There are four main whisky regions in Scotland – the Lowlands, the Highlands, Campbelltown and Islay. There are also two whisky sub-regions, Speyside and the Islands, both of which are part of the Highland region. The Islands are considered to include all the whisky producing islands in Scotland except Islay. Although each distillery’s whisky is unique, the malts produced in each region have some common characteristics that separate them from scotch produced in other regions.
There are four main types of Scottish whisky – ‘single malt’ which is made by one distillery in one batch using only water and malted barley, ‘ grain whisky’ where rye or wheat is added, ‘blended malt’ which is a mix of malts from more than one distillery and ‘blended whiskies’ where many malts and grains are blended together.
Scottish whisky is made and governed by law and must be a minimum of 3 years old before it can be called whisky. Most distilleries produce their first bottling at 10 years old though many are aged longer.
The Highlands is the largest whisky producing region. It generally produces more full-bodied whiskies with deep flavours of peat and smoke.
Flavours of fruitcake and oak with heather and smoke are prevalent in Highland whiskies. Wild seas and impenetrable moorlands dominate, creating powerful peaty drams, whilst still leaving room for floral, silky elegance.
The vast size of the region has resulted in Highland whiskies tasting very different from each other, ranging from the extreme heathery, spicy character of Northern Highlands to the fruity whiskies of the Southern Highlands.
Famous highland distilleries include Oban, Glenmorangie, Dalmore, and Glengoyne.
The versatility of the Islands includes both citrus and smoking peaty flavours. Scotch from the Islands can be described as a milder version of Islay whisky. The islands, which include Arran, Mull, Jura, Skye and Orkney, have hints of brine, oil, black pepper, heather and honey. Most of the Island whiskies are salted by the sea.
Talisker’s potent malt hails from the largest distillery of all the islands. Tobermory offers fruity flavours and Jura is nutty and oily, more mid-range in flavour intensity.
Speyside is home to over half of Scotland’s distilleries. However, since Speyside is geographically part of the Highlands, it is considered to be a sub-region of the Highlands by some and a separate region by others. The region received its name from the river Spey, which cuts through the area. Many of the distilleries use water straight from the river in their production process.
Speyside scotch is arguably the country’s most complex, renowned for its sweetness and elegant flavours and aromas, including nutty fruit flavours of apple, pear, honey, vanilla and spice. Speyside whiskies generally do not use peat as part of their process.
These whiskies often make use of sherry casks thus there is a variety ranging between light and grassy malts such as Glenlivet, and the rich and sweet likes of Macallan. Other whiskies hailing from the region include Glenfiddich, as well as Balvenie, Aberlour, Tomintoul and Glen Moray, as well as blends like Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal.
On a personal note both the Glenlivet 15 year old and 18 year old are two of my favourites.
Islay scotch is considered to be the smokiest and strongest flavoured of the single malts. The strong flavour is believed to be due to the region’s exposure to the high winds and seas of the west coast.
The distilleries include Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bowmore, and Ardbeg.
Campbeltown was once considered the whisky capital of Scotland but today only three distilleries remain. The scotch is peaty with a hint of sea salt and a briny character and is said to have flavours of wet wool, salt, smoke, fruit, vanilla and toffee.
Springbank produces three uniquely different whiskies; Longrow, Springbank and Hazelburn. They range from double to triple distilled, non- to richly peated, caramel to clear.
Glengyle produces the sweet, fruity and spiced Kilkerran while Glen Scotia is light with grassy palates.
The whiskies of the Lowlands, which are located just above England, are not peaty or salty. Soft and smooth malts are characteristic of the region, offering a gentle, elegant palate reminiscent of grass, honeysuckle, cream, ginger, toffee, toast and cinnamon.
Lowland whisky is light with floral tones. The whiskies include Glenkinchie, Bladnoch, Auchentoshan, Linlithgow, Girvan and Strathclyde.
During the upcoming weeks I will discuss a couple of the regions in more detail and relate some of my personal experiences.