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Scottland is amongst the most renowned whisky producers in the world taking pride in its century-long tradition. The rich history of Scotch is not only represented through the various brands that have emerged but moreover through the various regions where the producers are located. Scotland can be officially divided into five main scotch regions, Highland, Lowlands, Speyside, Campbeltown, and Islay of which the Islands can be inofficially categorised as the sixth one. Geographical as well as aromatic characteristics of the distilleries determine the specific division of regions.
The Scottish Highlands is by far the largest region in Scotland. Not only does it cover the largest production region in Scotland but with its >40 distilleries, it also has the second largest number of producers after the Speyside region. The entire mainland north of the Highland-Lowland line is covered by the Highland region where whisky production covers a diverse variety of different aromas and flavors. The landscape in the region is overgrown with heather, which can be sometimes recognized in the aroma of the regional scotch. Due to the significant size of the region, a further division into the smaller subregions has been adopted typically distinguished by north, east, south, and west.
South of the Highland-Lowland border is the second-largest scotch production region by area. The Lowlands cover the entire south of Scotland up to the north of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Typically, Lowland Single Malts were triple distilled, providing the whisky with a lighter taste profile. For this reason, Lowlander scotch is today comparable to Irish whisky in the dimension of taste profile and production. Lowland Scotch production uses traditionally non-peated malt, which is potentially due to the fact that in the Lowlands coal was mainly used for heating, and peat usage was uncommon. Lowland scotch flavor can be characterized by mild, elegant notes of grass, cream, ginger, butterscotch, cinnamon, and toast.
Arguably the most important Scotch production region is located around the River Spey in the northeastern part of Scotland. The region comprises around half the total number of Scottish distilleries and due to its large production output has long been officially recognized as an independent Whisky region. While the region covers only an area of around 25KM in width, the distilleries still benefit from significant location advantages due to the River Spey, which provides them with fresh water for production. Speyside whisky can generally be characterized as light and grassy or rich and sweet depending on the particular distillery. Similar to the Lowlands, the spirit is known to be hardly peated and more fruity in flavor.
The name Campbeltown originates from the capital of the Kintyre Peninsula in southwestern Scotland. Around 1825 the region was considered the Whisky capital of the world and was home to over 30 active distilleries. While the region offered distilleries significant synergies, poor economic conditions, and development led many distillers to close down which has resulted in only three active distilleries being open today. One of the major economic impacts that hit the region was connected to the introduction of Prohibition in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, which was one of the main export markets of the region. The aromas of Campbeltown Whisky are diverse and rich. Typically, smoky, salty, and fruity notes paired with vanilla and caramel can be recognized when tasting the Single Malts.
The region of Islay is the so-called whisky island in the southwest of Scotland. Islay's 3,000 inhabitants are mostly working in or for the whisky industry of the region. These jobs include everything from working in the distilleries, barley production and agriculture, or peat cutting which is essential for Islay whisky. It also includes occupations that are centered around the tourism associated with the island's whisky production. The island offers optimal whisky production conditions not only because of the rich cultivation of barley but also because of the many peat bogs. Other than Lowland whisky, Islay whisky is heavily peated and has hence a very smokey taste profile. Having a character of its own, the sea air refined by sweet and floral elements of heather Islay whisky provides a truly unique drinking experience and also qualifies Islay as its own Whisky region.
Officially the Islands are categorized under a subregion of the Highlands, however since the flavor profile of the island whiskies can partially significantly differ from the mainland whiskies, it can be treated as an extra category. With nearly 800 islands off of Scotland's coastline and only a few inhabitants, it's obvious that there will be a varying style that differentiates from the northern to the southern region. However, Islay is not counted among those islands and is treated as a separate island. The diversity of the island flavors can be mainly distinguished by their peaty undertones and smokier flavor. However, since the distilleries on the islands can fundamentally differ in the production process, a generalization about the flavor profile can be hardly made.
There are 5 officially recognized Scottish whisky regions of which “The Islands” can be counted as a 6th one due to the unique and diverse flavor profiles that its whisky offers. The biggest region by size is the highlands and the largest one by annual output is the Speyside region. While Campbeltown was once the capital of global whisky production, it has lost its significance in the past century. Islay whisky is characterized by a heavily peated taste which is due to the lack of coal accessibility and the abundance of peat in the region.