When visiting Scotland, many of our golf adventurers like to add in a tour of a whisky distillery. Scotch whisky is one of Scotland’s most famous contributions to the world, right after the game of golf. There are about 100 well-known brands of Scotch whisky that you can find in the U.S., but there are countless others you can only find in Scotland.
It’s safe to say that anyone who drinks whisky can find a Scotch they like, due to the variations in flavors from across the regions. Each of the five (or six, although that’s debatable) Scotch producing regions tends to put out whisky with similar flavor profiles, due to the water, methods of distilling, and malt used.
Here’s a quick guide to the whisky regions of Scotland and their flavor profiles.
Even if you’ve just been a casual Scotch drinker, you’ve probably had a Speyside whisky, as this region is home to more than half of the distilleries in Scotland. The unique characteristics of Speyside whiskies are said to come from the waters of the river Spey, which most of the distilleries use. While the region is technically located in the Highlands, Speyside is considered a separate whisky-producing region because of how different the whiskies are from Highland brands. You’ve probably heard the famous names of the Speyside distilleries, including The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and The Macallan. Other famous blends get most of their whisky from the region as well, including Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal. Speyside scotch is known for being complex, with a depth of character and a sweetness unlike any other whisky.
Known for the rocky, mountainous terrain, you probably recognize the Highlands region from its history of Scottish clans as depicted in movies like Braveheart. The Highlands are the largest region of Scotch whisky production, although the region is also much less populous than others in Scotland. Because of its size, the flavors that come out of this region can vary greatly. The Southern Highlands are known for producing fruitier whiskies, while the Northern Highlands are known for making whiskies with a spicier quality. Still, both the north and south of the region produce full-bodied whiskies with plenty of peat. Glenmorangie, Clynelish, and Tomatin are all well-known Highlands producers.
The Lowlands are the southernmost region of Scotland and are a gentler landscape than the Highlands, with rolling pastures and communities rooted in agriculture. There are currently very few distilleries in the Lowlands in operation: Ailsa Bay, Glenkinchie, Auchentoshen, and newcomer Kingsbarns, whose first official whisky was released in early 2019. The low number of remaining distilleries may be partially attributed to how the Lowlands have fared better than the Highlands economically, due to the region’s proximity and ease of access to England. The Lowlands doesn’t need to rely on scotch production as an economic driver to the same extent as the Highlands does. Most Scotch whisky from the Lowlands region is more light-bodied than others and can make a great introductory whisky for beginners, with notes of grass.
Similar to the Lowlands, Campbeltown is now home to only three functional distilleries: Springbank, Glen Scotia, and Glengyle Distillery, which produces Kilkerran. At one time, Campbeltown boasted as many as 34 distilleries, but increased access to rival distilleries in the Highlands and a decline in Campbeltown quality in the mid-19th century cut these numbers significantly. The First World War in Europe and Prohibition in the U.S. dealt blows to the distilling industry in Campbeltown, but Glen Scotia and Springbank both reopened in 1934 and continue to produce contrasting whiskies to this day. The region is comprised of the southern region of Kintyre, a small peninsula just west of the Lowlands region. Perhaps because it’s surrounded by sea water, whiskies from Campbeltown are known to have a hint of salt or brine to their flavor profiles, as well as dried fruit and vanilla.
If you like smokey, peaty whisky, the Islay region is your go-to. This small island near the Kintyre peninsula is known for its epic scenery and strong flavored single malts. In fact, some historians believe that Scottish whisky got its start in Islay, where Irish distillers brought their skills when the Lord of Islay and the surrounding islands married the daughter of an Ulster baron in the 13th century. Once you get past the smoke from the peat used in the distilling process, you may taste seaweed and brine, even more potently than with Campeltown whiskies, as well as apple flavors. We love Islay not just for the region’s distinctive whisky flavors, but also for how easy it is to go on a tour of the distilleries in the region. Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Laphroaig are not only well-known distilleries — they’re also within walking distance of each other.
The “Island” region is not an official region in the normal whisky parlance, but many connoisseurs think it’s worth including because there are quite a few distilleries on the islands that don’t fit into the other regions. Most of the whiskies from this region can be likened to milder versions of Islay whiskies, or like a hybrid between those from the Highlands and Islay. Talisker, The Arran, and Highland Park are all Island scotch whiskies.
Interested in adding a Scotch whisky tour to your next golf adventure in Scotland? We have relationships with many of these distilleries and can help you find the perfect distillery tour or tasting for your palate. Get in touch for a free quote!