A Bluffer’s Guide to the Scottish Whisky Regions
If there’s one thing that Scotland is famous for, it’s the exceptional quality of whisky. Produced up and down the length and breadth of the country, the dram is an integral part of the UK’s economy. Over the years, recognisable regions of whisky have been defined. Whilst the flavour of each individual whisky product is largely down to the distiller themselves, there are some striking similarities in product across some of the regions.
Starting with potentially the most famous of all the regions, Speyside is home to the most distillery-heavy region of Scotland. Found east of the capital of the Highlands (Inverness) the area stretches from the Cairngorms National Park along and up the Moray coastline.
The Speyside region is arguably the most breathtaking of all the regions, with over half of Scotland’s distilleries being surrounded by world-class scenery.
In terms of produce, whisky produced from the Speyside area is more likely to sit on the sweeter side, with distillers favouring fruity flavours. In addition to this, Speyside whiskies may also be accompanied by complimentary nutty undertones. Quite often, whisky from this region is produced from a sherry cask.
Once a region dubbed as the “whisky capital”, Campbeltown was home to over thirty distilleries. In present day, this number has reduced significantly and whisky production responsibility now rests with just three main distilleries.
Campbeltown, in it’s hey-day (circa. 1800s), became a victim of it’s own success. Demand for the region’s whisky product was so high, that distilleries felt the pressure to churn out more and more - and as such the quality of whisky steeply suffered - leading to the eventual retirement of many distilleries.
Despite such a decline in whisky distilleries, Campbeltown still holds onto it’s regional status, thanks to each of the remaining distilleries producing a strong and full-bodied high quality whisky product.
Flavours from Campbeltown greatly vary, and the region is known to produce some of the most unusual and experimental whiskies.
Stretching from Greenock to Dundee, the Lowlands, as it’s name suggests, is the most southernly Scottish whisky region.
General demand has meant that whiskies produced by distilleries from this area tend to skew towards blends. Nevertheless, there are still a few distilleries that continue to produce single malts too.
Flavours from the Lowlands can vary greatly, however, the region is particularly famous for it’s production of floral and lighter whiskies, earning the name of the “Lowland Ladies.” For this reason, Lowlands whiskies often make a great entry point for people new to drinking whisky.
It is argued that the Highlands whisky making region stretches from the Isle of Arran right up to Orkney, spreading across Aberdeenshire, to the highest point of the Outer Hebrides. The starting point of the region, however, is somewhat debated by whisky enthusiasts and critics.
Regardless of where it begins, there is absolutely no doubt that the Highlands is the largest of all the Scottish whisky regions. Due to the expansive nature of this particular whisky region, it is hard to pin down any particular flavours or tones - they are all so varied and range from sweet to smoky.
This said, Highland malts all typically tend to have a drier finish, and whilst sweet, are less so than those produced in Speyside.
Islands or Islay?
There is often some debate about whether the Island of Islay is itself a Scottish Whisky Region, or inclusive of the Islands. In other instances, some argue that some of the whisky producing islands fall into different territories, such as the Highlands or Lowlands too!
Islay distilleries often produce a dry and peaty whisky product. This is due to the natural resources found on the island and the taste of Islay whiskies is undeniably distinct, and probably the strongest of all whiskies produced in Scotland - for newbies coming into the world of whisky, they may be an acquired taste.
Island produced whiskies can vary greatly in nature, with some leaning towards more fruity undertones, however, as all distilleries are surrounded by the sea, it is not uncommon for whisky products to have coastal influences and can be a bit smokier - albeit not quite on the scale of Islay.
What Scottish Whisky Region does Arran Whisky belong to?
This is a source of common debate - VisitScotland places Arran Whisky into the Highlands, but others have argued that Arran belongs within the Islands. Officially, we concur that we belong to the Islands, but as Campbeltown and Islay have both proven, the growth and retraction of the Scottish whisky regions are constantly in flux - particularly with whisky demand increasing year on year.