Scotland Regional Overview

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. – Marcus Garvey

In hopes of deepening the knowledge of our fellow whisky-enthusiasts we plan to publish articles exploring the ins-and-outs of the whisky world. The first entry in this series is an overview of the whisky producing regions in Scotland. There are six major regions in the “Land of the Gaels” which produce a majority of the world’s single malt whisky supply. The regions are Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown, Islay and The Islands. Join us as we journey to these historic regions and identify the distinct flavor profiles of each area.

Speyside

Examples: Balvenie, Macallan, Glenlivet, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich
Characteristics: Speyside whiskies are usually lighter and sweeter than other single malts. It’s hard to generalize in this region because there are many distilleries which causes more variation. However, Speyside whiskies fall into two main branches. Classic honeyed, lighter malts are produced by distilleries like Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. While world renown Macallan produces a dram which is heavily sherried and big bodied.

Highlands

Examples: Dalmore, Clynelish, Oban, Glenmorangie
Characteristics: The Highlands are a vast region which is often subdivded into subregions named after the four cardinal compass points. The north is known for big bodied single malts with cereal richness. Eastward there are mostly dry pungent whiskys with lots of fruit flavors. Down south, the whiskies are known for their lightness and fruitier palate. Finally the western Highlands drams are typically powerful, peaty and sometimes described as volcanic.

Lowlands

Examples: Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie, Bladnoch
Characteristics: Stylistically, the Lowlands’ drams are known for their gentle nature and floral notes. You might have heard the moniker, “The Lowland Ladies,” to refer this region. Triple distillation is preferred in this region, as opposed to the common double distillation method which yields a softer whisky.

A selection of whiskys spanning multiple regions

Campbeltown

Examples: Springbank, Glengyle, Glen Scotia
Characteristics: Formerly the whisky capital of Scotland, U.S. prohibition took it’s toll on the area and wiped out nearly 20 distilleries. Three distilleries remain of which only two are currently producing whisky. Back in the 1920s the Campbeltown region was known for distilling heavy hitting peat monsters. Present day drams in this region are known for their dryness and coastal character although Springbank has distributed a few peated releases.

Islay 

Examples: Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Laphroaig
Characteristics: Peat, peat and more peat. Islay is known for producing the peatiest drams in all of Scotland. Peat which is found abundantly in this region is used to smoke the barley during the malting process. The smokiness from the peat adds an indelible flavor to the whisky. If you’ve ever had an Islay single malt, you will surely know it by its pronounced smoky smell and flavor.

The Islands 

Examples: Talisker, Isle of Jura, Scapa
Characteristics: While the Islands are not officially recognized as a separate region by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) – they include it as part of the Highlands – most whisky enthusiasts acknowledge this region. The Islands are a diverse region which makes it hard to generalize about the style of the drams. However, most of the whisky produced in this region exhibit a hint of salinity due to the proximity of the distilleries to the coast.

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