Rebelling against authority

A response (not too hasty but inevitable) to Lucas trying to defend the new regional classification of Scotch whisky here.

For me, I find this new classification a bit confusing. It begs the question, who is this new classification for? When I first saw the classifications (back in the day when all the Islands were classed as Islands, and for some reason Campbletown didn’t exist) I thought it was a reasonable guide for tourists and those that were just beginning their interest in whisky. There were problems- no Campbletown and a vast area of the Highlands being classed as one region (even though there are so many different flavours, styles and techniques there). But it is difficult to categorise whisky, right?

At the moment, there are over 90 different single malt distilleries in Scotland, and they have produced thousands of different bottlings of whisky between them. Each of these bottlings may have differing amounts of peat, a different age, different style of maturation etc.

The main thing that, in my opinion, any classification should be based on is geography. The reason I say this is where the distillery is based affects the Whisky in the most unique ways. The water is different, the peat is different and the people making it are different. The cultures for making whisky are different. The new classification suggests that Orkney, Skye, Arran and Jura are part of the Highlands. This suggests that Glengoyne (the furthermost south Highland whisky, based near Loch Lomond) is in the same classification as Highland Park on Orkney. The Geography classification is easier to explain to tourists and newcomers.

It’s easy criticise but not so easy to come up with ideas. What would I suggest? I would suggest the same classification as before (Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside and Islands) but also include Campbletown and Islay as specific regions.

I would be interested to read what everyone thinks.


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  1. I tend to agree Chris, this recent degradation is just plain confusing.

    My suggestion would be: Islay, Speyside, Lowland, Coastal, Inland.

    Certainly this would mean grouping the likes of Springbank, Oban, Highland Park, and Clynelish together – but then they all share that slightly salty seaweedy flavour.

    That should surely be the point of classifying whiskies: Grouping whiskies with common traits, both geographical and flavours.

  2. Let’s come up with our own classification and make others accept it when we eventually take over the world.

  3. I think there could be a simple, tourist friendly classification and then a more thorough Industry wide classification, where someone sat down and really thought about it. Or they could just ask us, I am sure we could come up with something excellent :D

  4. I have to agree with Chris and question the purpose of this regional classification. Is it to try and group whiskies with similar characteristics or try and group whisky by location?

    Geographically it makes little sense for a number of reasons. To give one example – describing Orkney as being Highland is surely preposterous as the highest point on Orkney is 481metres above sea level.

    Is it then an attempt to group whisky by characteristics? Obviously not, as the most characteristic element of an Islay whisky is the peat, but this causes a problem with Caol Ila unpeated, the softer Laddies and Bowmores and then raises the spectre of classifying Amrut Peated as an Islay.

    So it appears that this classification is flawed on both counts.

    We already have the industry pushing the taste map to give buyers an indication of how a whisky will taste so a regional classification should be based on Geographical regions.

    I can see a point in having Islay classified as a region on its own due to the number of distilleries and the characteristics of its normal products, and could quite happily argue the case for continuing the Islands as there own region. If you feel it is necessary you could also argue the case for including sub-regions such as Campbeltown (but it only has one more distillery than Orkney so the justification is difficult to argue), but conversely could argue a case for including Speyside as part of the Highland region.

    Now there is a thought – if the Highland region wants to be all-embracing let’s do away with Speyside, Campbeltown, and Islay and just say that there is a whisky region north of the Edinburgh/Glasgow line and another one south of the line. It makes as much sense as continually trying to change the way whisky is promoted by creating and removing regions on the whim of some publicist in the SWA.

  5. Or we could just say that there is a country, North of England, that makes Whisky. You have to try them all and make your own mind up.

    Or, if we were to become ultra specific, instead of vague, we could say Lowland, Loch Lomond and Perth, Highlands, Coastal, Speyside, Campbletown,Islands and Islay. I am sure Lucas would love telling the Tourists at the Whisky centre about all of them!

    I think you hit the nail on the head snail. Especially on your final point, regions have to be picked and stuck to.

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