With a history that dates back to 1494, whisky is woven into Scotland’s national identity. The country is famous for two main styles: single malts, which are distilled with malted barley at a single distillery, and blends, featuring malt and grain whiskies from different distilleries. Luckily for whisky lovers, you’ll find a dazzling array of both single malts and blends throughout Scotland’s four main whisky-making regions: Lowland, Highland, Speyside and Islay.
Mapping the Differences
1. Let’s start our tour in the Lowland region, the quietest corner of Scottish whisky making. Over the years, tax hikes and historical events, such as World War One, hit the whisky industry hard. Today, the Lowland region is undergoing a resurgence, with several new distilleries opening to join Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie, which are celebrated for their soft, light-bodied whiskies.
2. Heading north, the Highland region is vast, which results in a wide range of blends and single malts. These include sweet, rich and full-bodied whiskies from Glenmorangie and The Dalmore in the north. You’ll find lighter, fruitier styles at Glendronach in the east and Aberfeldy in the southern Highlands, while whiskies from the western coastal regions, such as Oban, deliver a peaty kick.
3. About half of Scotland’s operating distilleries are located in Speyside, in the eastern part of the country. The region is named after the River Spey, which runs through it and provides water for the many distilleries clustered in the area. Some of the best-known brands here include Glenfiddich, Macallan and The Glenlivet, with a reputation for elegant, complex spirits that are mellow in character with sweet, fruity and nutty notes.
4. Scotland’s most distinctive whiskies come from Islay (pronounced EYE-luh), an island off the western coast. Often described as powerful, peaty, smoky, medicinal or oily, Islay whiskies offer pronounced flavours. Bowmore, Ardberg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin are some of the notable brands you’ll encounter here.
Inspired to sample these regions for yourself? Start with these offerings.