When it comes to understanding the complex world of Scotch whisky, there are six main regions that you need to know: Speyside, Highlands & Islands, Lowlands, Islay, and Campbeltown. Each of these parts of Scotland have their own whisky-making traditions and subtle geographic and climatic differences which help determine the typical regional flavour profile.
Set in Scotland’s spectacular north-east, Speyside is a charming valley packed with rivers and glens which give the region its unique character. Over half of Scotland’s distilleries are based here which means there is a huge diversity of styles. Most distilleries go light on the peat here, with nutty fruit flavours and hints of grass, vanilla and spice coming to the fore. Maturation in sherry casks is fairly common here which adds extra complexity and depth of flavour. Speyside is home to superstar distillery The Macallan as well as Glenlivet, Balvenie, Glefarclas, Glenfiddich and Aberlour.
The largest region for Scottish whisky, the Highlands benefits from salty maritime influence as well as some use of peat. Styles range from lighter herbal styles to more full-bodied single malts with heady smoke and sweet spice notes. It is well worth trying a range of malts from the Highlands to discover your favourite. Top local distilleries include Glenmorangie, Ardmore, Oban and Aberfeldy.
Although frequently grouped together with the Highlands, the Scottish Islands deserve their very own category thanks to the unique character of the region. Maritime influence is key here with plenty of salty notes as well as hints of smoky peat, heather, brine and honey. Given that this region includes any Scottish island that produces whisky, excepting Islay which has its own category, the Islands offer tremendous diversity with something to please every Scotch drinker. This is a great region to spend some time exploring if you’re interested in learning more about Scotch and honing your palate. Key Islands distilleries include Jura, Skye, Arran, Talisker and Highland Park.
This region just to the north of England is known for its lighter, grassy style of Scotch which is mostly unpeated. The inland setting means that Scotch made here doesn’t usually have a salty maritime character and are very easy to drink thanks to their smooth, well-rounded profile. The region is perhaps best known for the so-called “Lowland Ladies”, a subset of Lowland whiskies which have an attractive soft floral and feminine character. Top Lowlands distilleries include Glenkinchie, Linlithgow, Bladnoch and Auchentoshan.
Islay is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, a barren and windswept place best known for its peaty maritime malts featuring complex layers of flavour which gradually unwind in the glass. Generally speaking, whiskies from the south are peatier and more full-bodied while those from the north are lighter. There are eight Islay distilleries in all: Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Kilchoman, Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain, Bruichladdich, Bowmore and Ardbeg. Islay was also the home of the revered Port Ellen distillery which closed in 1983.
Historically this remote and pristine peninsula was home to dozens of distilleries, but today just three remain: Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia. The region’s single malts are known for their bold profile with a subtle maritime character and some use of peat.