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what makes a great whisky?

May 15, 2019

Standing proud in the heart of Scotland's Highlands, surrounded by crisp, clear springs, Knockdhu Distillery embraces the abundant natural resources that give each of its whiskies their own unique identity and character. Pride and passion have been running through generations of the team here at Knockdhu who have been hand crafting our whisky to share with the world since 1894 but what is it about all of that that makes a good whisky, a great whisky?

A good whisky is of course a subjective matter and it’s not all about what the experts say, but there are some basic fundamentals that we think are essential in order to call a whisky a ‘great whisky’, something we’re very proud to call each and every one of our whiskies.

A whisky will take its character from the surroundings of its origin which make the whisky produced in Scotland’s five different whisky regions (six if you include Islay as a region on its own) so distinct from each other.  It’s the character of the whisky that will connect you with that region and allow you to experience that sense of place with each sip.

Personal preference
Ask ten different people to tell you their favourite whisky and you’ll get ten different answers!  Some will have a preference for a particular region or cask strength.  Different people have different tastes, so some may prefer a light and floral dram, or something a bit more fruity and spicy, others may prefer a rich and rounded dram and of course there’s the draw of the full bodied and smoky drams too.  Whisky is a personal journey and there are so many factors that will influence whether or not that is a ‘great whisky’ journey.

The company
Sharing a dram with friends or enthusiasts can be an enlightening experience, recounting tales of distillery visits, whisky tasting and sharing the knowledge of a subject that evokes so much passion.  That really can bring out the best in a dram.

An epiphany moment
When enjoying a dram you might be hit by a nostalgic aroma, or a particular flavour that has your memory searching through years of experiences to make the connection.  An all-encompassing moment when the experience is heightened and all senses are stimulated.  A great whisky will excite your taste buds and maybe even give you a shiver!

The X-Factor
Again, this will be down to personal taste but the combination of character, smoothness, and finish is what many say makes a good whisky great!

Passion in production
One thing that most whisky enthusiasts will agree upon is that the most important ingredient in a whisky is people.  The passion behind the production, the pride in craft and the love that has been poured into creating every drop of a dram.  There's history, heritage and a story in every drop of our drams – find out more about our distillery and how we make great whisky here.

While each distillery will follow a similar process using the same ingredients to produce whisky, there will be slight differences in techniques and of course the machinery used.   Production techniques at Knockdhu remain unchanged, in fact the two copper stills used to create these very first few drops of whisky remain at Knockdhu in size and shape, their flat bases forcing the vapours to journey up through the long narrow neck of the still to produce a unique, refreshingly modern spirit. 

It’s not necessarily the length of time that a whisky matures that makes it a great whisky, rather the type of cask used to mature the spirit.  To be a Scotch whisky, the liquid must sit in an oak cask in Scotland for at least three years.  The casks are normally used to mature spirits like Bourbon and Sherry before the Scotch whisky, and these flavours can come through when tasting the spirit. With anCnoc, hints of dried fruit, spices, chocolate and a 'hard to put your finger on' hidden depth comes from these glorious sherry casks. Lignins, tannins and cellulose also add wooded notes as well as hints of vanilla and caramel.  The spirit ages quietly in American and Spanish oak barrels in our dunnage warehouses at Knockdhu Distillery where the thick granite walls protect against the elements to create a stable temperature that in turn produces a perfectly consistent dram.

It is as they say, ‘horses for courses’ and everyone will have their own special dram that they hold dear as a ‘great whisky’.  Memories will always play an important part in how you connect with a dram and sometimes the greatest whiskies really are down to your experience and memory of a particular dram.

Find out more about our great whisky, here.