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The Whisky Producing Regions of Scotland

The origins of the Regional Classifications

The original regional classifications for whisky came about as a result of the different rates of excise duty charged in different parts of Scotland. These days people tend to associate the regional differences with variations in taste or style. 

So what are the factors that help determine the different characteristics we perceive when we sample whisky?

The principle players are geology, geography, water and local culture.

Choose whisky by region.

The Lowlands

LowlandsThe Lowlands region is mainly covered in carboniferous rock. This tends to give the whisky crisp, dry flavours. Unusually for Scotland they are often triple distilled which adds a smoothness and lightness to the whisky. Examples of Lowland whiskies are Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie.

The lowland region became a prolific producer of whisky in the 18th century as the railways grew and facilitated the transportation of raw materials and finished product.

 The Highlands

The Highland whisky regionThe Highlands are covered with a variety of rock including granite, sandstone and limestone. Snow melt seeps into the rock and emerges in the mountain springs, running through the heather covered ground. Common flavours are floral and heathery with low or no peat content. Culturally peat is not commonly used, although there are always exceptions, i.e. Clynelish is mildly smoky. For a really classic Highland Malt try Glengoyne.

 Speyside

Speyside whisky regionHere, most distilleries began as illicit stills, hidden in isolated locations, drawing water from the mountain springs that feed the river Spey.  It is commonly held that the perfect factors exist to make the perfect dram. Hard granite rock, reluctant to release minerals into the water and hillsides covered in peat and heather contribute to soft acidic water, perfect for making whisky. Try Glenfarclas, Aberlour or Craigellachie

 The Islands (an unofficial region)

island whiskySurrounded by sea, briny, sea-weedy winds add saltiness to the peaty soils. Heather completes the picture. Try sweet and salty Arran, smoky Talisker from the Isle of Skye or Highland Park from Orkney.

Technically whisky from the Scottish Isles is now classified as Highland Whisky, however the term Island whisky is frequently used for convenience.

 Islay

islayHere lays the oldest rock in Scotland and from it runs water to the distilleries of Bowmore and Bruichladdich. Culturally whiskies from this region are malty and peaty, peat being the traditional and plentiful fuel used in the kilning process. Seaweed lends a medicinal quality to Laphroaig and bog myrtle gives the whiskies a sweet nose and a bitter flavour. 

Due to its location Islay was favoured by smugglers for producing and storing whisky

Campbeltown

campbeltownThis region lies on the Mull of Kintyre. It is small but not insignificant in style and was a major producer in the Victorian era. Whiskies tend to exhibit a mix of characteristics from both the Highlands and Islands

Fine examples include Springbank and the slightly softer Glen Scotia.

Isle of Arran