The regional divisions or appellations used to classify malt whiskies have been expanded in recent years. The basic division into
Highland, Greater Speyside, Lowland, Campbeltown and Islay has been augmented by sub-dividing Highland into sub-regions and districts. Highland is sub-divided into Northern, Southern, Eastern,
Western and Island; Greater Speyside is sub-divided into its four river valleys – Spey, Lossie, Deveron and Findhorn.
Generally, whiskies from this region are light in colour and typically
have a dry finish. Their aromatic intensity is low, and tends to be grassy, green or herbal, with grainy and floral notes. They tend to use a very lightly peated malt
which gives a sweetness to the overall mouthfeel and flavour. Lowland malts are regarded by many as an excellent aperitif. However, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society often bottles exceptions to the
rule so be sure to read your tasting notes carefully.
This is the largest region and has many variations within the malts it produces. Highland Northern
whiskies are usually medium-bodied, quite complex and delicate. They tend to be dry, are usually salty and can be spicy. Whiskies from the Eastern Highlands can be full to medium-bodied, smooth,
sweetish with a dry Highland finish. They are often malty and slightly smoky, sometimes fudge or toffee-like with citrus notes and spice. Highland Southerns tend to be lighter. They can be quite
fragrant with honey and heather on the nose – but still with that dry finish. Highland Westerns tend to have more peaty notes and often a firm, rounded character. Highland Island malts are harder still to
define as each has its own character. However, typical island malts, with the exception of Jura, are noticeably peaty, but less so than the Islay malts. Some have a salty, maritime note. Having said
that, single casks can throw up some real anomalies as you may discover from the notes.
The heart of whisky distilling in Scotland, Speyside contains two-thirds of all malt distilleries in the
country. These whiskies are quite sweet and high in estery tones. Known for being complex and sophisticated whiskies with great finesse, they are generally favoured by blenders. In general, but not
always, Speyside whiskies are made from very lightly peated malt, so sometimes a light whiff of smoke can be found in them. Speyside whiskies tend to be lighter than Highland and Islay whiskies,
however, those matured in sherry wood can have a chocolatey richness.
At least a quarter of the island's surface is covered with peat and Islay malts are renowned for their
phenolic, iodine, seaweed-like qualities.
Source: The Scotch Malt Whisky Societyhere
Members Handbook and Newsletter, May 2002
Whisky Classified comment