Scotch whisky regions
Speyside has the highest concentration of distilleries of the five regions. Over forty distilleries are clustered within the Spey valley. (The river Spey is Scotland’s second longest river, 110 miles, and its fastest flowing.) Four of the top five best selling single malts are from Speyside: Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Macallan and Glen Grant. Speyside has no one particular type or style of whisky, with bourbon and sherry casks both commonly used for maturation. What the vast majority of Speyside whiskies have in common, however, is the absence of strong peat flavour.
Given that Speyside distilleries account for about half of all production, it’s no surprise that the best ones are always in high demand from the blenders.
Everything outside of Lowland, Speyside, Campbeltown and Islay falls into the general ‘Highland’ region. This includes whiskies from the mainland and from the islands (Skye, Jura, Arran, Orkney etc.). The Highland whiskies can’t be typified. From the power of Talisker to the subtlety of Glenmorangie, there is a long journey of discovery ahead for the whisky enthusiast. The Highland region is also geographically diverse, from the rugged peaks of the Cairngorms or Grampians to the heather-covered moorlands of Perthshire, or the rich arable land in the Kingdom of Fife. There are over 30 distilleries widely spread throughout the Highlands. And one distillery, Glengoyne, is frequently the subject of intense whisky debate as to whether it is a Highland or Lowland whisky. Glengoyne is situated at Dumgoyne, right on the border between the two regions. While it falls into the Highland category, the style of whisky made at Glengoyne fits well with the Lowland style.
There are eight working distilleries on Islay. Most of them produce strong, peaty and smoky whiskies, which divide whisky drinkers into two camps: love or hate. There is no middle ground. These whiskies get their character from the heavily peated malt they use and from the local water which runs through thousand-year-old peat bogs. The local maltings, at Port Ellen, provide most of the malt used on the island.
However, two distilleries on the island, Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich are exceptions to the norm and produce a lighter and less peaty product. The most heavily peated malts, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Caol Ila, have a strong global following, as does the slightly lighter tasting Bowmore. The newest distillery on the island, Kilchoman, started production in late 2005.
The Lowland region is roughly defined by an imaginary line running between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and any distillery lying south of this line is lowland. The region has four active distilleries: Ailsa Bay in Girvan; Glenkinchie, just south of Edinburgh; Auchentoshan, near Clydebank; and Bladnoch in Galloway.
Two new distilleries, Daftmill in Fife and Annandale in the Borders, have started distilling but have not yet brought a single malt to market.
At least six other lowland single malts are still available in bottle, but are no longer distilled: Rosebank, Kinclaith, St. Magdalene, Ladyburn, Inverleven and Littlemill.
Traditionally Lowland single malts are triple distilled but this is not true of all of them. Lowland malts tend to be light and floral in character.
Campbeltown whiskies are made in the burgh of Campbeltown, on the Kintyre peninsula. This was once the whisky capital of Scotland, with up to 28 distilleries in operation. However, there has been a steady decline in numbers and now most of the distilleries have gone out of business and little trace of them remains.
Today only three distilleries continue to produce whisky in Campbeltown: Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia. The Springbank distillery produces three distinct whiskies: Springbank, Hazelburn, and Longrow. Glengyle distillery has recently been revived by J & A Mitchell and Co Ltd., who own and operate the Springbank distillery.