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Styles of Scotch Whisky by Region

Updated on February 3, 2015

The Scotch producing Regions of Scotland


I am a casual Scotch drinker and have been for a few years. Having owned dozens of single malts from Speyside, Highlands and Islay, it wasn't until a friendly and enthusiastic gentleman, in an Auckland Duty Free Liquor store, gave me an unexpected and 'practical' lesson in Scotch Whisky by Region, that i could truly taste the difference. Having sampled many fine dram that day, i managed not only to catch my flight but also remembered the imparted wisdom. I failed only to stick to my $150 budget, having purchased a 12 year old Ardbeg (Islay) and 12 year old Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or (Highlands).

From the old traditional Highland Line (Perth to Greenock) in the south, to Wick in the north east, excluding the Speyside region. This region as well as being the largest geographically has the widest tasting styles.

When the Lord Byron wrote 'for the crags that are wild and majestic' he was thinking of the Highlands. The north and west of the country is the last wilderness in Europe, a land of rugged mountains, lakes and fast-flowing rivers, forests and castles.

Most Scotch lovers will tell you that the Highlands region produces the most diverse range of scotch and is the most difficult to charactarise. Having said that...Highland malts are not as peaty in comparison to Islay, the slightest hint of smoke can often be detected on the nose

The Island of Islay (pronounced 'Eye-la') Islay Malts' Characteristics Islay whiskies generally reverse the characteristics of Speysides, tending to be dry and peaty; behind the smoke, however, can be gentle mossy scents, and some spice. The southern Islay distilleries produce powerfully phenolic whiskies, with aromas redolent of tar, smoke, iodine and carbolic.

Speyside is named after the river Spey. Most of the distilleries take their water from one of its tributaries; Livet, Fiddich or Avon. More than half of Scotland's operational malt whisky distilleries are located within the Speyside region.

Malts from this region are light in colour and have quite a dry finish. The dryness comes from the malt itself, not from peat as Lowland malts tend to be produced with unpeated malt. You may also find a certain sweet fruitiness to the flavour. Generally speaking, Lowland region whiskies are mellower than whiskies from the neighbouring Highlands, and are very much appreciated by those new to malt Whisky and experienced malt drinkers alike.

Once the 'whisky capital' of Scotland, with no fewer than 21 working distilleries during the 1880s, Campbeltown lies near the southern tip of the remote Kintyre peninsula in Argyllshire.

When Campbeltown was at its distilling height, stylistically, its whiskies tended to be big-bodied, heavy, peaty beasts, eventually even referred to as 'stinking fish' when quality was sacrificed for quality during the 1920s. Today, Campbeltown's whisky- making industry is a shadow of its former self, with just Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle in operation, though Springbank remains a classic malt with a worldwide reputation for excellence. Distilling recommenced at Glengyle in 2004, after almost eight decades of silence, and the Scotch Whisky Association subsequently reinstated Campbeltown as a separate whisky region, having previously included its whiskies in the Highland category for a number of years.

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    • filmic profile image

      filmic 6 years ago

      Nice Lens!