Scotland is more than just the country with the highest percentage of
redheads in the world (13% Scottish gingers versus just 2% worldwide).
For example, the Scots have a ‘cottage industry’ producing Scotch whisky.
These days, Scotland has over a hundred Scotch whisky distilleries that
produce malt whisky and grain whisky - two different types of whisky.
Just like the satellite image at the right suggests, large parts of Scotland
are rough and rugged. Those are hardly perfect conditions for agriculture.
That makes it all the more surprising that so much whisky is produced in
such a small area. Sure, they now make far more whisky in other parts of
the world - but it’s only quite recently that countries like Japan, India and
Taiwan have started to produce whiskeys that can rival the best Scotches.
After the most recent 'whisky boom', Scotland
can't produce enough barley any more, so this
main ingredient for Scotch whisky has to be
shipped in from countries like France and Russia.
The Speyside region is in the middle of the Highlands
The Highlands cover the most ground by far
There are just a few Lowlands distilleries left
This small island is home to many whisky distilleries
Since 2009 the SWA doesn’t consider it a ‘region’
Within Scotland itself, five smaller whisky regions can be identified;
That fact that the producers still call the whisky that is produced from French or Russian
barley 'Scotch' whisky proves that the idea of Scottish 'terroirs' deserve re-evaluation.
With the knowledge, technology and infrastructure of today, a 'Speyside' distillery can
produce a peaty 'Islay' type malt whisky just as easily as the regular 'Speyside' type of
whisky that has traditionally been produced in the area.
So, it’s safe to say that I have my doubts about the significance of the traditional whisky
regions in the modern whisky world. There is, however, another aspect of the enjoyment
of single malt Scotch whisky where the 'regional' approach still makes a lot of sense:
vacation & travel in Scotland. The area may have become more accessible in modern
times, but from the 'usual' points of arrival in Scotland for most travellers (Glasgow and
Edinburgh), it can take quite some time to reach distilleries on Islay and in the Highlands.
With that in mind, the interactive whisky map of Scotland might come in handy...
During the 1990s I didn't really question the romantic stories that were woven
about micro-climates and local traditions in Scotland. These days, I’ve come
to believe that factors like wood management and the time a whisky spends
in the cask(s) are at least as important as 'regional' influences in Scotland.
Some of the distilleries in the Lowlands and
in the Southern Highlands of Scotland are
probably most accessible for travellers. For
example, from Glasgow you can easily reach
Glengoyne and Auchentoshan within an hour.
Nowadays, there are around 100 active malt whisky distilleries left in Scotland.
There are hundreds of silent distilleries in Scotland as well, most of which have
been demolished over the years. Even in recent years, during an explosion in
demand for malt whisky, many large whisky producing corporations like Diageo,
William Grant and Pernod Ricard kept closing down old distilleries as soon as
they had built a new one somewhere else that could produce whisky cheaper.
As a result, not all whisky distilleries are as picturesque as you might imagine.
Nevertheless, there still are dozens of malt whisky distilleries worth visiting
in Scotland - not to mention many charming towns and historical landmarks.
Real whisky fanatics should make a ‘pildrammage’ at least once...
For those willing to spend at least one night
in Scotland, the Campbeltown region comes
within reach - but it has just one distillery for
visitors: Springbank on the Kintyre peninsula.
Most distilleries in Speyside and the Highlands
are too far away from Glasgow or Edinburgh to
allow for a convenient round trip in a single day.
Most visitors stay for two days or more.
The Speyside area is perfect for distillery visits.
It is home to dozens of distilleries, often located
just a few miles from each other. That makes it
theoretically possible to visit 2 or 3 distilleries on
a single day - although it would advise against it.
Scotch whisky matures at a very leisurely pace.
Perhaps that is a reflection of the slow pace of
daily life in the rural areas of Scotland. So, if you
make the trip, why not stay for a week or more?
If you travel to Scotland for a longer period of time,
I can heartily recommend a trip to the Isle of Islay off
Scotland’s west coast. The annual festival is a hoot.
Google Earth and Google Maps are brilliant tools for the people
that like to plan ahead - even vacations. There are many excellent
maps online showing the locations of Scotch malt whisky distilleries.
The interactive Scotch whisky map takes a slightly different approach.
Moving your mouse over the name of a distillery op the map shows you
a pop-up with some details. Clicking will take you to the distillery profile.
Scotland is a paradise for photographers - when the weather is good.
That’s a BIG IF - but I’d say your best chances are in May, June & July.
That window of opportunity allows you to benefit from long summer
days and relatively high temperatures. Bringing a proper camera
is worth the effort - and perhaps a mosquito net against midges.
The Distillery Data section offers profiles for over 100 distilleries in Scotland.
Check out the sitemap for an overview of the contents of the rest of this Malt Madness website.
There’s a Beginner’s Guide with everything a novice needs to know about Scotch whisky, a IWhisky Industry List
dealing with ownership and a Whisky Lexicon with descriptions of many important words in the Scotch whisky world.