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The Highlands is a very large area making it imprecise to make overriding statements with regards to the stylistic merits of the whisky produced therein. To make classification easier and more accurate, it’s standard practice to divide the region by the points on the compass. It’s worth noting that Speyside and Campbeltown are geographically located in the Highlands but are considered to be separate entities for the purpose of whisky categorisation. Also, the Islands are technically part of the Highlands but we have decided to detail them in their own section.
The Southern Highlands are home to Scotland’s smallest distillery called Edradour. The majority of the distilleries in this area sit in the glens formed by the river Tay. Other distilleries to be found in this area are Dalwhinnie, Aberfeldy and Glenturret. Generally speaking, the style of these whiskies is predominantly dry with a lighter body and fruity qualities.
The Eastern Highland malts are defined by a distinct lack of smoke on the palate apart from the offerings of Glen Garioch. Being in the immediate vicinity of the Speyside region often results in confusion as the style of whisky can certainly be considered similar, especially with drams produced by Macduff, Ardmore, and Knockdhu who reside in the farmland bordering Speyside. These whiskies are smooth and dry with a generally fruity and slightly sweet demeanour.
Whisky from the Western Highlands is strong and robust in nature with heavy peat influences. Unfortunately there are only two operating distilleries left on the mainland. Ben Nevis sits in the footprint of Britain’s largest mountain and used to be a major player but is less influencial now. The Oban distillery is located near a major port and its single malt has a certain salinity to it because of this. There is of course Springbank and Glen Scotia, but these are located in Campbeltown which is categorised as its own whisky region.
The distilleries of the Northern Highlands are all located on the coast with the exception of Geln Ord which is still only a stones throw away from the sea. Northern whiskies are generally complex and full bodied with a distinctive maritime nature. They are the epitome of the big, smoky and often peated Scotch that Scotland is so famous for. Glen Morangie is one the most popular and best selling whiskies, having invented the wood finishing method that has been adopted by many other whisky producers. There is also Old Pulteney, the most northerly of all the distilleries and Clynelish whose whisky is one a key ingredient in the famous Johnny Walker. Incidentally, Clynelish is situated next to the old Brora distillery which closed some 30 years ago and is highly collectable.