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We cocktail-loving Americans owe a debt of gratitude to our British cousins: without them, there'd be no G&Ts to refresh us on a hot summer afternoon, no hot toddies to warm us by the fire on a cold winter evening. Gin and scotch whisky are both spirits popularized by the Brits—and today, some of the best gin and whisky in the world comes from Great Britain. Let's take a trip across the pond and see what's on offer, shall we?
True scotch whisky—sometimes called "scotch whiskey," "scotch," or simply "whisky" (no e!)—can only come from Scotland. It also has to be aged for at least three years in oak barrels, be between 80 and 190 proof (that's 40% to 94.8% alcohol by volume), and can be made of only water, malted barley, and the whole grains of other cereals. With those rules, let the taste test begin!
Scotch whisky can vary in flavor, from sweet and fruity to outrageously peaty and earthy—and geography can account for much of this difference in flavor.
Whisky from the Scottish isle of Islay—like Bowmore and Laphroaig, for example—tends to be smokier, heavier, and more full-bodied. Why? Most of the distilleries on the isle are on the coast, and the rugged sea air—including the peat of the area's bogs—makes its way into the flavor of the scotch.
Whisky from “The Highlands”—that's places like Speyside, Isle of Skye, and Orkney—embody a range of flavors, from the sweeter Dalmore, to the honeyed apple notes of Dalwhinnie, to the rich butterscotchy Glenmorangie, to the peated, smoky Talisker.
And then there's whisky from Speyside, which not only boasts more distilleries than any other locale in the world, but produces some of the lightest, most delicate scotches due to the softness of the area's local waters. These are some of the most world's popular whiskies, like Aberlour, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Macallan.
Each of these areas is unique, and the whiskies they produce are a reflection of local tradition and the land itself. From the sea air to the bogs to the heather and the clover, the flavors of Scotland make their way into these bottles. For the true whisky lover there's nothing better than sipping these spirits at the source.
Though gin technically originated with the Dutch and Flemish (the name gin comes from the Dutch word "jenever"), it's the British who popularized the stuff—and make the classic gins we think of when we think of gin. A botanical beverage, gin is made by distilling fermented grains along with juniper berries and other plants, herbs, flowers, and roots. The classic juniper flavor is what characterizes London dry gin—but any number of other botanicals can be added to create unique tastes.
The Scottish gin Caorunn gets its distinctive flavor from botanicals local to the Scottish Highlands; rowan berry, bog myrtle, heather, dandelion leaf, and coul blush apple give Caorunn a dry, crisp, and slightly floral flavor. City of London Distillery's dry gin has a zestier flavor from the addition of fresh orange, lemon, and pink grapefruit. The London craft distiller Sipsmith makes a dry gin that harkens back to an old school London dry gin: a piney, very juniper-y gin flavored with orris (the root of the iris flower), angelica, licorice, and coriander—a great choice for a shaken cocktail like the classic Corpse Reviver #2. Portobello Road gin is made with 9 botanicals, including nutmeg and cassia bark, for a balanced, peppery flavor—perfect stirred up into an Atty, a cocktail with creme de violette, which really brings out the gin's floral notes.
So whisky or gin—what'll it be?
Are you a whisky drinker or a gin drinker? What flavors do you prefer? Let us know in the comments!
We've partnered with VisitBritain to take a closer look at the foods, producers, restaurants, and regions that make Great Britain a top destination for food-loving travelers. Follow along on Instagram to see what's going on across the pond at @lovegreatbritain and what Great Britain is eating at @greatbritishfood.