Map of Scotland - Lowlands
Lowlands

The Lowlands region is the Southernmost part of Scotland,
closest to England. But then again, most of the Lowland
distilleries are located near the Northern border of the
region, roughly around the line between Glasgow and
Edinburgh (or the line from Dundee to Greenock) - which
is not far from the ancient remains of Hadrian's Wall.

That makes it fairly easy to identify a young Lowlander in a blind test. Needless to say, it's theoretically possible to use triple distillation in other regions too, like they do (sort of) at Springbank, Benrinnes and Mortlach. Most other 'regional' traits (like the peatiness associated with Islay malts) can be easily reproduced elsewhere as well.

Distilleries in the Lowlands region

During my formative years I've never been particulary fond of Lowland malts, but more recently a few very good experiences with young Bladnochs and older expressions from Rosebank and Saint Magdalene / Linlithgow have managed to tickle my fancy. I imagine the cask in which the whisky has matured is even more important for a Lowland malt than for other malt whiskies. Perhaps this has something to do with the triple distillation that is supposed to produce a light, clean spirit. In general, the more often a spirit is distilled, the more elements are removed from it, leaving just alcohol and water.

Arguably, these ingredients give a drink its character. It's easy to distinguish a grappa from a cognac and a whisky from a calvados. If these liquors would be distilled more often, they would start to resemble each other much more closely. In the end, you would end up with (almost) pure alcohol - it will get you drunk just as quickly as whisky or cognac, but the taste itself doesn't provide a lot of pleasure. Besides, there's already a product that has these traits: vodka. There's no need to invent the wheel twice, is there?

Meanwhile, here's a picture of some ruins of Hadrian's Wall that runs along the border between the Highlands and the Lowlands. The 73 mile long wall running from coast to coast was built almost two thousand years ago by the Roman emperor Hadrian - or rather by some people working for him. Looking at the remains of the wall it's hard to imagine how this wall managed to keep hordes of Picts (the earlier inhabitants of Scotland) out of the Roman empire, but the wall was actually a lot higher back then - and the people a lot shorter.

Life was (relatively) civilised South of Hadrian's wall, while daily life in the North was much more primitive and 'barbaric'. I know all this has very little to do with single malt whisky. In fact, the stuff wouldn't even be invented for many centuries to come, but the story behind the building of the ancient defensive wall is so captivating that I couldn't help mentioning it here. You can find a lot more information on this subject on Wikipedia, of course...

The Lowlands are also known as 'a' Ghalldachd' - which means 'non-Gaelic region'. In whisky terms, the region is usually regarded as the circled area shown at the right, which includes traditional Scottish counties like Ayrshire, Berwickshire, Dumfriesshire, East Lothian, Mid-Lothian, West Lothian, Fife and Wigtownshire. In a broader sense, many Scots consider anything that is NOT in the Highlands as part of the Lowlands. By that definition, Shetland and Orkney are classified as belonging to the Lowlands as well...
 
During the 1850s, almost every sizeable town in the Lowlands had its own distillery that supplied both the local needs and demand from the English market. Their location was ideal for trade with England and the style of the Lowland whiskies (unpeated and triple distilled) was better suited to the English tastes.

Archaeological evidence has shown that this border between England and Scotland was the front-line of civilisation at the time - much like it is today...

Two reasons for the diminished number of Lowland distilleries might be the public demand for more expressive malt whiskies on one end and the technological changes that have enabled the industry to produce light whiskies elsewhere too.

Lowlands Scotch whisky regionInteractive whisky distillery mapScotland - whisky distillery informationScotch whisky bottlersScotch malt whisky brandsNew distillery projects

Lowlands Scotch whisky region

Single grain whisky distilleries

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Speyside
Highlands
Lowlands
Islay
Campbeltown

These borders are arbitrary anyway; The Inverleven is a
Lowland malt, while the Inchmurrin distillery (located only
a few miles to the North) is officially a Midland (= southern
Highland) malt. The same goes for Glengoyne and Littlemill.
 
The only active Lowland distillery that isn't located close to
the Highlands border is Bladnoch! In fact, based on the
versions I have tried I'd say Bladnoch is as close in style to
malts from the Campbeltown area as it is to the other two
remaining active Lowlanders; Glenkinchie & Auchentoshan.

Whoops, hold that thought.... When I wrote the previous version of this guide the number of active Lowland distilleries had dropped to a depressing three, but now the new Ailsa Bay and Daftmill distilleries have brought the number up to five. That is still a very low number compared to a few years ago, mind you; The Glen Flagler, Inverleven, Kinclaith, Ladyburn, Littlemill, Rosebank & Saint Magdalene distilleries have all been closed over the past few decades.

The triple distillation method that is traditionally used by Lowland distilleries (as opposed to the double distillation used at most other distilleries) is one of the few remaining 'solid' geographical differences.






































 

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On Malt Madness I usually don't look further back than 1975, except for 'historical data'.
There's a good reason for that (at least I'd like to think it's a good reason for that...);
bottles of single malt whisky from distilleries that were closed before the mid 1970's are
either very expensive or simply impossible to find. So, I've purposefully neglected to
mention some long gone Lowland distilleries on this page; Auchtermuchty (closed in
1926), Auchtertool (closed in 1927), Bankier (closed in 1928), Kirkliston (closed in 1920),
Langholm (closed in 1917), Loch Katrine (closed in 1920), Provanmill (closed in 1929) and
Saucel (destroyed by a fire in 1915). Looking at those dates, it would seem that the crisis
of the 1980's wasn't the first large crisis in the whisky world...

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