Whisky Regions of Scotland
The whisky region known as “The Highlands” is one of Scotland’s six great whisky regions that distill delicious Scotch whisky. The oldest and often considered the archetypical region of Scotch whisky. It is in the Highlands that whisky first took root in Scotland and eventually would give birth to other more concentrated regions of Scotch Whisky. Among the Highlands it is possible to view all that Scotland has to offer: great Glens, Tall mountains and Fast flowing water. All of which led the early highlanders into producing some of the finest scotch whisky to be found. With famous names like Glenmorangie and Dalmore you would be forgiven for assuming that all highland single malt whisky is smooth and sweet, however the ancient art of scotch whisky distillation has produced some of Scotland’s greatest and most successful scotch Whiskies. From the coastal and maritime malts of Oban and Old Pulteney to the mellow and sharp tastes of Glenturret and the breath of peat smoke from Tomatin. But it is in the cask that Highland Scotch takes on its flavour and it is often remarked that highlanders have a great gift in the choosing of the “Baraliean” (Casks). The flavours of the highlands are laced with the taste of Scotland, Its very essence and life blood that flows through the waters and thus is intertwined with whisky. The aging in ex-bourbon and sherry casks in the slow dark of Warehouse produces Scotch that is smooth, sweet, dry and often sharp. Flavours of salt and moss are also not unheard of and a tang of tropical mango can be discerned in the background of many a Highland single malt.
The Islands of Scotland offer only a few Single Malt scotch whiskies. They are however some of the most complex and surprising malts that grace the art of distillation. The great bastions of land that spring up in the Hebrides are battered by the unforgiving Atlantic ocean and have developed Single Malts that reflect this. From the far north there are the Orcadians who distill Scotch that reflects the might of the North-man’s way of life both harsh with peat but mellow and sweet of nature, it is here on Orkney that you will find the Juggernaut that is Highland Park famous for its smooth and lightly peated Single malts. There also sits on the banks of Scapa Flow the little known distillery of Scapa which to those that know provides a mellow rest bite from the elements, Sweet and salty with hints of thyme and coriander. To the north east sits the Capital island of Skye, Heart of the Outer Hebrides it is on this island that Talisker whisky is Distilled. Peat, salt and toffee are the main flavours of Talisker’s Whisky and have become one of the most sought after malts around. to the south Mull most peaceful of the isles and tranquil of Scotch. Here the people of Tobermory Distill a Single malt that its mild and oily with hints of heather and grass. Though in the dark there rumbles the fierce Lediag Sharp and Peaty in nature. In the Far south Arran a sheltered island. Arran distillery is however anything but sheltered the most innovating of the island distilleries it has produce many a scotch aged in unusual casks such as Tequila and Madeira. Arran is so often regarded as the perfect location to distill whisky as its climate sports all the styles of weather needed to make whisky.
Islay is famous for the Strength of its whiskies and the peat that is used to smoke the grain in the malting process. There are eight working distilleries on this island, all produce single malt scotch whisky that is each unique in their own right. Foid (Peat) a form of soil that makes up the basic ground of Islay at first is offensive to the taste buds and for those that are new to Scotch Whisky is often given a wide birth. Given enough time though and one will find themselves drawn to them like a Bee is drawn to a Flower. From the Harsh Peat of Laphroaig one often finds Iodine and burnt wood but the sweet berries and stewed fruit are what makes you come back for more. It is in the north at Bunnahabhain that peat takes on an altogether different feeling and taste. where most would find fire, Bunnahabhain single malts find warmth and comfort. where most would find fruit and berries Bunnahabhain single malts find salt and oak. Sitting just to the south of Bunnahabhain sits Caol Ila a warm and pleasant drink not to peaty and also not to boring that it should be over looked. To the south the main village of Port Ellen, where the three classic malts of Islay are situated. Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin heavy in peat but also complex in there sweet undertones. To the west you find Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Kilchoman. The earthy notes of Bowmore are most welcome and the new taste from Kilchoman is not one that anyone should miss. Lets not forget Bruichladdich a distillery that has proven itself the most initiative and progressive distillery on Islay.
Speyside is the principal whisky producing region with as many as eighty four operating distilleries including the world famous Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and the Macallan. Originating form the Spey River Valley, Speyside whiskies are renowned for their sweet, subtle and lightly perfumed character. Although their style has changed over time due to different trends among whisky drinkers, Most recent expressions remain lighter, sweeter with honey subtleness. There is a tendency to avoid heavily finished whiskies, as most are matured in ex-bourbon or ex-sherry barrels. There is a low mineral content in the waters of Speyside due to their location which provides distilleries with a very soft water. The classical nature of the Speyside single malts, places them among the most popular whiskies used for well known blends.
Whiskies from the two distilleries in operation (Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan) are similar in style yet completely different in flavour. The style is light and delicate with some fruit notes appearing on the palate.
In whisky terms, the Highland-Lowland division as we now know it, originated in the 18th century with the enactment of the Wash Act 1784. The act intended to reduce illicit distilling and differentiate the Lowlands from the Highlands with the intention of levying different taxes from distilleries in each region. Outrageous regulations were imposed on Highland distilleries and Lowland distilleries alike.
While in the Highlands only barley from within the confines of local Parishes could be used, in the Lowlands the distilleries were taxed according to how rapidly they could discharge their stills. The annual tax that was imposed on Lowland distilleries was set on the assumption that they could discharge their stills once a day. This encouraged distillers to produce more spirit than what they were taxed for. Their stills started to produce vast quantities of spirit and the shape of the stills was changed in order to maximise production. The spirit produced by Lowland distilleries had a lighter flavour than the one produced in the Highlands.
For such a small place, this whisky region had an impressive number of distilleries at its peak. One street alone (Longrow street) had seven distilleries! Although many people blame the decline in the region’s production on taxation alone, its decline derived from a combination of different factors.
Whiskies produced in Campbeltown have a pronounced salty tang and some whiskies have a marked maritime character.
Campbeltown offers many whiskies from its three working distilleries, some whiskies are triple distilled like the fabulous Hazelburn, some are peated like the marvelous Longrow. Glen Scotia whiskies have a botanical touch. Kilkerran whiskies come in different expressions such as bourbon and sherry casks.