While every whisky is unique, there are distinct flavors associated with different Scotch whisky regions. The best way to get to know each region is by tasting its products, but it helps to know some background information first. Although Scotland has a variety of microclimates and whisky making traditions (and a variety of whiskies as a result), the following six regions are considered the main whisky-producing regions.
- Campbeltown. While most whisky producing regions are vast, Campbeltown is as small as the name suggests: just a single town and the immediately surrounding area. It was once considered the capital city of Scotch whiskies, with no less than 21 distilleries in the area. Although there are now only 3 operating Campbeltown distilleries, it retains its own area designation because of its historical significance in whisky making.
- Highlands. The Highland region is the largest of Scotland’s whisky producing areas, named for the high elevation and the position at the very north of Scotland. Highland whiskies tend to be rich and smoky, although there is a huge variation. Because this is a large region with a variety of microclimates and landforms, the whiskies each have a unique flavor. You will hear the word ‘Glen’ a lot in both Highland and Speyside distillery names; this word means ‘valley’, which is where distilleries tend to be built.
- Islands. While this name sounds similar to Islay, don’t let that confuse you. The Islands region includes the isles of Arran, Jura, Mull, Orkney, Shetlands and Skye. There is some disagreement about the Isle of Orkney, which many feel should be grouped stylistically and geographically with the nearby Highlands. However you define the region, its whiskies are smoky, peaty and salty in similar fashion as Islay whiskies, although they are generally milder. Talisker is one of the better known Island whiskies and has the characteristics considered typical of the region.
- Islay. Islay may be a small island, but it is well-known for high quality whiskies. These tend to have predominant notes of smoke, peat and salty sea wind. A relatively small island, Islay once had 23 distilleries but is now down to just eight. However, the popularity of this distinctive terroir ensures that more distilleries are coming to this area.
- Lowlands. As the name suggests, this is the flattest region of Scotland and also the Southernmost. The Lowland whiskies tend to be light and smooth compared to other Scotches, probably because of the temperate nature of the area. These whiskies are a treat at any time and go well with a variety of foods and situations.
- Speyside. Named for its position at the side of the river Spey, this region is located in the Highlands but has its own distinctive style. Many of the distilleries use water from the river Spey, which is attributed as being the reason for the mild yet rich flavor of the whiskies. Speyside is a relatively large Scotch whisky region and is considered the ‘core’ whisky making region. Speyside whiskies are usually good ‘beginner’ malts, but are prized by connoisseurs as well for their consistent quality and smoothness.