The flavor spectrum of Scottish whiskey is incredibly diverse, maybe even more so than any other spirit. This is partly because each whiskey is tied to the land from which it is produced. There are so many geographical and environmental factors that can change a whisky’s taste profile — from the unique plant detritus found throughout peat fields that are used to smoke the grain before distillation to the rivers that flow through Scotland’s Munros and Bens that feed the lochs that provide fresh water to the fertile barley fields — that some consider the various whisky regions of Scotland to be akin to that of wine terroirs.
Scotland separates itself into five main whisky-producing regions, and each has its own unique topographical elements that influence the qualities of the whiskeys produced there. These regions are so unique that the whiskey they produce could only ever be made from that particular bit of land. This is due to the land’s singular environmental makeup, affecting things such as soil and air quality as well as the individual microclimates present, which produces an unmistakable stamp on the distinctive product. Below is a brief guide to Scotland’s main five whiskey regions and the flavors you can expect to find in each.
Single Out the Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whiskeys Speyside is popular for a reason: Two-thirds of all malt whiskey production comes from here. With the largest number of distilleries in Scotland, the Speyside region produces a diverse range of both flavor and texture characteristics in their whiskeys. Breaking from traditional production, Speyside distilleries often experiment with different methods, and it’s not uncommon to find a peaty malt sitting next to a far lighter, smoother drop. Given the range of flavors and styles produced by this region, you’ll often find there’s something to suit everybody’s tastes — from the sweeter sherry matured malts of Aberlour and Mortlach to the acetone-flavored, peaty range of Benrich and Benromach. Speyside’s better-known distilleries include Balvenie, Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and Macallan.
Smoke Yourself Silly On the Isle of Islay For the people of Islay, whisky is their world. In fact, most of the island’s populace is involved in some form of whisky production, whether they’re growing malt and barley, distilling the spirit or distributing the final product. It is believed to be one the first places that monks began the distillation of whisky during the 14th century. What makes Islay such a powerhouse of whisky manufacturing is that it is perfectly located with easy access to fertile soil, an abundance of peat bogs that are used for fuel and a regular source of fresh water. It is in Islay where the regional conditions come together to dictate the final flavors of the whisky. The island is largely composed of peat, and winter gales blow large amounts of sea spray across the mainland, adding a distinctly briny flavor to the already smoky character of the peat. These flavor profiles are extremely evident in the island’s most renowned distilleries, such as Laphroaig and Lagavulin.
Feel the Seaside Spray in Campbeltown Located at the end of the Kintyre Peninsula on the west coast of Scotland, this region typically produces whiskeys that are robust and complex with hints of sea salt and smoky peat. Campbeltown got a bad reputation in the early 20th century when the demand for whiskey was so high that to keep up with production demands impurities were often overlooked and carried through to the final product. This resulted in a distinctly fishy smell and led some to accuse the Campbeltown distilleries of using of old herring barrels in the maturation phase to cut costs. The three main distilleries that are still in production are Springbank, Glen Scotia, and Kilkerran. Each produces robust and briny malts and, if you have a good nose, a touch of lemon peel.
Start in the Lowlands If You’re a Whisky Newbie If you are new to whisky or just prefer a smoother blend, the Scottish Lowlands are the place for you. The Lowlands were once Scotland’s most densely populated region for whisky distilleries, with the number reaching more than 215 at its zenith in the late 18th century. There’s some speculation as to what caused the rapid decline in distilleries. Many claim that it was due to the British Parliament’s passing of successive acts that favored English gin production, curbing the Lowlands’ biggest market. Located in the south of Scotland, the Lowlands cover an area that stretches all the way from Greenock in the west to Dundee in the east. Today, it’s known for its three major distilleries: Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie, all of which produce a lighter, smoother and less smoky style of whisky. They are perfect for pre-prandial drinks or for those who are just beginning to enjoy malted whisky. Triple distillation of the spirit is more commonly practiced throughout the Lowlands, which contributes to the light, floral and fruity nose.
Head to the Highlands This region encompasses both the mainland and island distilleries, which produces the greatest range of flavors of all the Scottish whiskey regions. Here you’ll find the lighter styles of the midland malts of Glengoyne and Arran through to the sweet, almost viscous likes of Jura and Tobermory all the way up to the much richer, brinier coastal malts of Oban and Highland Park.
If you enjoyed reading about the different Scottish whiskey regions and have already marked down a few distilleries that caught your eye in your BUCKiTDREAM diary, then why not wrap it up by learning a bit more about The Gothic Splendor Of Edinburgh? Slàinte!