Scotland’s whiskies are as diverse as the renowned geographical regions they come from. Due to the number of distilleries in Scotland and the variety of production and cask maturation methods, it is very difficult to encapsulate all that makes a regional style. Of course, the glorious result of this is that there will always be a wonderfully diverse spectrum of delectable whiskies to explore.
While the variation of whisky styles within each region is broad, each has a generally recognised style. Although each of these styles of whisky is different, they are all recognised as exceptional in their own right.
The Highland region covers the largest geographical area by far. As such, it has the most diverse landscape and styles of whisky vary greatly between North, South, East and West. Generally speaking, malts from the Highland region are big in body and flavour with sweet, fruity and spicy notes, often with a dry finish. Whiskies from some of the Highlands’ more coastal distilleries can have salty, maritime notes; Western Highland distilleries can offer a peaty, smokiness; and Southern Highland whiskies can be drier and lighter bodied.
Speyside is situated within the Highland region, but is widely recognised as a region in its own right, not least because it is home to more distilleries than any other region of Scotland. Speyside gains its name from the River Spey, the main river running through the region, along which many of the distilleries are located. Whiskies from Speyside are incredibly numerous and, as with all the regions, very varied. A number of distilleries in Speyside are recognised for producing sweet, rich, full bodied, heavily sherry cask influenced whiskies. Other whiskies from this region can be complex, light, and fruity with floral notes.
Although Islay is a small island and one of the smallest regions geographically, it is perhaps one of the most well known, with one of the most distinctive styles of whisky. Despite its small size, Islay boasts distilleries, many of which enjoy recognition all over the globe. Islay malts typically carry quite a kick and have a smoky, peaty, medicinal and maritime character.
The Lowlands are the most southerly of all the regions and are home to most of the grain distilleries. Lowland malt whisky distilleries are traditionally well known for producing malts light in character, some of them triple distilling their malts as opposed to the more common double pot distillation method. Lowland malts are typically very light, floral and more mellow than many other styles.
This very small region was once home to numerous distilleries, but over the years many closed, for various reasons, including the 1920s Prohibition act in the United States. The Campbeltown malts have a complex flavour and, because of the location, can be briny and marine-like. Some peated whiskies are produced in the region, giving a smoky character.
Although the Islands are technically part of the Highland region, they are increasingly categorised separately, with distilleries often electing to describe their malts using the name of the island on which they are produced. The region can be classified as consisting of all Scotland’s islands with distilleries, excluding Islay. This includes: Mull, Skye, Arran, Jura, Lewis and Orkney. The Island distillery whiskies are varied, but many of them have a peaty, smokey character similar to the malts of Islay, though perhaps more gentle. They can also offer a sweet, peppery and briny style.