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Scotch malt whiskies tend to be grouped within a number of regional categories, usually Speyside, Highland, Campbeltown, Islay, Islands and Lowland, though sub-divisions are frequently made within these categories.

Such classifications really exist for geographical convenience rather than stylistic similarity. Within each there will be major variations of character, which is one of the factors that make Scotch malt whisky so fascinating.

Speyside

More than half of Scotland's 89 operational malt whisky distilleries are located within the Speyside region of the north-east. For many aficionados, Speyside is the whisky region. It is to malt, as Cognac is to brandy.
  

Speyside boomed during the late 19th century, when blended whiskies began to take the world by storm. The smooth, comparatively subtle character of many Speyside malts was ideally suited for blends destined to be assaulted by soda siphons in gentlemen's clubs and officers' messes around the British Empire. No fewer than 21 distilleries were built on Speyside during the 1890s alone.

Today, Speyside remains home to many of the greatest names in Scotch whisky, such as Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas, Glen Grant, The Glenlivet and The Macallan. Stylistically, Speysides vary from the light, soft, floral nature of whiskies like Knockando and Cardhu to weighty, more complex and heavily sherried malts such as Mortlach and The Macallan.

Highland

According to historic excise legislation, Highland malt whiskies are distilled north of a line stretching between Greenock on the Firth of Clyde in the west and Dundee on the Firth of Tay in the east. Whisky commentators often sub-divide the vast Highland region into a number of smaller areas, within which there may be stylistic similarities. References to Northern, Western, Eastern and Southern Highland areas of production are common.

Geographically, the Highland region of malt whiskies embraces Scotland's most northerly mainland distillery of Pulteney, in the Caithness port of Wick, and its most westerly in the shape of Oban. Interestingly, although so far apart, these two whiskies share similar characteristics, in that both are comparatively dry, with a whiff of sea salt about them.

Some of the leading - though incredibly diverse - Highland single malts are the complex Clynelish spirit from the east coast of Sutherland, Dalwhinnie, Royal Lochnagar, Glengoyne, Aberfeldy and Edradour. Edradour has long prided itself on being Scotland's smallest distillery, and is situated near the popular Perthshire holiday town of Pitlochry.

Campbeltown

Once the 'whisky capital' of Scotland, with no fewer than 21 working distilleries during the 1880s, Campbeltown lies near the southern tip of the remote Kintyre peninsula in Argyllshire.

When Campbeltown was at its distilling height, stylistically, its whiskies tended to be big-bodied, heavy, peaty beasts, eventually even referred to as 'stinking fish' when quality was sacrificed for quality during the 1920s. Today, Campbeltown's whisky- making industry is a shadow of its former self, with just Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle in operation, though Springbank remains a classic malt with a worldwide reputation for excellence. Distilling recommenced at Glengyle in 2004, after almost eight decades of silence, and the Scotch Whisky Association subsequently reinstated Campbeltown as a separate whisky region, having previously included its whiskies in the Highland category for a number of years.

Islay

If Campbeltown was formerly Scotland's 'whisky capital', then Islay is most certainly the country's 'whisky island.' It is home to eight working distilleries, the most recently established being Kilchoman, a 'boutique,' farm-based operation which commenced production in 2005.

Once principally used for blending purposes, Islay single malts have become extremely fashionable during the past couple of decades, with Ardbeg, Bowmore, Lagavulin and Laphroaig all gaining something approaching cult status with drinkers. One of the great recent success stories of Islay has been the renaissance of Bruichladdich distillery since its re-opening in 2001 after several years of silence.

Islays are generally regarded as the most assertive and distinctive of all Scotch malt whiskies, noted for their peaty and medicinal character, though there are great stylistic differences between the Kildalton distilleries of the southern Islay shore (Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin) and the gentler, less dominant malts from further north on the island, including Caol Ila and the gentle and very lightly peated Bunnahabhain.

Islands

The Islands category of malt whiskies includes Scapa and the world-renowned Highland Park from the Orkney islands to the north of mainland Scotland, along with western distilleries such as Jura, Tobermory, and Arran. It also includes the mighty, complex and peppery Talisker from the Isle of Skye. This is a very disparate category of whiskies with the elegant and quite delicate Arran malt having little in common with Talisker, for example.

Lowland

The Lowland region of malt whisky production lies south of the theoretical line between Greenock and Dundee, which separates the Highlands from the Lowlands. History has not been kind to the area, and today only Auchentoshan, near Glasgow, Bladnoch in the far west of Galloway, and Glenkinchie, south of Edinburgh, survive, along with a small-scale, farm-based distillery at Daft Mill in Fife, which gave new impetus to the classification when it opened during 2005.

Many connoisseurs consider Rosebank, near Falkirk, to have been the best Lowland of all. Sadly, however, it was the victim of a major 1980s rationalisation programme by owners The Distillers Company Ltd, and is now a lost distillery.

Stylistically, Lowlands tend to be comparatively light-bodied, aperitif whiskies, noted for their delicacy and soft, grassy aromas and flavours.

  

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