As you settle down to your favourite dram, do you ever stop to wonder where it came from? Every glass of whisky can tell a fascinating story. A good dram evokes the place where it was made, the weather, and even the people who live there. From the windswept islands of the west coast to the fertile glens of the Highlands, whisky is bound up with the story of Scotland.
We have five whisky regions in Scotland – and at first glance these provide a useful guide to the character of the liquid in your glass. Islay malts are smoky and peated, Speyside malts are sweet and fruity, Lowland malts are light and dry. But in fact, the lines are blurred, and you will often find outliers that don’t fit the regional flavour profile. Nevertheless, a whistle-stop tour of the whisky regions will give you a good idea of the rich tapestry of whisky production in Scotland.
And what about The Dramcestors? Who are they? Well, as a bit of fun we have matched each whisky region to a Scottish clan or family name associated with that area. Maybe yours is on the list!
Scotland is now operating a 5-level Covid-19 system on a local basis. This means different areas of Scotland will have different restrictions.
Find out what level each area is under and read more about the 5-level Covid-19 restrictions to plan and book ahead when considering your trip. You can search for businesses that are open, and Good to Go, where they have a Covid-19 risk assessment.
Speyside, in the north east of Scotland, where rolling hills meet pine forests and distilleries cluster along the crystal-clear waters of the River Spey. A sacred spot for whisky lovers, Speyside is the heartland of whisky production in Scotland. The malts you’ll find here are fruity, fragrant, sophisticated and generally unpeated. Speyside whiskies are often aged in sherry casks, hence the sweeter flavour profile.
Speyside made its name in the 19th century when the 1823 Excise Act reduced distillation duties for whisky and a whisky boom took hold. Names like Glenlivet and Aberlour are still popular today and around two thirds of whisky production in Scotland takes place in Speyside.
Clan and family names associated with Speyside: Grant, Gordon, Dunbar, Fraser, Mcintosh, Macgillivray, MacBain, Macpherson.
This remote and diverse territory spans the north of Scotland and the iconic islands of the west coast. Highland whiskies represent a wide variety of flavours and styles, from lighter malts like Glen Ord to briny coastal malts such as Old Pulteney and Oban.
With its deep glens, shimmering lochs and mighty mountains, the Highlands wasn’t always the best place to grow barley. This led to the development of smaller stills which allowed for oilier, heavier alcohols to be produced. The resulting whisky is often richer and more obviously flavoured than its Lowland counterparts.
Clan and family names associated with Highland: Ross, Mackenzie, Sutherland, MacLeod, Mackinnon, MacPherson, Murray, McGregor, Robertson, Hamilton, MacLean, Macdonald.
Campbeltown is the main town in the remote and stunning Kintyre Peninsula in west Argyll. The town’s coastal location helps to shape its whiskies’ characteristics and the malts produced here are very different from, say, your classic Speysider. You can detect notes of sea salt on the nose and a briny taste on the palate, while smoke, fruit, vanilla and toffee flavours are also embraced in the various malts of Campbeltown.
Sandwiched between the isles of Islay and Arran, Campbeltown always had good access to local coal and barley and in its heyday there were around 30 distilleries in the town. Today there are only three, including the much-loved Springbank.
Clan and family names associated with Campbeltown: Macdonald, Campbell, Mcallister.
The most southerly of the Inner Hebrides, and home to nine distilleries, Islay is Scotland’s whisky island. Thought to be one of the cradles of whisky distilling in Scotland, the island has all the right ingredients to make a good dram. Fuel is plentiful in the form of peat, there is excellent soil for growing barley and no shortage of pure water from the lochs and rivers. The island is famous for whiskies with a peaty, smoky finish.
Whiskies like Laphroaig, Bowmore and Lagavulin are among the most famous names in the industry and travelling to the island is something of a pilgrimage for whisky lovers. Things haven’t changed a great deal on Islay over the years and many locals are still involved in making whisky.
Clan and family names associated with Islay: Macdonald, Macbrayne, Mackay, Macfarquhar.
The history of Lowland vs Highland distilling is integral to the story of whisky and the wider story of Scotland. Historically, the Lowlands had larger trading markets which were seen as ripe for pillaging by opportunistic Highlanders – an age-old rivalry! Famous for gentle, triple-distilled malts and notes of grass, ginger, cinnamon and toffee, Lowland malts are sometimes overlooked.
There are only a few distilleries in the Lowlands now, where once there were many. But names like Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan hold their own among their northern neighbours.
Clan and family names associated with Lowland: Maxwell, Johnstone, Stewart, Cockburn.
Interested in learning more about whisky? You can browse our Whisky Map to find out more about Scottish distilleries and perhaps even take a behind-the-scenes whisky tour. And if you want to learn more about Scottish ancestry head over to our dedicated Ancestry page. Slàinte!