Scotland’s four traditional distilling regions are Highland, Lowland, Islay and Campbeltown. There are variations between whiskies made in these areas, but the flavour characteristics are not necessarily associates with a particular region, because it is the wood that the whisky has been matured in which determines these characteristics. Regardless, some features are predominant within each region.
The Highlands is, by far, the largest region and because of this, there are wide variations between the single malts produced. In general though, many of them can be characterized as being rounded, firm and dry, with some “peatiness.” Single malts from the far north have a notably heathery, spicy character, due to the coastal location of the distilleries and the local soil. The East Highlands and Midlands are more sheltered, and the single malts from distilleries in the area tend to have more fruity characteristics. None of these Highland areas is officially considered a region, but Speyside is universally acknowledged as a heartland of malt distillation. Over half of all Scotland’s distilleries are located in Speyside, and the single malts from this are noted for their elegance and complexity, often along with a refined smokiness. Still, there are considerable differences among Speyside malts ranging from the “big, sherryish” type to those with a lighter more subtle style.
Islay is considered the greatest of the whisky islands. Located in the Inner Hebrides, it is only 25 miles long, but has no fewer than eight distilleries, although not all are working. Its single malts tend to be dry and peaty, however they have gentle, mossy scents with some spice. The distilleries in the southern part of the Islay region produce powerfully phenol single malts, with tarry, smoky, carbolic aromas.
Campbletown, located on the Mull of Kintyre Peninsula, once had over 30 distilleries; today there are just two. Campbletown single malts are traditionally full-flavored, full-bodied and are famous for the depth of flavour and slightly salty tang.
Single malts from The Lowlands tend to have a dry finish, which makes them excellent aperitifs. Their dryness comes from the malt itself, as Lowland’s distilleries typically use unpeated malt. This lends a certain sweet fruitiness to the flavour.