Good To Sip, But Hard To Say

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - June 23, 2006
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One of the most satisfying moments I have during whisky classes, conventions or conversations, is confidently being able to pronounce the name on a whisky bottle and identify the spirit in my glass.

No, really. You would be amazed at the apparent disintegration of the English language that takes place as many people try to grapple with the names of Scotland’s distilleries.

Think about how nervous you can be studying the wine list in a fancy restaurant, worrying if you’re going to get the name right. Then imagine looking at a list of after dinner drinks that included Bunnahabhain, Clynelish, Caol Ila, Laphroaig, Knockando, Ecclefechan, Bruichladdich and Auchentoshan. Even the unassuming looking Glenmorangie presents problems for those wishing to get their pronunciation right. I’m secretly convinced that sales of some outstandingly good single malt scotches do not happen because people simply cannot pronounce their names. Because if you can’t pronounce it, you’re certainly not going to order it. And here’s another thing. In Hawaii, you’re likely to be ordering wine from an enthusiastic student of the business. If you’re at a specialty wine bar then you may even be taking advice from oenophiles studying for the Master Sommelier exam. Certainly you can go to any number of fine restaurants and be greeted by several people who know a lot about wine. And most likely a lot more than you do. That’s a good thing. It’s always nice to order from someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Ask for advice on which single malt you should drink after dinner, though and you’re narrowing your options. Apart from scary pronunciations, there’s all that geography to consider.

So, in case you’re thinking of braving the supermarket aisles this weekend for a great bottle of single malt, or trekking down to your local wine and spirits merchant, here’s a very quick guide to the basics.


Whisky distilling in Scotland is divided into four main regions: Highland (including Speyside and island), Lowland, Campbeltown and Islay. Representing four distinct areas of Scotland, each region has its own characteristics, geography, and influence over the final malt or blend. Much like ‘terroir’ in winemaking, water, land, ocean influences, peat and barley all affect the final taste of whisky.

Single Malt

Whisky made from one distillery. To become a single malt, the whisky has to mature for a minimum of three years. To become a single malt scotch, the whisky has to be made from malted barley in a Scottish distillery. (Just for the record, other terms include: single/single malt, vatted malt, cask strength, and pure malt.)

Blended Whisky

A blend of grain and malt whisky, carefully matched to produce a distinct flavor. Consistency in blends is essential, and the work of a master blender is highly valued. There may be as many as 50 different whiskies in a blend - the youngest of them is the age listed on the bottle.

And here’s a quick guide to some of the more challenging pronunciations.

Auchentoshan: ocken - toshin Clynelish: Klein-leash or Klein - ellish Bruichladdich : Brew - ick- laddie Caol Ila : Cull - eela or cull-eye-luh Bunnahabhain : Boon - a - haven Glenmorangie - Glen - morange -y ( rhymes with orange -y) Laphroaig : La - froyg.

Dalwhinnie: Dal - wih- nee That was easy, wasn’t it?

And now you’re prepared to confidently order an after dinner drink without sounding like an eejit. (Scottish pronunciation of idiot).

Oh, and once you’ve mastered the ordering, good luck with the toast. Enjoying your ‘uisgebeatha’, drunk from a ‘quaich’ is truly one of life’s great blessings.


To sample whisky - and learn more about the proper pronunciation - join me this Saturday, June 17, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Foodland Beretannia for a free sampling including Johnnie Walker, Dalwhinnie and Clynelish.

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