Apart from some nice Blair Athol and Aberfeldy bottlings, few of the Midlands malts I've sampled so far managed to impress me. Most Midlanders are just what you would expect; a strange mixture of Highland and Lowland characteristics. The younger official expressions from Deanston, Glenturret and Tullibardine are usually not really my cup of tea. Edradour is a different story; the standard official bottlings from the 1990's were not that special (and sometimes downright awful), but since Andrew Symington took over the distillery they released a string of finished expressions, some of them great.
The late whisky writer Michael Jackson puts Dalwhinnie in the (central) Speyside area but according to the label on OB's it's a Highland malt from Inverness-shire. That puts it in the Western Highlands, doesn't it? As far as I was concerned in the 1990's, the Western Highlands produced just two decent malts: Oban and Ben Nevis. The bottlings I've tried from Glengoyne, Glenlochy and Loch Lomond didn't really tickle my fancy. Well, wait a minute. During the 1990's the Glengoynes I tried seemed like average, run-of-the-mill, malts. During the 2004 edition of the Malt Maniacs Awards I was proven wrong by a series of knockout Glengoyne bottlings. (Recent bottlings were not as stellar, though.)
Fate hasn't been kind to the distilleries in this corner of Scotland. Over half of the distilleries in the area were closed in the last few decades; only (Old) Fettercairn, Glencadam, Glen Garioch and (Royal) Lochnagar are currently operational. Glencadam was mothballed for some time as well, but it has been reopened in 2003. As it turns out, I have difficulty finding specific characteristics for a 'typical' Eastern Highland malt. Glen Garioch and Royal Lochnagar tend to be quite fruity these days (although Glen Garioch produced a much smokier spirit before 1985), while Old Fettercairn and Lochside have a more malty and oily character. Bottlings of Glencadam and Hillside / Glenesk that I've tried usually performed below par - but that's hardly a 'problem'. The Hillside / Glenesk distillery was closed in 1985, so we won't see many new bottlings at liquorists. As for Glencadam; we'll have to wait and see what the new owners come up with.
Our group of 'Northern Highlanders' includes a few distilleries that whisky writer Michael Jackson classifies as Speyside distilleries; Royal Brackla (Findhorn Valley), Glen Albyn (Inverness), Glen Mhor (Inverness), Millburn (Inverness) and Tomatin (Findhorn Valley). The malt maniacs felt these distilleries belonged in the Northern Highlands 'stylisticly'. The odd one out in this group is the silent Brora distillery; for a long time they were the only Highland distillery that produced a heavily peated malt whisky.
Ooooh - How I love those Northern Highland bouquets. Big, sweet and malty; that's the nose of a 'typical' Northern Highlander for you. Official bottlings like the Dalmore 12yo, Glen Ord 12yo and Old Pulteney 12yo are fragrant with a lot of complexity. There was nothing wrong with the taste of most of the Northerners I've tried either. Sweet, a tad dry, often with a long finish. Still, there's lots of variety among Northern Highlanders. However I'd like to stress once more that in these modern times (when techniques like 'finishing' are commonplace) 'regional' traits are vanishing.
My favorite island is Islay, but that is considered to be a seperate whisky region in its own right. The island Skye comes right after that, even though it only has one distillery: Talisker. Orkney would be next with 2 distilleries; Highland Park and Scapa. The malts from Mull, Jura and Arran generally lack the power and intensity of these former islands, but the stocks at Arran seem to be maturing nicely and I'm starting to look more closely at Isle of Jura since they released some great young heavily peated bottlings. The regular product from Isle of Jura didn't really appeal to me in the past...
Whiskies from the Midlands (a.k.a. South Highlands) like Tullibardine or Glenturret are really quite different from the expressive Northern Highland malts like Glen Ord or Dalmore. Because over 80% of all malt whiskies are produced in the Highlands (if we consider Speyside to be part of the Highlands), the phrase 'Highland Malt' on a bottle of malt whisky doesn't tell you very much about the contents. It also means that - unlike the page that's dedicated to the 'Speyside' section - this page isn't too useful for planning day trips. Even within a specific region like 'Northern Highlands' or 'Islands' the geographical distances between individual distilleries can be simply too large to make multiple visits on a single day difficult to acomplish.
For most of these geographical classifications I've simply
followed whisky writer Michael Jackson's lead, but after
a 'Borderline Personalities' session in 2004 I decided
to change the regional classifications for a number of
distilleries. Opinions amongst 'the professionals' seem
to differ, so we had ourselves a vote amongst the
The classifications I've used in this 'Distillery Data'
section reflects the majority opinion among the
maniacs. Please feel free to contact me if you feel
we've 'mis-appropriated' a certain distillery. If the
arguments are sound I'll be happy to change
The picture above clearly illustrates how extremely large the Highlands really are...
Except for the small Speyside region in the heart of the Highlands, all other (relatively small) whisky
regions are located South (or southish) of the Highlands; the Lowlands, Islay and Campbeltown.
On the other hand, compared to most other whisky regions the Highlands are not 'densely populated'.
The Highlands cover the largest part of Scotland, and they
include the important central Speyside region. Anything
that's located North of the (highly imaginary line) between
the Firth of Clyde in the West and the Firth of Tay in the
East (i.e. the line between Glasgow and Edinburgh) is
considered to be part of the Highlands.
By far most single malt whiskies are distilled and bottled in
the Higlands; well over 50% of all the Scotch malt whiskies
are produced in the 'Speyside' region alone. Because the
'Highlands' area is so large there's a wide variety in terms
of the conditions that shape the character of a single malt;
Scotland has many different 'micro climates'. As a result,
it's very hard to identify 'THE Highland malt' based on any
specific characteristics of a certain whisky. Also, the basis
for the regional classifications was the situation of almost
two centuries ago; things have changed a lot since then.
These days, any distillery can make any type of whisky...
For example, the distance between the 'island' distilleries Highland Park (on Orkney) and Jura (on the Isle of Jura) is circa 250 miles, while the Laphroaig distillery on Islay is located closer to many distilleries in the other whisky regions like Campbeltown, the Lowlands - or even Speyside. So, take the whisky regions with a grain of salt, their relevance for 'house styles' is debatable...
Apart from the central Speyside area in the heart of the Highlands there are five other districts. The islands Orkney, Skye, Mull and Jura are all considered to be part of the Highlands; the small island of Islay is an 'official' region on its own. This does not make a lot of sense - at least if we assume that distance is a relevant factor.
This caveat was true when I wrote the first version
of this page in the late 1990's, and over the years the
impact of 'regional' influences have diminished further.
Distilleries all over Scotland have adopted production
methods from other regions, heavily peated whiskies
are now produced everywhere and casks with freshly
distilled spirit are often transported off the premises
right after distillation for storage in central warehouses.
Is the distillery or