For many whisky enthusiasts malt whisky is most closely associated with Speyside, but in truth this is only half the story. The strength of the association, however, can be seen from the many distilleries which, although not situated beside the River Spey, make allegiance with it when stating their provenance. It all goes to show how over the last two centuries 'Speyside' has meant high quality and today the truth of that statement has not diminished at all.
Outside the Speyside area distilling activity is spread more sparsely throughout a wide area which is best split into four main areas in the North, South, East and West.
This large area covers on the mainland from Pulteney in the northeast to Oban in the west, to Tullibardine in the south. None of these Highland areas, however, is officially regarded as a region.
If they have any similarities, it is a firm and round dry character with some peatiness.
The modern difference between the Lowland malt and that originating from the other regions is simply one of style. Historically, the distinguishing factors were more numerous. In the late 18th century the product of the discreet Highland still (be it legal or illegal) was considered a wholesome, hand-crafted product which was in great demand in the urban markets, but the larger Lowland distillers produced a relatively coarse whisky (rarely made purely from malted barley alone) in huge industrial stills in an effort to supply both the city drinkers and the lucrative London market.
Dufftown could lay claim to being Scotland's whisky capital but in the middle of the last century there was only one place which had the right to that name - Campbeltown.
Situated on the lee shore of the Mull of Kintyre, this town was literally awash with distillate just over a hundred years ago. When Alfred Barnard compiled his wonderful book - The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom in 1886, he found no less than 21 producing distilleries in and around the town! Today, the sad reminder of the industry's presence in the town is now manifested in just two distilleries, Glen Scotia and Springbank. These Campbeltown single malts are very individual, with a briny or fresh salty-sweet character.
Of all Scotland's malts, the Islay single malts are perhaps the most characteristic. But even so, there are some surprises within this group which are traditionally held to be amongst the heaviest and most pungent available. The most recognisable characteristics are due to the production methods which were developed in concert with the available distilling ingredients in this remote locality. While the mainland markets were supplied by mainland distillers in the 18th and 19th centuries, the islanders supplied a local market from stills - both legal and illegal - which were operated from farmyards, bothies on the bleak moors above Port Ellen and remote caves along the precipitous coast of the Oa.
Orkney is the most northerly outpost of whisky distilling in Scotland with two very good malts emanating from Highland Park and Scapa.
Their much sought after character has light smoky heather touches.
Skye's giant of a malt Talisker is a 'big' whisky in every way with an explosive effect on the palate and a wonderful peaty, sweetness on the nose.
The palate is slightly oily spicy seaweed, warm, tangy and peaty.
Tobermory has one the most beautiful distillery locations at the southern end of the famous harbour on the Hebridean island of Mull.
It produces a light medium-flavoured malt with touches of soft smoky honey and herbs.
The most recent addition to the island portfolio is the Arran distillery at Lochranza producing complex flavours of malt and spice.
(Includes extracts from The Malt Whisky Almanac by Wallace Milroy Neil Wilson Publishing Glasgow)
Jura from the island just north of Islay produces a light, slightly oily dram with a malty flowery feel.