Scotland: Whisky & Distilleries
From the point of view of the whisky production, Scotland is divided into 4 main areas of unequal importance.
The proximity of England had benefic consequences on this area when the Wash Act was pronounced in 1784. The benefic effects were visible only for a short time, because England realized very quickly that scotch whisky was taking rapidly over the English gin. A new tax was created in 1796: the Scotch Distillery Act. A large part of the distilleries from that area have nowadays disappeared. At the end of the XIXth century, about 20 distilleries were active in the area. Nowadays, just 2 of them are still plenty active: Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan. Bladnoch was recently bought by an Irish who is forced to limit its production for the moment. A pity...
Littlemill, probably the oldest distillery in activity till recently, is closed and partially dismantled and Rosebank is mothballed since more than 10 years, without great hope to produce any whisky again.
The Lowlands area has many fertile soils, and go from the North of Glasgow in the West to Dundee in the East. A mild climate and lots of rivers make the Lowlands an ideal area for production for whisky.
Campbeltown is an unique area in the whisky world. That little town, at the end of Mull of Kintyre, facing the Isle of Islay and near the Isle of Arran is an area apart due to the very large number of distilleries settled on its territory. There have been as much as 30 distilleries.
Nowadays, just 2 of them have survived, the one, Glen Scotia, helped by the other one, Springbank. The mythic distillery Glen Scotia (which is haunted by the ghost of one of its owners, who committed suicide by drowning himself in the loch during the big economic depression in the thirties) is just producing sporadically. Its whisky is produced and matured in the warehouses of its local concurrent, the other mythic distillery of the town: Springbank.
family Mitchell, owner of Springbank remains the only really active
in the whisky industry in the area. Not only they help Glen Scotia,
belonging to Loch Lomond Ltd to assure a sporadic production, but
they just have reopened Glengyle in 2004. The first Kilkerran malts
(produced at Glengyle) will be marketed in 2014.
Further, they own Cadenhead, an important independent bottler.
Isle of Islay, on the West coast of Scotland, near the Mull of
Kintyre (where Campbeltown is situated)
represents a special trend in the whisky word.
The island is very small, beautifully, with very kind inhabitants.
A whisky produced on Islay is very easy to recognize. It does not happen that often that such a small area produces such a typical and extraordinary spirit.
To go to Islay, a ferry takes about 2 hours to cross the sea. There are 8 distilleries on the Isle. The "capital" is Port Ellen, according to some people, but could also be Bowmore, according to others. Situated south of Isle of Jura, Islay is a unique area in the world of Whisky. The sea spray is typical, and a quarter of its surface is covered by peat bogs. The island is covered by fertile soils, and is more sunny than the average of Scotland. It's ideal for producing barley. The distilleries are adapted to the typical climatic conditions. Peat is used for drying the malt.
The whisky produced by the four distilleries in the south of the Island (Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Port Ellen -mothballed since 1983) is influenced by the environing sea. Caol Ila and Bowmore, two of the other distilleries from the island, produce a less peaty whisky, but with its own personality.The two last distilleries, Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich decided to produce an elegant whisky without too much peaty hints. Bruichladdich started production again in may 2001, and produces since a short time another (very peaty) malt, called Port Charlotte, named after the city near the distillery. Islay produces such typical whiskies, that it is considered as a production area on its own. Islay whiskies are generally smoky, due to the peat used for drying the malt.
The Highlands area is the most important from the point of view of whisky production. Because of the very large number of distilleries settled on its territory, the area has been subdivided in several sub-areas.
The Speyside area is a region with an extraordinary concentration of distilleries. It is named after the river Spey, which waters the area, together with the other important river, the Livet. The temperate climate and the many rivers made from this fertile area an ideal region for the production of barley. The surrounding mountains were historically very important, as they were considered as a safety place for the moonshine distillers when the clandestine distillery was still important.
The coast between Inverness and John 'o Groats in the extreme North of continental Scotland has some distilleries mostly settled near the sea, which explains the salted character of the whisky produced in that area: Glenmorangie, Pulteney, Clynelish and Brora amongst others.
From the dozens of distilleries created after the Excise Act in 1823, just some of them are still active nowadays. Glencadam and Old Fettercairn still produce their excellent whisky, while North Port has been replaced by a Safeways supermarket and Lochside has been transformed in an office building.
Somewhere in the valleys of Central Highlands, the smallest still active distillery from Scotland, Edradour has been bought in 2002 by Signatory Vintage, an important independent bottler. Others distilleries from this area are Glenturret and Aberfeldy.
Some of the distilleries settled in the Western Highlands are difficult to classify because their whisky is less typical than the ones of Speyside or Islay. Glengoyne and Loch Lomond could also be classified as Southern Highlands whiskies. Glengoyne is sometimes considered as a Lowlands, but has none of the characteristics of a Lowlands... Amongst the undisputable Western Highlands distilleries, Oban is situated on the coast and Ben Nevis in Fort William.
Besides the "continental" distilleries, the "Highlands" classification includes generally the whiskies produced in the surrounding Islands, with the notable exception of Islay, which is considered as a production area on its own.
The Isle of Jura is situated at the West of Scotland, between the continent and the Isle of Islay. There is just one distillery on that island and it is called Jura.
The Isle of Mull, situated northern from Jura also possess one distillery called Tobermory. This distillery produces two different malts, Tobermory and the more peaty malt Ledaig, named after the previous name of the distillery.
Situated southern of the Mull of Kintyre, the Isle of Arran has one of the youngest and most promising distilleries of Scotland, Arran.
Still on the West coast, Northern from Oban, the magnificent Isle of Skye settles one of the most typical distilleries of Scotland, Talisker.
Situated in the extreme North, off John o' Groats, the sea winds are so strong on Orkney Islands that even the trees can hardly resist. The wild and nearly hostile nature didn't impeach people building 2 distilleries, Scapa and the mythic Highland Park.
Whisky is an alcoholic drink. Let's prefer quality to quantity as the abuse of alcohol beverages can damage the health. Consuming alcoholic drinks during pregnancy, even in small quantities, can seriously affect the health of the child. Consumption of alcohol impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.
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The tasting notes
The production areas
|WDTS: blind tasting sessions||List of all distilleries||How whisky is made||Central Highlands, Eastern Highlands, Northern Highlands,Western Highlands|
|Recent tastings||Distillery owners||Whisky history||Speyside|
|Visitors notes||The independent bottlers||All the bottles in collection||Lowlands|
|Post your own notes||The distilleries in their historical context||By order of preference||Islay|
|Interactive map of the distilleries||By order of value for money||Campbeltown|