The names of Scotch whisky brands can often feel Greek to us, but not to worry, they’re just Gaelic.
Here is Great Drams’ guide to cracking the elaborate name etiquettes….
Why are there so many Glens in the name of Scotch brands?
While it would be tempting to tell you that ‘Glen’ is a Scottish prefix meaning ‘cracking stuff’, it actually translates to ‘valley’.
Seeing as the Gaelic, and original, name for whisky is uisege beatha or ‘water of life’, it makes sense to name the nectar after its natural supply.
Hence, Fiddich, Livet and Deveron are all Scottish rivers and the inspiration for major whisky brands. However, rather rivers, Glenmorangie refers to the ‘glen of tranquility’ which is the Morangie Forest and Glen Garioch derives its name from the rich barley growing meadows surrounding the distillery.
Which names am I likely to pronounce wrong?
Welcome to the hurdle, many have fallen here.
Once you’ve cracked these tough names, you can talk the talk and despite having no idea what you’re talking about, you will be able to order at the bar. Job done, right?
Coal Ila is pronounced Cool – Ay –La, or Cull – eela (via Tom Thomson)
Glenfiddich is pronounced Glen – Fid – Ik. Smirk away.
Laphroaig is pronounced La – Froyg
Finally, for extra brownie points, the prolific whisky region Islay is pronounced Eye – La
Which brands do you always need to prefix with ‘the’?
Title hungry Scotch whiskies include The Famous Grouse, The Balvenie, The Arran Malt and The Ileach. Meanwhile blends include The Antiquary, The Last Drop and The Hive.
We have no idea why, but we’re assured they aren’t compensating.
Why do Isle of Jura whiskies have such mysterious names?
Jura’s Elixir, Superstition and Prophecy whiskies each have a tale as enigmatic as their titles.
Prophecy derives from a wise old seeress who the Campbell’s of Jura evicted in the early 1700’s. Incensed, she prophesised that the last Campbell to leave the island would be one-eyed and his belongings would be carried in a cart drawn by a lone white horse. Of course this came true when, in 1938 Charles Campbell, blind in one eye from the Great War, led his white horse to the old pier for the last time. Jura revels in stories such as these, hence Prophecy whisky was born.
Meanwhile, Elixir bears its name because the waters of Jura are believed to possess mystical qualities thanks to a blessing by St Columba nearly 1,500 years ago. An ancient gravestone near the distillery attests that one local man enjoyed 180 Christmases in his home.
You can read the secrets behind Jura’s Superstition here…
Can you tell by the name of a whisky if it’s a single malt or a blend?
Not necessarily, but the chances are if it’s a single malt then the distillery will want to shout about it and make the suffix quickly clear.
It will always say somewhere on the bottle whether a whisky is single malt or blended, but there’s no hidden code you need to crack.
What was the first registered Scotch name?
The first written mention of Scotch whisky dates back to 1495, in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland. A friar named John Corr distilled the stuff at Lindores Abbey at the Kingdom of Fife, but at this point whisky was still referred to as ‘aqua vitae’ or ‘usige beatha’.
Does ‘Royal Brackla’ mean it was distilled by Kings?
Not quite, but it was the first ever distillery to be granted a Royal Warrant by King William IV in 1835. It’s worth noting that Laphroaig is the only other Scottish distillery under Royal Warrant; they’re just really modest or couldn’t afford a new sign.
What are the Gaelic translations of Scotch names?
If you really want to impress, you can casually mention these over a dram…
Laphroaig comes from the Gaelic Lag Bhròdhaig, meaning ‘hollow of broad bay’
Lagavulin can be traced back to Lag à Mhuilinn, meaning ‘hollow of the mill’
Ardbeg’s original name Áirde Beaga translates to ‘little height’
Bruichladdich traditionally means ‘stony shore bank’
Glenmorangie’s name comes from the Gaelic Mòr na Sith, which loosely translates to ‘glen of tranquility’
Glenfiddich means ‘valley of the deer’, explaining the famous stag logo
Glenlivet comes from the Gaelic Liobh Ait which means ‘smooth flowing one’
Craigellachie means ‘rocky hill’, which pays homage to the famous cliffs which overlook the Spey.
Macallan is probably the most straightforward of the Scotch names, but even this has a fascinating origin. It probably came from the Gaelic Magh which translates to ‘fertile ground’ whilst Ellan is likely a reference to an Irish born monk named St Filan who spent time spreading Christianity around Scotland in the eighth century.
Are there any wild cards?
Mortlach might seem like a bit of a wild card of a name, as the distillery is based in Dufftown, but Mortlach is actually the original name!
James Duff, Earl of Fife, changed the town’s title in favour of his family…because apparently an Earldom wasn’t enough.
Now that you’re fluent in Gaelic, you probably deserve a Scotch.