler said (while talking about American whiskeys, but the sentiment still holds true), ‘There is no bad whisky. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others’.

Slàinte Mhath!



On Thursday 15 June, Sworders’ specialist Tony Salani will be hosting a valuation day by appointment for Whiskey & Spirits at our Stansted Auction Rooms. 


Thursday 15 June | 10:00am - 3:00pm

Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers | Cambridge Road | Stansted Mountfitchet CM24 8GE






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