When you live whiskey and especially Scotch whiskey, you may not stop to think very much about where your liquor comes from. After all, chances are good you’ve developed a fondness for a certain flavor profile, a certain style, or even a specific label, but you may not know much about the actual region where this Scotch whiskey comes from. But learning more about the regional sources of your favorite Scotch can go a long way toward helping you understand just what goes into your drink of choice, and just how that perfect combination of flavors really comes together, too. Take time to read up on the different Scotch whiskey regions below.
The Highlands is one of the most well-known regions of Scotland, for both Scotch whiskey and for tourism. The Highlands is a large region with many styles of whiskey to be found throughout the area.
Some of the whiskey available from the Highlands is sweet, thick, and syrupy; other types are light and airy with fruit and citrus notes. Arguably, there are more savory and earthy whiskey options from this region than there are light varieties, but it is possible to find a little of just about everything when checking out the whiskey from the Highlands.
Although there are only five distilleries present in the Lowlands, the region nevertheless offers unique flavors all its own. Whiskey made in the Lowlands doesn’t use any peat in the production process, so it doesn’t tend to have that deep, rich, earthy flavor peated whiskey from other Scottish regions brings to the table. And since the distilleries that are present in the Lowlands aren’t anywhere near the ocean, there’s not a lot of salty or briny flavor going on in these liquors, either.
All of these natural and geographical qualities combine in Lowlands whiskey to create very light, very subtle whiskey perfect for those who are just learning to appreciate a good Scotch whiskey. Of course, many whiskey-drinking pros still enjoy the flavors present in these liquors, too. Lowlands whiskey tends to taste of honey and cream, with notes of cinnamon, bread, and even grass present in some variations.
Just like the Lowlands, Campbeltown is only home to a few distilleries, and in fact, there are currently only three operating in this region of Scotland. This is a far cry from the past when there were over 30 distilleries present in this region. In the later part of the 19th century, Campbeltown saw a decrease in tourism as well as a population because of changes to the transit system. At the same time, the quality of its liquors decreased significantly. All of this led to the distilleries closing down one by one until now only a few are left.
The whiskey still made in this region is typically very dry and features brine and smoke flavors throughout. Some of the whiskey available here also has caramel or toffee flavors with some subtle vanilla to round it out. Despite there being only three distilleries in the region, they each create their own original flavors.
Islay is an island with eight distilleries making up its whiskey production. This region features a few famous distilleries, including Ardbeg and Lagavulin. Most of the whiskey made in this region is peated, which can sometimes be difficult to find in modern-day Scotch whiskey. This makes the end result unique and allows this region to stand out, despite being a smaller one.
The whiskey from Islay has a smoky flavor with several salty and fishy notes from many of the distilleries. Some fans also lovingly refer to the whiskey from Islay as “soapy,” which is not intended to be an insult or a negative statement.
Speyside is widely recognized for its Scotch whiskey and is home to over sixty whiskey distilleries. Many beginners to Scotch whiskey try some of their first sips from Speyside, whether they realize it or not since these liquors are typically very accessible ones. Speyside doesn’t use much peat, although some distilleries may use a little.
Most of the whiskey from Speyside features autumnal fruit and dried fruit flavors, with strong apple notes. Consumers may also notice vanilla and nutmeg flavors within the whiskey from this region and a general full-bodied taste throughout most of the offerings from Speyside.
Honorable Mention: Islands
Although the Scotch Whisky Association considers the Islands part of the Highlands, they actually create considerably different types of whiskey. Therefore, many other groups and organizations consider them their own whiskey region.
Many Scotch whiskey varieties from the Islands feature citrus flavors with herbal and honey throughout. Some are oilier and brinier, with black pepper and other spicy notes. All of the whiskey that comes from this region has a distinct sea salt note to it, thanks to the location where it’s made. Whether you choose one of the sweet or one of the savory, you’re sure to notice the salt.
When you take the time to learn about and understand the source of your favorite Scotch, you’re also learning about the history behind the drink you love. And you might also be doing yourself another favor, too; you may learn about different methods, flavors or ingredients that are used in other regions as well as the region responsible for your favorite. From there, you might inspire yourself to sample other variations of Scotch from other places, and you may even end up finding a new favorite—or at least a second-place contender.
So the next time you find yourself sipping a glass of Scotch, take time to look at the bottle. Consider where it might have come from, and use the information you’ve learned here to determine more about the region. You might even want to dig deeper and educate yourself more on the label while you’re at it. The more you learn about the Scotch whiskey you love, the better you’ll be able to enjoy it fully for what it truly is, and sip it the way its distillers have always intended.