Scotch Whisky Regions for Single Malt Scotch

Experience the Effects of Climate as You Explore Scotch Whisky

Worker tasting whisky from barrels at a distillery
Scotch whiskies are tasted straight from the barrel. Leon Harris/Cultura/Getty Images

Single malt scotch whisky is arguably the most famous style of whisky in the world. The various regions of Scotland are known for their own styles and have unique characteristics that are very interesting to explore. 

How Single Malt Scotch is Made

Made from barley, yeast and water, distilled in a pot still, and the product of just one distillery, these are the whiskies that made Scotland famous.

The process for making single malt Scotch is deceptively simple.

It is the preparation of the barley for fermentation that is unique to Scotch.

The process includes:

  1. Soak barley for a few days to start the germination process. This changes the carbohydrates to the sugars needed for distillation.
  2. Halt the germination in a kiln. This is typically done using peat smoke which gives single malt scotches their distinctive smokiness.
  3. Mill it into coarse grind called grist.
  4. Add hot water and yeast and allow it to ferment.

After fermentation, the spirit is distilled once to about 20-40% ABV and then run through a second still which results in a spirit of 60-70% ABV. Some producers distill a third time though two is the norm.

Once fermented, the distillate is aged in oak casks (often in used American bourbon barrels and Spanish sherry butts to add distinct flavor) for a minimum of three years.

Why are There Flavor Variations in Single Malts?

The French have a term called , that translates loosely as a “sense of place.” It is used most often when describing wines and can also be applied to single malt Scotch.

In the world of single malt scotch, each region has a unique sense of place which contributes greatly to the flavor and style of the regions malts. Combine differences in stills, water, weather and peating and no two single malts taste the same; even close neighbors have significant differences.

The Whisky Regions of Scotland

There are five (some argue six) regions of Scotland for the purposes of single malts:

Lowland whiskies are generally regarded as the most light bodied of the single malts. Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie are two examples.

Islay whiskies are generally described heavily peated, oily and even iodine-like and medicinal. Islay is an island off the coast of Scotland proper, and a number of marine characteristics can carry into the whiskies produced here. Ardbeg, Laphroaig, and Lagavullin are all Islay whiskies.

Highland whiskies are not as light as Lowland whiskies but lighter and more elegant than the bullies from Islay. Oban, Glenmorangie, and the Dalmore are great examples.

The Islands comprise all of the whisky-producing islands in Scotland minus Islay and are generally considered part of the Highland district. However, with unique offerings from Talisker, Jura, and Arran , some argue that it deserves consideration as its own region.Hazelburn and Longrow

Speyside offers up the most distilleries of any region in Scotland. Considered the most elegant whiskies in Scotland, Speyside is home to the Macallan, Glenlivet, and Glenfiddich.

Campbeltown is home to Springbank, makers of Springbank, Hazelburn and Longrow labels, as well as Glengyle (the Kilkerran label. Though Glengyle is thought of as its own distillery, it is located at the same Springbank location.

Springbank is the iconic Campbeltown whisky, usually found at 10 years of age although other bottlings exist. The remote town is also home to the Glen Scotia distillery, which first became available to the U.S. in 2016. 

Originally Published: December 2, 2009
Edited by Colleen Graham