The Speyside region in the north of Scotland is home to 50 distilleries.
The term “single malt” in the context of Scotch whisky means whisky distilled at a single distillery in a pot still (a large copper kettle) using only malted barley. Scotch whisky can have only three ingredients - a grain (such as barley), yeast and water. It has to be aged for at least three years in oak barrels.

The distilleries in different regions - Islay, The Lowlands, The Highlands, Speyside, Campbelltown and the Islands - understand their markets and produce whisky with a taste to suit their customers.

This week we’ll visit Islay, Speyside and the Islands.

Before single malt became popular, liquor companies focused on blended whisky. Ninety one percent of all Scotch whisky sold is a blend of malt and grain whiskies.

There are around 110 working malt distilleries in Scotland and the liquor companies use malt from many distilleries. Each distillery produces a whisky with a unique flavour and the six whisky-producing regions of Scotland produce whiskies with largely different characteristics.

Johnnie Walker Black, for example, is a 12-year-old blend of around 30 single malts and 5 grain whiskies. The master blenders nose (smell) and sometimes taste whiskies from around 100 different barrels each morning.

Single malt became sexy during the 1990s when United Distillers (now Diageo) released six single malts which showed variances in flavour between whiskies from different regions. Let’s look at the regions and the type of whisky produced in each.

Our first stop is the island of Islay, where an icy wind howls and the average summer temperature is 16ºC. The distilleries there produce a robust, heavy, warming whisky, full of peat smoke. Some classic Islay malts include Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Caol Ila and Bowmore. The average age of the distilleries is 195 and the whisky produced is perfect for the region.

Next stop, The Islands. Skye is home to Talisker, a peppery, salty dram, perfect to ward off the cold. The whisky is good company as well because you’ll have to travel a bit to find a drinking buddy, with only six people per square kilometre.

The Orkney Islands are home to Highland Park Distillery, the northern most distillery in Scotland. We’re now pretty close to the North Pole and the biting wind Orkney is famous for has cut through winter clothes. Yes, you guessed it, Highland Park also produces a warming, peaty whisky.

Speyside region in the north of Scotland offers 50 distilleries. Here you can fill your hip flask with a nutty, fruity single malt - perhaps an Aberlour or The Macallan, with strong sherry notes, maybe a light, fresh Glen Grant or a honeyed Balvenie.

Other famous malts from this area include The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and Cragganmore.

Feeling warmer? Great. Because next week we’re warming up in the other regions of Scotland and then we’re going to India and Taiwan.

Questions about drinks? Email bernard@drinksmag.co.za