Explainer: the Scotch whisky regions
So you’ve heard of the Scotch whisky regions but what of the unique perspective or flavour profile offered by each? Here’s a quick guide to help you navigate the territory.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) recognises five different whisky producing regions:
The smallest of the Scotch whisky regions, Campbeltown has just three distilleries. Located on the remote and stunning Kintyre Peninsula in West Argyll, Campbeltown lies between the isles of Islay and Arran. Glen Scotia malts are lighter with grassy notes. Glengyle’s Kilkerran malts are light and sweet but with distinctive oily and salty notes. Springbank malts are robust and smoky with hints of their maritime roots.
2. Highland (which also takes in the Islands)
Stretching from Orkney in the north, to the Isle of Arran in the south, the Highland region takes in the northern isles and most of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Argyll, Stirlingshire, Arran, parts of Perthshire and Aberdeenshire too. The Highland whisky region is one of the largest and most diverse in terms of whisky style with the widest array of styles ranging from rich and textured to fragrantly floral.
Known as the Queen of the Hebrides due her fertile land, Islay was traditionally the perfect place for whisky distilling due to the ready supply of barley and peat. The island is covered in peat which is exposed to rain and sea spray with some believing this peat gives Islay whiskies their characteristic hint of salty sea air and seaweed. Islay whiskies tend to be powerful, peaty, smoky, sweet and salty. There is no prescriptive Islay style, however, with each distillery creating their own flavour profile.
The Lowland whisky region is located in the southernmost parts of Scotland, covering much of the Central Belt and the South of Scotland including Edinburgh & The Lothians, Glasgow & The Clyde Valley, the Kingdom of Fife, Ayrshire, Dumfries & Galloway and the Scottish Borders. Lowland whiskies are thought to offer the perfect introduction to single malts for beginners. As a result, malts from this region are often called “Breakfast Whiskies”! A typical Lowland flavour profile is light, unpeated, floral, citrusy and sweet.
This Scotch whisky region takes its name from the River Spey, which runs through this area and around which the majority of its distilleries are built. Speyside whiskies are typically smooth and complex whiskies, often characterised by sweet and fruity notes with hints of nuts or malt.
Five regions, or six?
While there are five protected localities (or Scotch whisky regions) as per the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009, the Islands are increasingly referred to as a distinct region.
When the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) named five regions, there were only a small handful of island distilleries which hardly justified a separate category. They were simply referred to as a sub-category of the Highlands. With the opening of distilleries from Shetland to the Outer Hebrides and others, an Island region is certainly justifiable.
Speyside – home to more than half of Scotland’s malt distilleries, located inside the Highland region.
Highland – officially the region where the Island whiskies sit as a sub-category. This vast area covers both coastal and mountainous regions making for a large variety in flavour profiles.
Lowland – often referred to as breakfast whiskies or Lowland ladies due to their light, floral character.
Islay – known as the Queen of the Hebrides due to her fertile land. Islay whiskies are known for their robust and smoky character.
Campbeltown – this beautiful peninsula was once home to over 30 distilleries, although now it only has three: Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia.
Islands – now including Arran, Mull, Jura, Skye, Orkney, Shetlands, Harris, Lewis and Raasay. The islands are now home to more than 10 malt distilleries, including Abhainn Dearg, the first legal distillery on the Outer Hebridean isles in almost 200 years